Get your toboggans out, summer is here!
“Pack your swimming costume, take your sister by the hand; there’s nothing half so good, as being at the beach at Wannsee” – so runs the sentiment of pop-singer Conny Froboess’ summer hit of 1951 “Pack die Badehose ein”. Six decades later, thanks to a textile innovation from Saxony, things other than just a swimming costume, including skis, snowboards and toboggans, could well end up in the (rather large) beach bag for summer fun. How come?
In 2013, after many years of research, textile engineers, working with the Institute for Conveyor Technology and Plastics (Institut für Fördertechnik und Kunststoffe – ifk) at the Technical University of Chemnitz, created a new kind of textile-based ski-run in the foothills of the Ore Mountains, which can be used in both summer and winter alike. The principle of “winter sports without snow” is well known – or to put it in terms of the Grimms’ fairy-tale, even when Frau Holle is not shaking out her feather beds and creating snow, we still want winter fun! – plastic ski runs and ski halls with artificial snow have, for some time, enabled people to get on their skis in summer, too. Artificial snow, however, not infrequently invites criticism because of the enormous expenditure in terms of water and energy – and all ‘just for fun’. Moreover, many of these plastic ski runs have from time to time caused unpleasant injuries when people have fallen over on them, because slowing down on their less-than-ideal surfaces can lead to some unintentional “virtuoso performances”, which – remembering from physics lesson at school that friction causes heat – can result in some painful burns.
Jens Reindl, who has, since 2007 been working in the field of innovations management in the textile industry and is the spiritual father of fibre-based snow, hit upon the idea of a textile ski run when he too visited a ski-jump facility where plastic ski runs had been installed in the landing area – together with all the painful falls. Reindl contacted his long-standing friend, Arndt Schumann, a scientist who had specialised in the theory of friction (tribology) at the ifk, an area of study which investigates the impact of wear and friction on surfaces that act against one another. Together they defined their objective: a ski run based on textiles which exhibited good sliding properties and a surface structure permitting both appropriate speed in curves (when “carving”) and better braking.
Working within the framework of a project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, the two passionate winter sports fans eventually found – thanks to a process of trial and error! – the ideal mix of materials, involving different artificial fibres, from which, in the end, they produced a woven fabric; these fibres form the basis of a 2 x 10 metre textile ski run. “We wanted to simulate snow as realistically as possible and provide the same experience as the real thing” says Reindl. Moreover, built into the fibre snow is a specially corrugated surface structure, which is intended to provide the summer winter-sportsman and woman with an authentic feel on starting out and to make it easier to slow down. At the same time, friction is so minimal, that the danger of injury resulting from falls is said to be significantly less than with traditional plastic runs.
Reindl and Schumann quickly decided to become entrepreneurs, patented their textile ski run and, in 2013, founded a company with the easy-to-remember name of “Mr. Snow”, under which they now manufacture and market the fibre-based ski runs. The first orders, it seems, came from American board manufacturer, Burton Snowboards. They roll out the textile runs in their shops, to give children a taste of what snowboarding is like. And these “textile-snow kings” from Chemnitz already have a large number of sporting and other events adorning their crown, including naked tobogganing in Dresden. One wonders if they followed it up with a fibre snowball fight – without a stitch in sight of course!
Above: Everyone can ski and snowboard – “bobby car riding on textile snow” (see background) is, however, only for the professionals! Copyright for both: Mr. Snow