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According to a 2010 paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Sports Medicine, an alpine skier has about a 30 percent chance of being injured in a given season. Ten percent of those injuries require over a month to recover.
Motorsport company Dainese has developed the D-air Ski to protect skiers. The inflatable suit covers a ski racer’s torso and shoulders and can inflate in 100 milliseconds if it senses a crash.
The D-air Ski is based on a system that Dainese developed for motorcycle racing. The International Ski Federation, ski racing’s governing body, asked Dainese in 2012 to adapt its motorcycle racing suit for ski racing. It was approved on January 1, and racers from several countries, including the United States, will be able to wear it at the World Championships.
The D-air Ski has three gyroscopes, three accelerometers, and a GPS unit to help it predict when a skier is about to crash. A replaceable cold-gas canister inflates the suit if it senses that a crash is imminent. The system is powered by a lithium-ion battery. Everything except the airbag itself is packed into a hardened pocket on the back protector. A USB port can download run data.
Dainese tested the suit on skiers from the Canadian and Italian national teams and collected data from test runs. They developed an algorithm that analyzes a skier’s acceleration and body position to tell when a skier is about to crash. The system will not inflate if a skier loses an edge and slides to a stop, but it will if it detects that the skier is starting to tumble.
Unlike car airbags, which deflate almost immediately, the D-air Ski stays inflated for up to 10 seconds, which allows it to protect the skier until he or she stops. The system can absorb up to 60 percent of the impact from a crash. While the D-air Ski cannot prevent all skiing injuries, such as those that are caused when a skier catches a ski edge on the snow, it can protect skiers from many injuries caused by crashes.
Dainese says the unit will not affect a skier’s aerodynamics. The company says it has never had a false positive inflation, but it tested the suit to make sure it would not obstruct a skier if it did malfunction.