Para Nordic athletes heading to Beijing with custom sit-skis

The UK’s Para Nordic squad will be heading to the Paralympic Games in Beijing next year with bespoke sit-skis designed and manufactured in the UK.

The sit-ski development was led by Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) and included input from the athletes, GB Snowsport, Coventry University, BAE Systems and Formaplex.

Ryan Allen, a systems engineer at BAE Systems, said the sit-skis were made of a mixture of carbon fibre ply with a foam core and were chosen for their high relative strength, durability and low weight.

“We learned a lot from two early prototypes made by WAE, which helped guide the material selection,” he said.

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Two apprentices at BAE Systems worked on the project, overseen by team leader Richard Swain. They worked with Formaplex, using their tooling to manufacture the seats for each sit-ski. Once the seats had been manufactured, they were delivered to WAE to complete the tailored fitting.

“One of the athletes is a single above knee amputee, so this had to be incorporated into the design and we had to find ways to adapt the seat design to accommodate his leg,” said Allen. “The solution was to implement a removable plate on his seat so he could position his full leg correctly before he was locked in.”

Allen added that another athlete is a double below knee amputee, which made the set-up a challenge because he exerts force differently through the seat.

“This meant we had to tweak the angle of the seat so he could drive the force downwards and he also needed some extra padding.” he said. “As in a lot of sports equipment, there’s a trade-off between strength and weight. We’re confident that the sit skis achieve the right balance.”

Team GB’s Para Nordic athletes with bespoke sit-skis (Image: WAE)

As part of the project, BAE Systems provided strain gauges and training that was used during a team training camp in Norway and again when they returned.

Allen said the strain gauges monitored the forces acting on the fins that connected the seats to the skis, as these are under significant strain while athletes manoeuvre and change direction at speed.

“Fortunately, we didn’t need to do any re-work following the strain-gauge results, as all was performing as expected,” he said. “It gave us the confidence to go ahead and make four more fins…so that the athletes have spares during the Beijing Winter Paralympics.”

The four-man Para Nordic squad is made up of Steve Arnold, Callum Deboys, Scott Meenagh, and Steve Thomas. The 2022 Beijing Paralympics take place between March 3 – 13.