One of the most exciting and heart pounding events at the Sochi Winter Olympics will no doubt be the spectacular ski jumping, though little attention will likely be paid to the engineers who made the jumps possible.
The "RusSki Gorki" Jumping Centre, situated on the northern slope of Aibga Ridg, features the very latest Olympic К-95 and К-125 ski jumps. The location for the centre was chosen by international experts to ensure the ski jumps would fit in naturally with the surrounding landscape and jumpers would be afforded protection from heavy side gusts.
This was just one of the many familiar challenges faced by engineers tackling ski jump design.
Perhaps the world’s most famous and arguably the world’s first designer ski jump is the Holmenkollen in Norway, designed by JDS Architects and engineered by Norconsult.
As with the RusSki Gorki, wind protection was integral to its design. It was the first ski jump in the world with permanent wind protection inherent to its design and construction.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) have been a crucial tool in designing the placement of the wind screens to ensure the jumpers have the best possible flow and will be sheltered from the wind during their time in the air.
It was also important to take into consideration the width of the spectator stands along the sides of the landing area, as well as the commentator, judge and the royal boxes along the sides. Visibility from these areas as well as for the TV cameras determines the optimal and closest possible location for the wind shields, which consist of a double layer of metal mesh that runs along both sides of the ski jump.
More unusual at Holmenkollen are the structural materials. Although concrete is a major constituent, it nonetheless remains the only steel ski jump in the world.
The whole structure features a total of 1,000 tons of steel, with unique design which makes the in-run appear to hover in the air. The downhill slope is covered with rocks, so one of the challenges was to dress such a steep slope (an incline of 35.7 degrees) without causing the foundation to slide. A combination of geotechnical and structural engineering achieved the optimum composition for the solid foundation required.
In summer, of course, the snow melts. At Holmenkallen, all surface water that ends up in the bottom of the ski jump is collected. Norconsult planned a storm water line 600 metres below ground level that takes away the water and then uses it to produce artificial snow for the ski jumps and the cross country facility.
Electrical provisions also require careful consideration. Tens of thousands of metres of cable are needed to provide the necessary infrastructure. Signals powerful enough to ensure a steady stream for the TV channels, a fully-fledged stadium intercom facility, as well as screens to provide the spectators with quality, updated information at all times, are just some of the elements that need to be incorporated into the design.
At Holmenkallen, Norconsult has also designed a 340 kilowatt floodlight facility. Lighting around the landing area for the ski jumpers is extremely important, and must be maintained in an optimal manner to ensure safety. The engineers must make sure there is no danger of failure, but must also give consideration to glare issues, both direct and off the snow. As a consequence appropriate positioning is crucial.
The completion of the Holmenkollen ski jump involved extensive use of lighting. Norconsult delivered a pilot project on the effective illumination of the ski jump which has become a global benchmark, involving both the lighting of the slope and the lighting of the walkway around the basin.
When it comes to safety, fire engineering is another area given particular attention. As the Holmenkallen in-run has an unconventional design, Norconsult had to look at alternative solutions where special analysis of fire development with respect to temperature development and smoke behaviour have been necessary and important tasks.
As competitors take their leap of faith, they can be assured the engineers have done all they can to ensure the safest and most exciting of jumps. The final landing, ultimately, is up to them.