The key to speed
Ski fans around the world watched Alpine Canada’s men’s speed team race to historic results this season.
There was the 1-3-5 downhill finish in Chamonix, France, by Jan Hudec, Erik Guay and Ben Thomsen - the best result for the men’s speed team since 1994, and then Thomsen’s first ever World Cup podium, a second-place finish in downhill during the Olympic test event in Sochi, Russia – all part of a run that saw the team take top-three finishes at four straight World Cup speed events.
Any ski fan knows the key to alpine racing success is a marriage between talent, skill and technology, so here’s a look at the race suits that help give Canada’s downhill racers their edge.
2012 marks the 10-year anniversary of Alpine Canada’s partnership with Spyder, an industry leader that provides the race suits for Canada’s alpine and para-alpine ski teams.
Each year Spyder creates several cutting-edge designs from which Alpine Canada choses one to become the official race suit of that season.
“I really like the gradients of the colours this year and that they added more black to go with our traditional yellow,” said Jared Wilkie, Alpine Canada’s supply pool manager. “I also love the maple leaf that was incorporated into the torso - which was Spyder’s idea.”
For the 2011-12 season, for the first-time ever Alpine Canada’s men’s speed team also wore custom race suits designed by some of the organization’s sponsors.
“Spyder sent us a race-suit template that we sent to our partners - Audi Canada, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Osisko Mining Corporation (pictured above) - who then got to create their own suit,” explained Wilkie. “The partners chose the colours and different design elements and Spyder took the designs and merged them with their technology to ensure we didn’t sacrifice speed for the look.”
Spyder goes about creating their suits by taking into consideration fit, pattern seams, texture, stretch and the porosity of the fabric. Their designs maximize the surface area of the fabric with the least amount of seams.
“The pattern is ergonomically designed to fit skiers in a forward-performance stance. The surface layer and backer layer to the fabric both have textures that help reduce the drag of the skier,” explained Lindsay Vincent, Spyder’s director of product resort/race. “We have exclusive combinations of yarns knitted together for the back fabric that optimize the performance of the surface.
“Fabric selection is based on several criteria, but the speed of the fabric is the most important. The fabric that provides the least amount of drag during several different speeds wins every time.”
The suits are then manufactured in a factory located in Switzerland.
Every speed suit that hits a World Cup track has to be approved by the International Ski Federation (FIS). FIS tests the porosity of each suit through a process called plombing to make sure the suit meets its regulations. FIS then assigns each suit a unique number associated with the porosity rating of the suit.
According to FIS guidelines, “The suits must be equally porous in all parts, both from the outside in and from the inside out. Minimum air permeability is established whereby the unstretched fabric must show a medium air permeability of a minimum of 30 litres per m2/sec under 10 mm of water pressure.”
The closer the air permeability of a suit to 30 litres per m2/sec, the faster the suit.
After suits are plombed they are shipped to the teams competing around the world. Coaches then distribute them to the athletes before each race. What happens after that is up to the athlete.
Downhill racers will only wear a suit once or twice because once the pores start to stretch, the suit slows down.
“The top racers in the world could change suits every race and could go through 15-20 suits in a winter,” explained Robert Rousselle, athletic director of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team.