Accelerometers and engineering: The key to much safer ski or snowboard jumps


Triumphing in sport is undoubtedly a matter of training and dexterity, and these are also necessary to avoid fateful injuries. But technology can also help in this regard, namely accelerometers in conjunction with engineering to achieve greater safety in ski jumping and snowboard.

The idea of the team of Nicola Petrona and other members of the University of Padova (Italy), who could implement his studio on the slopes of San Vito (Italy), after failing to carry out in the United States. It is a matter of achieving, through the redesign of the ski ramps, that the jumps have the same impact regardless of the distance traveled.

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Calculating the “perfect”

The starting point for this group of engineers was to compare jumps based on the equivalent fall height, that is, the distance that the athlete needs to fall vertically on the horizontal surface with the same impact on the ground. What you saw here is that the leg of a skier can absorb the impact of falls 1.5 meters, measuring up to 10 meters in cases of falls that have ended in severe spinal injuries.

The approach was that the design of the ramps facilitate jumps that regardless of the speed that reaches the athlete, produce a fall to a constant height within the margin of safety to avoid injury.

Pulling physics, what the engineers determined is that by making the surface (snow) parallel to the jumper’s velocity vector when taking the ground, the equivalent fall height can be reduced. Translating: the idea was that the design of the ramps facilitate jumps that regardless of the speed reached by the athlete, produce a fall at a constant height within the safety margin to avoid injury.

This foundation Petrona explained in the publication of MIT, clarifying the fact that it would aid would not inevitable falls, it would reduce the risk of serious injury.

It is clear that skiers sometimes make mistakes that put them at risk. However, an approach from engineering can facilitate the construction of jumps that reduce the possibility of these errors to end disastrously.

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Thus, these ramps are different in design and construction, ensuring above all that the party from which the skier takes off is flat enough to reduce the rotation that the body experiences during jumps, as a factor that puts more Difficult to land the athlete. And in terms of their measurements and dimensions, these are the angles and lengths that meet these safer ramps:

  • Takeoff angle: about 10 degrees.
  • Landing surface: 14 meters.
  • Landing flap: 30 degrees from the horizontal.
  • Equivalent fall height: 0.5 meters.

And the accelerometers? The help of these sensors (and cameras) came from coupling them both on the boards and skis and on the bodies of the same athletes, so that they were able to record all the parameters of the jumps (similarly to what we saw in the case of Olympic swimmers in the last Games in Rio 2016).

In total, more than 20 jumps are registered, testing different distances. After reviewing the records of the accelerometers, what they saw they are that itself falls were achieved around 0.5 meters constantly. That is, there can be some control in the jumps and therefore the impact thanks to the construction of the ramps.

This opens a possibility to increase the passive safety in these sports practice without influencing the skier. It will be interesting to see if similar measures are applied from now on, especially in the construction of new jumping and snowboarding tracks, as well as in the preparation of championships.