April 1, 2011

JUST POINT YOUR SKIS DOWNHILL:

The 40-something ski bum: into a strange speed skiing underworld: In a disused railway tunnel in a Genevan gorge, a location reminiscent of a James Bond film, our ski bum finds one of the world's fastest skiers hard at work. (James Bedding, 31 Mar 2011, The Telegraph)

The skiers’ experiments with speed, meanwhile, take place in a disused railway tunnel, concealed under a bridge spanning a gorge, high above the river Rhone. The location seems to have come straight from a James Bond film: a discreet flight of steps leads down the side of the Pont Butin, and up to a plain metal door built into the side of the gorge, invisible from the road above. Swinging open the heavy door, I half expect to see Q, tinkering with gadgets.

Instead I am greeted by staff from Geneva’s School of Engineers, who lead me deep into the cliffs lining the gorge to their biggest toy: a wind tunnel. We climb into a small cabin alongside, and squeeze around the operator seated at the control panel.

Through a window we can see a figure in a shiny red skin-tight suit, wearing a Darth Vader helmet. The operator turns on the fans, and as the wind picks up speed, the skier goes into a racing tuck, and the control cabin creaks ominously. Soon, a display on the computer is reading nearly 250 kph (155mph) – more than double the speed limit on a British motorway – and we can see the skier’s muscles quivering as he battles the forces bearing down on his head and body.

The skier is 40-year-old Philippe May from the Swiss resort of Verbier. Director of the Swiss Ski School there, he is also a passionate speed skier. Speed skiing is the fastest and arguably the purest form of ski racing: you simply point your skis straight down the mountain, tuck your body into as aerodynamic a shape as possible, and rocket as fast as you can through the speed trap at the bottom.


Posted by at April 1, 2011 6:10 AM
  

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