The Olympics can be confusing. We're here to help. Sochi Mysteries will answer your pressing questions, both thoughtful and ridiculous. Got one? Email us. Today, reader Vinnie King writes us with a good one.
Why is there debris at the bottom of the ski jump hills?
For all the talk of nightmarish debacles at hotels, the actual venues at Sochi have been models of efficiency and beauty. The slopes at Krasnaya Polyana are some of the most gorgeous vistas you'll see in sports this year.
So that's why it's a bit jarring to see the base of the ski jump slope littered with what looks, from a distance, like the remnants of a snowboarders' party run long. A closer look reveals that the debris is mostly bits of spruce trees, but still: why the mess? Doesn't anybody have a rake or snowblower out there?
We'll get to that answer in a roundabout way. First, a little thought experiment: stand up, close your eyes, and turn around in a circle a few times. (Do not do this experiment while in a moving vehicle, a crowded area, or adjacent to cliffsides or highways.) Then, walk slowly in one direction until you hit something. (Slowly! No broken noses.) Chances are, you were startled when you bumped the wall/sofa/table. Why? Because while you knew it was there, you didn't know exactly when the hit was coming.
That's the same problem that ski jumpers face. They know the bottom is down there somewhere, but when you're falling a vertical distance of 200 feet at a speed of 60 mph, it can be tough to tell exactly where the surface of the snow is if there's no contrast. This condition is particularly pronounced late in the afternoon, when the so-called "flat light" of the setting sun obscures the contours of the land. (It's why your last run of the day on ski slopes is usually a bone-rattling mess; not only are you tired, you can't see the terrain as well.)
The scraps of spruce, then, are there to aid in the skiers' depth perception as they plummet back toward the earth. You don't want to be surprised when your skis hit the ground at that speed. It's the same principle you'll see in diving, where people sitting poolside will kick to agitate the surface of the water and give divers a sense of where the water is.
So there you have it. We shouldn't have to tell you this, but by all means, please do not try this at home.
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