Course Description:

This course explores science and engineering issues associated with equipment and technique for alpine skiing, particularly racing. A diverse group of technical subjects related to engineering mechanics are discussed: tribology, beams, rigid body motion, aerodynamics, material science, machining and biomechanics. Specifically we will examine: ski-snow interactions; technique for gliding, turning and stepping, selection of line in racing; equipment design, testing and performance; and ski injuries. We will also address issues in the epidemiology of skiing injuries, the calculation of the cost of ski injuries to society, the impact of ski equipment technology on litigation and the impact of litigation on equipment and trail design.

It is presumed that students taking the course come from a wide variety of technical and athletic backgrounds. No skiing experience is required. The course will be given simultaneously at two levels. The 281x designation is designed primarily for first and second year students, with some calculus and physics. The students registered for ME381x will have additional readings from more advanced engineering literature, and corresponding questions on the quizzes and exams, and the expectations for the project will be higher.


Small groups of students will conduct and report on research projects analyzing ski equipment or technique. Several topics will be suggested. Students may propose other topics for approval. Outlines and drafts may be submitted in advance of the paper for comments.

Course Rationale:

Skiing can provide a familiar context for many students to learn, and to some degree test and experience, fundamentals of mechanics and engineering analysis. Rather than emphasizing the formalisms, this course will use examples from skiing to illustrate applications of engineering design and analysis. There will be demonstrations and student exercises applying fundamentals to ski equipment and technique. The students will get practice in generalizing specific technical situations in order to understand them in the broader context of Newtonian mechanics. The students will also gain experience in engineering analysis and its application to engineering design.

Alpine ski racing is chosen as a focus of the course, because racing, as opposed to free style and recreational skiing, poses a clear technical problem: how to minimize the time to complete a course set down a snow-and-ice covered slope. Historically, the pursuit of excellence in alpine racing has been the main motivation for the development of equipment and technique. Alpine ski racing provides an excellent context for discussing Newtonian mechanics and the development of ski technique and ski equipment, including reinforced polymers and composite beams.

Skiing can also provide a context to address issues relating to the impact of technology in the world and society. The course will examine the development of technology for reducing the risk of injuries over the past forty years, its current impact on litigation and the current impact of litigation on the implementation of technology to reduce the risk of injuries.