Two University of Oregon Sports Product Management (SPM) graduate students and a UO alumnus are keeping winter Olympians warm in an innovative new product.
Josh Daniel and Lauren Samuels, both SPM class of 2022, along with former UO student Colby Taylor, used technology, design prowess, and lived experience to create heated ski shorts to keep athletes" muscles warm during training runs and wait times before events—which can be 10 to 30 minutes in extremely cold conditions.
“We used Colby's patented single element process to sew the conductive thread into the pattern Josh created based on Lauren's experience as a competitive skier," said Roger Best, Emeritus Professor and cofounder of SPM, who served as a mentor.
The seed of the project came earlier this fall when human physiologist Brett Kirby, a pro tem instructor for the UO's Sports Product Management and Sports Product Design graduate programs, was made aware the U.S. Alpine Ski Team was looking for a product to help maintain body temperature in the Beijing cold.
Having had Daniel and Samuels as students for a different, hypothetical ski-adjacent project in his course, he knew they would be a great fit for the project and they took it on in late September as part of a course taught by instructor Jinky Panganiban. It was an exciting opportunity to apply the skills they learned as part of the UO's Portland-based Sports Product Management master's degree program, which educates students in the complete sports product creation process from ideation to production.
Before SPM, Samuels worked as a ski coach for two years after her time as an NCAA division 1 ski racer and member of the U.S. Ski Team from 2010 to 2011. A Tennessee native, Daniel came to the program from New York City where he was working in fashion design.
The SPM team knew they needed to create something that wouldn't add any equipment or bulk for the skiers. The original thought was a vest or jacket—a cold-weather answer to the cooling vests elite runners use to keep their body temperature down before a run in the heat.
However, in Samuels" experience it was the legs, not the core, that was hardest to keep warm on the lift back up the mountain. The team polled some other athletes and determined they had the same issue. She also knew the product would need to be extremely sleek, “anything adding bulkiness or air resistance would have to be removed even for training runs," she said.
“We needed to give the most benefit without being intrusive, without adding bulk or having to alter their current race routine," Daniel said.
The compression ski shorts are worn over the skier's speed suit and use lithium-ion batteries to energize the heat elements woven into the ski pants. Breakaway zippers make removing them fast and uncomplicated.
“Being able to zip off your shorts without going over your boots was non-negotiable," Samuels said. “You cannot damage or snag a speed suit. Any abrasion or piling makes it slower and in our sport hundredths of a second count."
With the clock ticking and supply chain disruptions, the U.S. Alpine Ski Team ultimately sent their existing Spyder brand training shorts, and the SPM team deconstructed them, then integrated the heating design.
The heating element was developed and patented by Colby Taylor. His company, Innovative Sports Inc. already made heated sleeves for Major League Baseball and college baseball and softball pitchers for faster recovery. Best, who has an electrical engineering background, worked with Colby on the batteries needed to power these heated ski shorts to achieve the desired temperature.
Innovative Sports in Eugene rendered the heating elements, and they were taken to the SPM program's Innovation Lab in Portland.
The SPM lab houses industrial sewing equipment and state-of-the art product-making technology that enable students to design and prototype sports products as part of SPM's first-of-its-kind program. There, Daniel weaved the heating elements into the U.S. Alpine Ski Team shorts.
Not wanting to risk potential shipping delays, and with the Winter Games on the horizon, Daniel boarded a plane and flew to Park City, Utah, to meet Samuels and hand-deliver the 23 pairs of training shorts.
The SPM team will be watching the Beijing Games from Utah and Oregon.
“The alpine venue has already lived up to the extremely cold environment we designed this for and we know some of the athletes are putting their trust in this garment. We're just happy we could help the athletes in pursuit of their Olympic dreams and hopefully optimize their performance," Samuels said.
So far, the shorts are a hit.
Samuels" friend, former teammate, and current Olympian Paula Moltzan has already texted her photos of the U.S. Alpine Ski Team using the heated shorts in Beijing.
Said Daniel and Samuels, “We'll be rooting for them!"
—AnneMarie Knepper-Sjoblom "05, Lundquist College Communications
Photos courtesy of Ryan Mooney (@mooney_ryan).