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How Luge Works

By: Julia Layton & Patty Rasmussen  | 

Luge Equipment

luge sled
The sled is the most important piece of equipment used by sliders. It's designed to maximize speed while allowing for precise control by the slider. HowStuffWorks

For all the complexity of navigating a luge course, the equipment involved is limited. Every piece of equipment in luge is designed for utmost aerodynamics, minimal friction and top speed. Required equipment includes:

  • the sled
  • racing shoes
  • a helmet
  • racing gloves and suit

A luge sled is the most important piece of equipment; it's a high-tech machine. It's made primarily of fiberglass and steel, and it's custom-built for each athlete based on his or her height, weight and proportions. Luge teams contract companies to design and build their sleds based on custom specifications. The single sled weighs between 46 and 55 pounds (21 and 25 kilograms), while a double sled weighs between 55 and 66 pounds (25 and 30 kilograms). The seat runs from the slider's shoulders to his or her knees, and there is no head support.

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The sled consists of:

  • Racing pod: The pod is the racing seat on which the slider lies. It's usually made of fiberglass.
  • Two steels: The two steels are what the sled slides on—they're the only parts of the sled that contact the ice. Steels are made of metal and are very sharp.
  • Two runners (sometimes called kufens, which is German for "runners"): Runners are steel and are the main steering mechanism of the sled.
  • Two bows: The bows are the curved sections of each runner and are flexible. Using their legs, sliders apply pressure to one or the other runner bow to steer through the course (they can also steer by making small movements with their shoulders to shift their weight).
  • Two bridges: The bridges connect to the runners and support the pod.
  • Two grips: There are handles on either side of the pod for the slider to hold on to during the race.
  • Sleds cannot have any sort of mechanical brakes.

A slider's racing gear consists of:

  • Helmet: A luge helmet has a rounded visor that extends all the way under the slider's chin to minimize air resistance. It must include a strap to hold their heads against high G-forces.
  • Racing suit: The luge suit is a smooth, rubberized, skin-tight suit designed to minimize air friction. Sliders typically compete in brand-new suits so there's no chance of flapping or rippling. Racing suits must weigh no more than 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms).
  • Spiked gloves: Luge gloves have spikes sewn into the fingertips and/or knuckles to provide traction when the slider is paddling over the ice at the start of the race.
  • Racing booties: The zippers on luge booties draw the sliders' feet into a straight position (as opposed to flexed). This position minimizes frontal drag.

During a race, something like a snag in a racing bootie can affect the slider's aerodynamics enough to mean the difference between a win and a loss. Sliders typically race in brand-new gear to reduce the chance of an unnoticed imperfection.

In the next section, we'll put this all together and see what happens during a luge run.

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