On January 1, the International Ski Federation (FIS) approved the D-Air Ski suit to be used in professional skiing. D-Air Ski is a wearable airbag suit that is worn over the back and under a ski-racing suit. It contains sensors that can detect if a skier is about to crash, and it will inflate in 100 milliseconds to protect the skier’s back, neck, shoulders and chest.
Designed by the Dianese suit company, the idea was originally made for motorcycle racing. The FIS approached Dianese in 2012 about creating a suit specifically for downhill ski racing.
According to the Scandinavian Journal of Sports Medicine, in any given season an alpine racer has a nearly 30 percent chance of being injured, most of those coming from crashes.
That’s why Dainese examined data from 238 descents and 700 minutes worth of ski time to create an algorithm that can differentiate between a skier who is going to crash versus a skier that is just performing normal ski activities like landing jumps.
“The D-Air Ski algorithm deploys the system in all cases where the skier’s body performs twists which go beyond what would be considered normal race dynamics, for example, forward, rear or lateral rotations during a jump or rolling over,” Dainese explains.
“The algorithm only inflates the system when signals received from seven sensors exceed a preset threshold. For example, in the event of a low speed slide not followed by rolling, the algorithm can decide not to inflate the airbag.”
The suit contains three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a GPS unit. It also has a can of “cold gas”, which upon activation, inflates the 8-liter airbag that wraps around the skier’s upper body. According to Dianese, the D-Air Ski can absorb up to 60 percent of the impact force.
Unlike normal car airbags that deflate almost immediately after impact, the D-Air Ski’s airbag stays inflated for up to 10 seconds, continuing to provide the skier safety recover in case of a long crash.
Dainese wanted to make sure the suit would not inhibit a skier’s aerodynamics and slow them down, but they also couldn’t make it where it improved aerodynamics and gave them an unfair advantage over competition. The engineers at Dainese used Ferrari’s wind tunnel to test the suit’s design to make sure it didn’t at all alter a skier’s aerodynamics.
With the FIS approval in January, Dainese was able to showcase their suit just in time for the World Alpine Ski Championships in early February.
Speed skier Jan Farrell was wearing the D-Air Ski suit in a test run when he crashed at 50 mph.
“Before the first impact, I heard a boom and instantly felt how the airbag inflated,” Farrell said to the press afterwards. “It was like being in a shell.”
It could take some time before the D-Air Ski suit is used worldwide in the sport of downhill racing and other high intensity ski sports. When skiers realize what a difference an airbag can do to protect your torso in a high-speed crash, the D-Air Ski suit will be there as a first-of-its-kind personal protector.