In a few weeks, U.S. Alpine Ski Team members will be wearing a little piece of Boulder as they fly downhill and weave in and out of slalom poles in Sochi, Russia, at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Boulder-based Spyder Active Sports has again designed uniforms for the U.S. team, and even though the uniform technology is "top secret," the graphics, colors and story behind the design should help American skiers go fast, Spyder officials say.
"One of the things I've realized about collaborating on downhill ski suits is they have to look and feel fast," said Matt Strackbein, Spyder's production art manager. "They have to give the athletes a degree of confidence when they put it on that they look like a rocketship, so now they're going to perform like one."
Strackbein, 39, lives in Longmont and designs the graphics for many of Spyder's ski suits, including custom suits for individual athletes such as Lindsey Vonn.
Strackbein talks with the people who will wear the suits to hear what kind of design they want. What he heard before designing the U.S. Alpine Ski Team suits was pretty vague: stick to red, white and blue with stars and stripes.
But Strackbein got to thinking about how patriotic athletes must feel when they cross the finish line and win an Olympic medal. He began researching the history of "The Star-Spangled Banner," by Francis Scott Key.
"It occurred to me whenever I hear our national anthem I get that tingling sensation," he said. "The song speaks to me."
As legends goes, Key was detained aboard a British troopship during the 24-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry. The morning after, the air was still thick with smoke and debris, but Key spotted the reflection of an American flag in the water, which was the inspiration for what would become the national anthem.
"I thought, 'He saw the flag rippling in the water; well, I'll translate that into the design,'" Strackbein said.
His design includes thin red stripes that cross the athlete's abdomen, arms and lower legs, mimicking the flag rippling in water. The color throughout the uniform changes seamlessly from dark blue to white, which represents the early morning that Key saw.
U.S. Ski Team chief executive officer Bill Marolt said in a news release that Spyder's "innovative technology" has helped seven straight U.S. Olympic ski teams perform at a high level.
Strackbein couldn't say much about the technology behind the ski suits, though he did say that Spyder has spent hundreds of hours testing the suits in wind tunnels.
The technology behind the suit is kept secret to give the American racers as much of an advantage as possible, he added.
When he and other Spyder employees watch the alpine events next month, Strackbein said he knows they'll be excited to see their hard work on display some 6,000 miles from Boulder.
"It's a big deal," he said. "Even though this isn't my hometown, I've lived here long enough to call it home, and I'll do whatever I can to help put our best foot forward and represent."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at or email@example.com.