Today the Washington Post tackled the question how skiers can hit higher speeds than a skydiver without a parachute.
Depending on which sources you trust, the record is somewhere between 145 and 156 mph. That's sort of amazing, because it's faster than the terminal velocity of a human body free-falling through the air in the classic belly-down arms-out position -- about 125 mph. (Your mileage may vary.) How is that possible?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Basically, it comes down to two factors: heat and form.
Form is important because the parachute-free skydiver is likely flailing in a not altogether aerodynamic fashion. A local scientist's research illuminates the heat side of the equation:
University of Colorado physicist David Lind once calculated that the total heat generated under a ski could reach 360 watts, the equivalent of six 60-watt bulbs. By contrast, when it's too cold for this "meltwater lubrication" to form, say at around 15 below zero, even the best ski bottoms (typically made of high-density polyethylene, as are grocery-store milk jugs) can start to grate on you, acting like sandpaper and raising the probability of a Full Face Plant, a high-impact version of extreme cosmetic makeover.
Keep that in mind the next time you're out carving in near-Absolute Zero temperatures at Loveland.