By Heather Spohr
Known as the fastest non-motorized sport on earth, extreme speed skiing offers spectators the breathtaking opportunity to watch daredevil skiers race down a mountain even faster than the terminal velocity of a free falling skydiver. Much like the high-performing Camaro Z/28—whose hand-assembled LS7 engine boasts an incredible 505 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque—extreme speed skiing is poised to make a big splash in 2014.
Originally conceived in the 1930s as an advertising stunt for a ski resort in St. Moritz, Switzerland, extreme speed skating has grown into a sport of incredible sophistication and precision. Today it’s performed at high altitudes (to minimize wind resistance) on incredibly steep and specially designed courses that stretch a kilometer in length. Due to the complexity involved in building one of these amazing courses, there are only approximately 30 worldwide.
The speed-skiing athletes who brave these courses are almost equally as rare, and their sophisticated equipment is practically unrecognizable when compared to that of traditional skiers. Gear includes aerodynamic helmets that look like something out of a science-fiction movie; skin-tight rubber suits that glisten in the sun; wings along their calves; and 8-foot-long skis. Some suits even include parachutes to help bring the skier to a stop.
Extreme speed skiers may look silly to some, but theirs is a very serious sport. Since they’re risking their lives with every run, they train in wind tunnels to prepare for the extreme air pressure they face at top speeds, and they work with aerodynamics experts to streamline their performance as much as possible. The mind-boggling speeds they achieve are no laughing matter either. While in the very early days of the sport extreme speed skiers were maxing out at speeds in excess of 85 miles per hour, their modern-day counterparts go much, much faster: Italy’s Simone Origone, the world-record holder for men, reached a top speed of 156.2 miles per hour in 2006, while that same year the women’s record holder, Sweden’s Sanna Tidstrand, topped out at 150.74 miles per hour.
For spectators, extreme speed skiing competitions are a sporting experience unlike any other. Watching the skiers propel from zero to top speed in just seven seconds is a rush that can only be topped by the moment they zoom past and create an eardrum-rattling blast that’s almost indistinguishable from that of a jet engine! As if that’s not exciting enough, these competitions happen on the grounds of some of the world’s most spectacular ski resorts, in regions such as Grandvalira, Andorra; Idre, Sweden; Vars, France; and Sun Peaks, British Columbia.
Excessive as it may seem, world-record holder Origone continues to hit the world’s most impossibly steep slopes in hopes of recording an even faster time. For an extreme speed skier, even 156.2 miles per hour isn’t fast enough.
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Heather Spohr blogs at the award-winning The Spohrs Are Multiplying.