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In skeleton, participants run at the start, then dive onto their sled front-first.

In luge, participants begin on their sleds, and use their hands to start before lying back-first.

It has been documented that skeleton is slower than luge (and bobsled)(1).

What are the technical differences between skeleton and luge?

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2 Answers 2

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At first glance, skeleton and luge look very similar. Both sports involve people racing down the ice track on tiny sleds, the only obvious difference between them being that luge riders race on their backs, feet first, and skeleton riders race on their bellies, head first. However, despite the fact that skeleton is head first, luge is the more dangerous of the two, and there are several differences between the two sports.

Sleds

First is the sleds themselves. A skeleton sled rides on top of tubular runners, and on the body side of the sled, there is a saddle to hold the rider in place.

Bottom of skeleton sled: Bottom of skeleton sled

Top of skeleton sled: Top of skeleton sled

A luge sled rides on top of steel blades that are much sharper than the tube blades of a skeleton sled. This contributes to luge being faster than skeleton.

Luge sled: Luge sled

Aerodynamics

Another reason luge is faster than skeleton is aerodynamics. The feet-first position is more aerodynamic than head-first, because the relatively flat front of the skeleton helmet introduces drag.

Steering

The steering is very different between the two sleds as well. In skeleton, the rider has a very good view of what is going on. The rider steers by flexing his body. Because of the saddle, they have a lot of body contact with the sled, and have a lot of control with small movements. When they nudge their head a little, their body responds, and the sled responds as well.

Luge is much harder to control. A luge rider lays on top of the sled, and there is no saddle holding them to the sled. Laying feet first, it is much harder to see where you are going, and there is less body contact due to the lack of a saddle. The runners of a luge sled are bowed up at the front and contact the riders legs. Steering is done by a combination of pushing on the runners with your legs and flexing the sled with your shoulders.

Luge also has a 2-man variety as well. Typically, the 2-man luge is slower because they start further down on the track, but it is much harder to steer because the man on top is the only one that can see, but the man on the bottom is the one that is most able to contribute to the steering.

Start

The races are started differently. In skeleton, the rider starts running with the sled at the top of the track and belly flops on to the sled. For luge, the rider starts sitting on the sled, and grabs handles attached to the track on either side. He pulls the handles to start the sled moving, then pushes the ice on either side of the sled at the start of the race using spiked gloves, before laying back and assuming the race position.

Sources:

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Once I am able to award my bounty, you will get it. This is an example of an exemplary answer on Sports SE. –  edmastermind29 Feb 17 at 16:00

The sleds are much heavier in the skeleton, and thinner... where as you have a fiberglass sled in the luge and is designed so you put pressure on the runners to steer.

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What does it mean to "put pressure on the runners to steer?" –  edmastermind29 Feb 12 at 3:00
    
A luge sled is designed to twist so by pushing against it with your shoulders and legs you could change which parts of the runners are touching the ice. –  Emyr Feb 12 at 9:48
    
@Emyr Thanks...that's helpful. How would one steer in skeleton? Body weight? –  edmastermind29 Feb 12 at 14:17
    
Actually, skeleton sleds seem to be steered using twisting and weight-shifting too. The rules require a metal frame. –  Emyr Feb 12 at 16:12
    
@Emyr Feel free to add your own answer. Although this answer provides some insight, it remains inconclusive. –  edmastermind29 Feb 12 at 18:18

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