I know the most burning question in the collective minds of Oppo today probably isn’t, “How do you cut the tracks for skis on a nordic ski jump?” But you know what? I’m gonna tell you anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold:

This is a track cutter of the homemade variety. I’m not sure a commercial product exists that does exactly what this contraption does. That’s not to say there isn’t a better way - on big hills on the World Cup circuit and in recent Olympic competitions, they’re all going to a ceramic track system that you can read about here and here. Really, lots of jumps are going that way if they can afford to.

Here’s an excerpt about the ceramic track systems:

The one-track inrun system is made out of ceramic nubs that are arranged in a scientifically tested design. A cooling unit is integrated into the system. It creates a stable layer of ice that is 20 mm thick throughout the ski jumping season. This layer is made from the humidity on the heavily cooled down track. There is no need for additional ice or snow. An integrated milling cutter and brushes prepare the ice and regulate its thickness. The system can be switched easily from summer to winter operation or vice versa. No layer of ice is formed in the summer: The jumpers glide down the take-off ramp right on the ceramic nubs.

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photo: ceramtec

But to be clear: we don’t have anything like that.

We have a pressure-treated deck in the shape of a ski jump that relies 100% on natural snow to fall on it. Then we side-step down it with skis on, and most of the time, just go for it as-is; over many repetitions, a groove begins to form where the skis travel the most, especially with softer snow conditions. However, last week and next week we’re hosting real competitions on our jump, so I felt like we needed to have real tracks cut into the fairly hard surface that resulted from multiple thaw-freeze cycles.

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See below: it’s pretty, but there’s no guidance for the inrun (the top half of the jump where skiers get all their speed).

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Enter the Trackulator:

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The basic idea is that the two cylinders are driven by a heavy duty drill attached directly to the shaft at one end. As they spin, they dig into the snow/ice as (ideally) two people pull it down the slope along a pre-defined straight line. We used a long section of 1/8" aircraft cable to make the line, which worked great.

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Aside from having to constantly pick it up and clean out all the snow that kept binding it up, or piling up underneath it and causing it not to bite, it worked rather well. Considering a fellow coach made it with things he found lying around his shop, it’s pretty impressive.

This is after the competition (don’t mind the holes near the top caused by melting... that little guy? I wouldn’t worry about that little guy...):

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It actually rained a little during the competition and made the tracks icy, which is good! That means fast and solid. The warm, wet snow we cut the tracks into mid-day was pretty soft and I was worried the walls would collapse as skiers went down it over and over.

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Below you can see where skiers put their skis on and slide out on a bar over the track to get started - that’s why it’s flattened and basically ruined for that one stretch at the top.

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I didn’t take more pictures of the setup and cutting process because it was just two of us and it took a couple hours anyway to get the track looking halfway decent. It’s dead straight, but had some high/low areas which isn’t ideal. Next week I need to work that out a bit better before cutting.

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Now you know!

I get to do it all again next week, and we may use a different unit, in which case I’ll definitely write up a comparison. Supposedly one team is developing a gas-powered version. THAT I want to see.