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Ski team test technique in wind tunnel

05 July 2012

Cambridge University Engineering Department's Markham wind tunnel played host to a number of British competitive skiers who came along to help in the development of a new piece of aerodynamic testing equipment. Under the supervision of Professor Holger Babinsky, undergraduate James Richardson has spent the year working on a fourth year research project, 'The Aerodynamics of Speed Skiing'.

British speed skier Tom Horn in the wind tunnel
British speed skier Tom Horn in the wind tunnel

One of the principal aims of the project is the design of a training tool to be used in the wind tunnel as a means to allow skiers to optimise their skiing posture and equipment by examining their aerodynamic drag in real time.

The project was initially proposed by Benja Hedley, an alumnus of the Department, and a member of the British speed skiing team. The overall aims of the project were twofold: the first was to investigate the various factors that affect the aerodynamic drag of a skier, and so try to minimise the drag.

The second was to design and construct a training rig which would allow skiers to see their aerodynamic drag in real time while in the tunnel in order for them to reduce their drag as much as possible through trial and error.

This second aim was achieved during the course of the year (with the assistance of Benja Hedley as an evaluator), through a set of skis attached to a force-measurement device, and a computer monitor attached to the tunnel floor between the skis.

With the rig complete, a number of skiers were invited to the Department in order to test out the new equipment, including Ed Drake, the UK's number 1 alpine skier, Tom Horn, the holder of the British SDH (Standard Downhill) speed ski record, and several members of the British junior ski team.

The reaction to the rig was overwhelmingly positive, with all the skiers feeling that they had benefitted from their time in the tunnel, and from a new-found appreciation of their aerodynamics.

Tom Horn commented after his first couple of runs in the tunnel: "I've learnt more about speed skiing in the last five minutes than I have in five years of speed skiing!"

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