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Natick Army Labs test jacket technology for U.S. Olympic snowboarders

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  January 30, 2014 12:43 PM

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Handout, U.S. Army/Natick Soldier Systems Center

The U.S. Olympic Snowboard team in their new Burton jackets. The technology for the jackets, which will be worn in Sochi, was tested at the Natick Army Labs.

The Sochi Winter Olympics just got a bit more local.

The Burton jackets that the U.S. Snowboard team will don for their Olympic runs were tested at the U.S. Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center, also known as the Natick Army Labs.

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Handout/Natick Soldier Systems Center
Dr. Phil Gibson, a physical scientist at the Natick Army Labs, tested various swatches for Burton last year that helped the Vermont-based company develop their DRYRIDE Vaporshell laminate. The snowboarding and apparel company sponsor this year's US Olympic snowboarding team and provides them with the jackets, which were technologically designed specifically with Sochi in mind.

"Sochi is actually a pretty warm area, so we had a great waterproof exterior, but we also wanted the coats to be breathable," said Colin Alger, category manager for technical outerwear at Burton. "This is a technology where they can layer if they need to."

The Army base specializes in researching and developing products for soldiers, including fire-resistant uniforms, tasteful yet compact meals on the go, and solar-powered tents. Researchers at the base have helped create popular products like bulletproof vests, GPS systems, and Tang.

A base spokesman said the facility's renowned scientists often team up with private companies for research and development, which allows the Army to keep an eye on evolving technologies they may not otherwise have encountered.

"It's a win-win situation," said Bob Reinert, a spokesman for the base. "This way the Natick researchers are able to stay state-of-the-art with what's going on in the commercial world, and then the companies generally pay for the testing on the other side of things. It benefits both sides."

Alger said Burton wanted to work with Gibson because he is known for conducting a specific experiment that tests humidity levels on both sides of a fabric -- which was key to the snow sports company for testing fluctuating humidity on both the inside and outside of their jackets, Alger said.

"They were the credible source to give us a stamp of approval, to legitimize our technology against other public companies," Alger said. "We're really happy with the results, which said we’re right up there if not better."

Alger said the new jackets help keep the rider warm and dry -- not just from outside snow, but also from their own sweat, which he said is a breakthrough technology.

"Our new technology is unlike others, when you feel yourself sweating and that's when the jacket starts to perform," he said. "But with our technology, you don’t get damp and cold inside your jacket, you stay dry and comfortable the whole time. That’s what we were going for and that’s what we were able to achieve by testing with the Natick center."

The new technology will be made available to the mass market for the company's 2015 line, which debuts in fall 2014.

The Olympic snowboarding events start Feb. 6 with slopestyle qualifications. There are 10 snowboarding events in the Olympic Games.

For more, visit the official Olympic snowboarding website.

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U.S. Army photo/David Kamm

Dr. Phil Gibson demonstrates the humidity test he used on the Burton jackets, which will be worn by the U.S. Olympic Snowboard team.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourtownnatick, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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