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Speedier skis on course for World Cup glory

Skis equipped with an ingenious new self-waxing device that enables them to travel quicker could make a dramatic entry onto the skiing scene in the 2008/09 World Cup season.

The device continuously applies fresh wax to the bottom of the ski during a race. Its developers are now working with manufacturers, with the aim of incorporating it into skis used in top-class international competition as early as next year.

Validated test results from the Alps show that skiers using the revolutionary system can complete a course 1-2% quicker than using conventional skis, which gradually lose their pre-applied layer of wax as they descend a slope. The gap between first and 20th place in a World Cup event can be under two seconds, so the new system has the potential to play a key role in deciding the outcome of major skiing competitions.

The device has been developed by Wildfire Snowsports Limited, a spin-out company from the University of Sheffield, building on university research projects funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The development and capabilities of the device will be described at this years BA Festival of Science in York.

In ski racing, wax is applied to skis to create a lubricating effect and so help the skier travel faster. As well as constantly providing a fresh layer of lubricant, the new technology also enables dirt, which can slow a skier down, to be automatically pushed away from the underside of the ski.

The device fully complies with all FIS (International Ski Federation) rules and is the only one of its kind in the world to have been routinely tested and proven, says Professor Peter Styring, who has led the project and will deliver the York presentation. Suitable for skis used in events such as downhill, super giant slalom and potentially cross-country too, the device has also been incorporated into freestyle skis and snowboards extra speed means riders can achieve extra height in halfpipe* events, for instance.

A sealed reservoir containing a waxy lubricant is attached to the ski under the front of the foot, replacing the small block that conventionally separates the ski binding from the ski. A series of tiny valves and pipework continuously deliver an optimum amount of lubricant to the base of the ski. The normal pumping motion of the skiers legs is harnessed to push the fluid through the system no supplementary energy source is needed.

The biodegradable and environmentally friendly lubricant, a polymer whose composition is a closely guarded secret, was also developed as part of the project. Overall, the initiative has harnessed expertise in the fields of chemical engineering, chemistry, polymer science, mechanical engineering and physics.

In December, were due to begin testing the system with a major global ski manufacturer, says Peter Styring. Were also discussing with another company the scope to retrofit the device to existing skis.


Contact: Beverly Silk
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

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