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Why ski jumpers hold their skis in a V

It’s more about aerodynamics than aesthetics.

Edward Vega joined the Vox video team as a video producer in 2021. His coverage focuses on all things cinema, from the intricacies of film history to the nuts and bolts of filmmaking.

If you look at photos of ski jumpers today and ski jumpers 50 years ago, you’ll notice one big difference.

Two skiers showing different styles of holding their skis. On the left, in black and white, a skier with the number 50 holds their skis parallel to one another. On the right, in full color, a skier holds their skis in a V-shape with the point at the heel. Getty Images/Composite by Edward Vega

In the past, athletes held their skis tight underneath their bodies in a parallel position. Keeping the body in a straight line like this was considered elegant and appealing. But more importantly, it was the position they used to gather as much distance as possible. This position made athletes thin and small, which allowed them to move forward through the air quickly. However, the parallel position didn’t do much to help them fight gravity.

In the 1980s, ski jumper Jan Boklov tested out a different ski position — one that resembled a V. He noticed that the V shape allowed him to fly farther.

That’s because, unlike the parallel position, the V position allows air to hit athletes’ bodies directly. Instead of only cutting through the air quickly, they’re using their body to catch air like a wing. This effect lifts athletes up, allowing them to stay airborne longer — and go farther. This small change revolutionized the sport, and since then, gold-medal winners have used the V style to make it to the podium.

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