Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alpine Racing: Distilled

With his win in the Super Combined at Chamonix, France, Bode has taken the overall title lead in the FIS World Cup! Go Bode!

Watching Bode take the carousel turn in the downhill portion of the Super Combined, the following thought occurred to me:

There are two necessary criteria for a winning run, and everything else that you do is essentially in support of them: carving each turn cleanly, and taking the tightest line.

These two things are completely dependent on each other as well. You can carve the cleanest turns in the field, but if you're not taking the tightest line, it's pointless. Likewise, if you're taking the tightest line, but spraying out like crazy, you're not going to win.

Carving a clean turn means you carry every bit of energy possible that you put into the turn with you into the next turn. If your edges release in the slightest bit, you are losing energy.

Everything else you do with technique is performed in order to make those two things happen. For instance, balance and rhythm are required to properly manage your center of mass, in order to keep those edges carving. Likewise, you may be physically incapable of holding your edges through the most direct line, so may be forced to round out the turn by initiating it early, in order to carve cleanly.

Note that it never makes sense to sacrifice a clean turn for a longer run between gates. A racer is constantly gambling, trying to determine when waiting any longer before initiating the turn will result in a messy turn. If you're not gambling, pushing yourself, letting those skis run as long as possible between turns, you're not going to win.

The better you can hold your edges through a turn, as your line tightens, the faster your run will be. Given that each racer's weight varies, which means that the momentum produced as the racer slides down the hill varies, and how well the skis are sliding (the tuner's problem), and also how well the racer utilizes the rebound of the skis to generate further speed in the turn... given all those things equal, the winning run comes down to the lowest combination of energy lost in each turn and distance from start to finish.

Yes, I am taking a break from studying my calc III right now, so everything is reduced to an equation in my mind at this point...

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