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The Science Behind Skiing: Frequently Asked Questions

When you ski, you gain an intuitive understanding of physics. That much is a given. If you want to improve your performance on the slopes, you need to know how your body moves and reacts to different forces in the world around you.

We’ve talked already on this blog briefly about the science behind skiing and hitting top speeds, but in this blog, we want to dig a little deeper and look at some of the most popular questions we get asked about how to ski. A proper understanding of the science behind skiing is useful to anyone from the professional to the newbie, and can be precisely what you need to push your skiing skills beyond what you thought you were capable of! Read on for our advice and answers to some of the most common skiing challenges.

How do Skiers Reduce Friction?

How do Skiers Reduce Friction?

Friction is a force that all skiers are familiar with. In downhill skiing, as your skis push against the ice or snow, kinetic friction occurs which transfers some kinetic energy into thermal energy. Kinetic energy comes from the act of moving and pushing yourself down the slope; the thermal energy is the heat that exudes from where your skis and snow rub together. The more friction, the more heat you generate instead of speed, and the slower you go down the slope.

Skiers wax the bottom of their skis to reduce friction as they go down the slope. Hot wax which is applied to the entire ski, in particular, reduces the friction between the ski and the snow, which means you can go faster down the slope. Wax is a cheap and effective way to improve your speed!

How do Skiers Reduce Drag?

Skiers also experience friction from their body against the air. Drag is the specific type of friction skiers suffer from the air, sometimes also called wind resistance.

Skiers can reduce drag by performing an effective ‘tuck’. To do a tuck, lower your stance and level your back parallel to the slope. Then, with your buttocks a little higher than your head, poles tucked under your arms, and your chin bent into your chest, push forward. This position means less wind hits your body, and the eggs-with-legs shape lets wind cut around you, reducing drag even further. The tuck is a difficult position to maintain for a long time, but if you can master it, you will significantly reduce your drag.

How do Skiers Reduce Drag?
How Does Friction Affect Skiing?

How Does Friction Affect Skiing?

The more friction when you ski, the slower you will be on the course. There are considerable differences in speed and performance between someone who doesn’t wax their skis or perform a tight tuck compared to someone who does. Are you looking to improve your abilities? Then lower your friction!

Low friction is great when skiing because you will find it easier to turn and accelerate when you hit the slopes. While it is vital to have both the skill and the strength to keep friction low, you should try to avoid unnecessary friction whenever possible. If you need more control, a high tuck is most popular among professionals, but it is rather challenging to maintain. For straight downhill sections, a lower tuck (bend your knees further and keep yourself lower to the ground) is ideal.

Why do Skis Slide?

Skis slide because the thin layer of snow underneath the ski melts from your kinetic energy (skiing) transforming into thermal energy (heat) via friction. That softens the snow and creates a fragile layer of water, which reduces friction much more than you want. This means you lose control over your skis and end up sliding very easily!

The more pressure that you put on your skis, the more pressure is applied to the snow underneath. The more pressure is placed on the snow, the higher the likelihood that it will melt. Some snow will simply melt from the lightest load, like in powder and softer conditions. Additionally, if the snow melts and refreezes, it does not become snow again but instead becomes ice. This is also very slippery, and converts easily back into water, making things even worse. Ski in good conditions where you know the snow is hard to get the best experience!

Why do Skis Slide?

We hope you found our answers to some of the most common ‘science behind skiing’ questions interesting. And if our guide has encouraged the skier in you to get back on the slopes, why not check out our Vallandry skiing budget holidays? We have a range of amazing lodges and ski chalets in France that will perfectly suit your needs. Get in touch with us today to book your next vacation.

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The wider your snowplough is, the slower your speed will be.

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