Envision a skier speeding down a snowy slope, carving tight turns across the mountain. If we zoom in, we see her ankles, hips and shoulders stacked in an aggressive stance that forces her bodyweight slightly forward. Her flexed knees absorb the countless bumps and divots dotting the run.
Now, imagine our skier speeding down the same slope after a long day in the moguls and powder. Her stance is lazy and upright, and her weight is set back to lighten the load on her burning legs. She muscles the skis into turns, instead of angling the edges into the snow. As she skids into an icy patch, her skis lose contact with the surface, and she disappears into a plume of white.
For years, the ski industry has devoted millions of dollars and hours of research into helping our fatigued skier finisher her final run of the day safely. It’s no secret that skiing injury rates and fatalities are on the rise in the U.S, even as participation numbers continue to decline. The rate of knee injuries among American skiers is actually higher today than it was 20 years ago.
A common belief is that these injuries and crashes result from muscle fatigue, and that mishaps typically happen when the glutes, hamstrings and quads are simply worn out from a long day on the slopes. But how do skiers combat this fatigue—something as endemic to the sport as powder days and après craft beers?
This question is central to a study currently being conducted by the University of Denver’s Human Dynamics Lab, in conjunction with Vail Mountain, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and Opedix, among other parties. The yearlong study will first measure the forces that skiing exerts on the human body—specifically on the soft tissues within the knee joint. It will then test whether various knee supports and compression tights, including Opedix, impact performance and combat fatigue.
The DU study utilizes technology that is straight out of a Formula 1 racing program. Researchers are attaching 14 miniature inertial measurement devices to each test skier, all members of the DU alpine ski team, the ski program that won the collegiate national championship in 2014. Each domino-sized device contains a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer, among other instruments. Two of the devices will even be placed into specially made insoles inside the ski boots.
The sensors will feed information to a credit card-sized computer, which will then match the force readings with a GPS sensor that captures the trajectory of the skier across the mountain.
Come mid-January, the test skiers will perform multiple runs on the slalom course on the eastern edge of Vail Mountain. The data collected by the sensors will show just how much pressure each slalom run exerts on the human body.
Now for our favorite part of the study: some test athletes will wear Opedix KNEE-Tec 2.0 ¾ Tights during the study, while others will wear conventional compression tights. Researchers will measure an athlete’s finishing time, heart rate and perceived fatigue during each run to create a 360-degree view of his or her performance with the tights.
After all that is said and done, researchers will crunch the numbers from the motion capture devices, and then combine that data with feedback from the athletes. They will produce musculoskeletal models based on that data to show exactly how skiing impacts the human body. They will also determine how knee-support garments impact body mechanics and muscle performance during a day of skiing.
Long story short: the study will determine to what extent Opedix garments might be able to help keep our skier friend from crashing on her final run of the day.
Stay tuned and we will fill you in on the findings of this study.
About Opedix: Opedix produces scientifically engineered apparel that helps keep athletes moving. To learn more about how Opedix products work, please visit this link.
About The Author: Fred Dreier is a journalist in Denver, Colorado. He writes about a diverse range of topics including endurance sports and marketing trends. Dreier spends his free time running, cycling and skiing all along Colorado's Front Range.