February 13, 2014

Pop Quiz: Alpine Skiing


Scott: We are talking more Olympics. And this time, we have got an Olympian to see how much you know about the science behind the sport.

Ted Ligety: Hey, guys! I’m Ted Ligety from the U.S. Ski Team. Ski racing is about going fast. So I have a physics pop quiz for you.

Which force acts against the ski racer? Is it:

A. Mass

B. Gravity

C. Friction

D. Acceleration

You’ve got ten seconds!

Time’s up! The answer is “C.” Friction works against the ski racer. Now here’s Shelby Holliday with more info.

Shelby: Downhill skiing is a race against the clock, and the skiers from Team USA are masters of the craft.

Steve Nyman: It’s all about speed and time.

Travis Ganong: Last year, one of our races, we went 100 miles an hour.

Shelby: But bombing down the mountain isn’t just about athleticism. You got to have science on your side.

Mikaela Shiffrin: You just have the use the hill and don’t work against the hill, but let it take you down.

Shelby: Before the clock even starts, the laws of physics are at play. Starting up on the hill at an elevated position gives the skier potential energy. Then comes Newton’s second law of motion: when a force, here it is the skier pushing out of the gate, acts on a mass, the skier, it produces acceleration. Then gravity takes over, pulling the skier down the hill. But at the same time mass, acceleration and gravity are helping the skier go fast, another force is working against them – friction.

Friction is created when a racer’s skis rub against the surface of the snow. It can help a skier slow down and give them more control. But it can also cost them precious time.

Shiffrin: Try to get your turn done and then just let the hill take you down.

Shelby: Friction in the air, called wind resistance, is also a major factor on race day. That is why skiers try to make their bodies small and sleek to slice through the air.

Nyman: My little tuck. I’m trying to cut down on my aerodynamics. I’m trying to fight for every single mile per hour.

Shelby: At the end of the race those miles per hour are all that matter. And the laws of physics make downhill skiing one of the most exciting events in the Winter Olympics.

Ganong: It’s an amazing feeling to embrace that energy you get from the hill and just be comfortable flying down an icy mountain going that fast.

Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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