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Ogden wind tunnel provides unique training for athletes

OGDEN — An Ogden business owner is using his obsession with speed to help some Olympic hopefuls improve their technique.

Layne Christensen's passion for speed led him to build a wind tunnel.

“The idea of a wind tunnel came up one day while I was at a bike shop, talking about a high-speed bicycle that I’d been working on for 25 years,” Christensen said.

It took a little more than two years for Christensen, founder of Darko Technologies, to build the tunnel at the Business Depot Ogden. It’s an open-circuit tunnel, meaning that it’s open to the air in the room. The tunnel has three, 6-foot-diameter turbines, each with 150 horsepower. The center of the tunnel is called the test section.

The walls and ceilings allow for testing of full-scale race cars or smaller objects like motorcycles, bicycles — or even ski jumpers.

A computer linked to the data system can measure things like lift, drag and side forces, as well as pitch, roll and yaw.

“It’s exciting to me when we hit the start button,” Christensen said. “The fans come up, there’s that low drone (sound). You hear the air moving.”

Members of Women's Ski Jumping USA are honing their craft in the tunnel, hoping for a spot in the Winter Olympics next year in Sochi. It will be the first Olympic Winter Games in which women will be allowed to compete in ski jumping.

With the help of some smoke, these ski jumpers can see exactly how the air moves around them, essentially freezing those six to eight seconds that they spend in flight.

“It’s pretty crazy concept,” said Women’s Ski Jumping USA member Alissa Johnson, “but I mean it’s very applicable to us, so it’s kind of cool to get in here and try different things.”

Air pressure is scary, Christensen said. “It can lift a huge airplane. … It could lift a building off the ground.”

It can also get really loud inside the tunnel. “What you’re hearing is not the motors,” Christensen said. “They’re electrical motors. They’re all but silent. What you hear, and the huge amount of sound and noise that’s in here, is the air moving.”

To build a tunnel like this isn’t cheap. Though he won’t say exactly how much it cost, he did say it’s in the millions. But it’s his passion.

“This is the first business I’ve had or created that was more passion-driven than anything else,” Christensen said.

He said the tunnel allows athletes to see what happens when they change things without landing on their face.

“You can spend half an hour in here, and it’s about a whole entire season of jumps, so you can learn a lot of stuff really fast in here, which is really good,” Johnson said.