Most people wouldn’t think about the physics relating to snowboarding, however it’s constantly in the back of the minds of the professional athletes performing these chilly stunts. Even something as simple as casually shredding down the slope can contain a huge amount of Physics compared to any other normal activity. A very comprehensive understanding behind the physics of snowboarding is a key element to performing some of the high risk moves we as an audience love so much. More importantly, having a clear understanding of physics can help the athlete become aware of potential “wipe out” situations, preventing unnecessary injuries despite how some might consider learning the physics of the sport unnecessary. After some research, the three main points above are what I would personally consider the most interesting and important snowboarding related activities that could stress the importance of physics in this beloved activity many across the world love so much.
The Physics of Snowboarding
Physics is everything to snowboarding. Some more important than others, like the friction of the board and the slope going down the hill on a thin layer of water for the simple act of shredding, or the extremely complicated task of mastering the angular momentum, energy conservation, projectile motion of themselves for a single trick. More importantly, snowboarders must know how to prevent most “wipe out” situations they encounter such as controlling their momentum, knowing when and where to pivot their body weight in the right direction, and how to use their own force into the snow to help them come to a reasonable stop. Snowboarding comes with a lot of risks and requires plenty of training, talent, and diligence to master but unfortunately even then accidents happen. Hopefully in most circumstances the snow gear will protect the athletes from injury when their knowledge of the physics in the actions they’re performing, and their own reflexes can’t.
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Going down a large slope in one piece likely cannot even be possible without first possessing the knowledge of shredding. Shredding is performed by the athlete manipulating their mass on the board from one side to other to maintain control. The rider of the snowboard must be cautious however, if he or she shifts their center of gravity over the side of the board that connects with the snow, the rider will fall on their backside or on their stomach depending on what side it was. Hopefully this is where the snow gear of the rider comes in, to prevent the possible injury one could sustain.
Every snowboarder loves showing off their skills with tricks. To get there, they must gain enough speed by converting gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy of motion down the slope to accelerate off the jump. Let’s say the rider is going for a quad corkscrew, the rider would need to perform an abdominal crunch strong enough to give your body enough torque to spin. As their body spirals in the air, they will need to crouch and grab their board as low to the ground as they can get. This minimizes the moment of inertia and increases the speed at which he rotates, with this move the rider may throw his arm to the side to adjust his rotational direction. The rider would then pull both of his arms to his chest to increase his revolutions per second. At the end of the jump, the rider would straighten his body to slow the rotation. To stick the landing of the corkscrew, the rider would land his snowboard at an angle that would decelerate himself gradually. The rider would then bend his knees, which increases collision time and distributes force evenly throughout the board. That’s a lot of physics for a trick that’s supposed to last approximately three seconds!
To pursue a future hobby in snowboarding, one must not be afraid to fail or “wipe out.” With that said, you must be prepared to learn about a wide variety of ways to avoid wiping out. One of the most elementary ways to do this is to dig your board into the snow with the riding edge of the board to just outright halt all the momentum of the board, like a brake. The larger the amount of snow is, the easier it is to brake. Again, other than that, the most fundamental way to prevent a wipe out on the snowboard is to maintain your center of gravity over the riding edge and avoid any objects.
Snowboarding sounds a lot more complicated than it really is whenever you describe it with Physics. There is just a whole lot that could be explained in terms of movement when it comes to the sport. There are more complexities in your movements in snowboarding than almost any other, but they can all be understood and explained with Physics whether it’s shredding down a slope, performing an impressive trick, or preventing injury. Snowboarders truly don’t get enough credit for being able to comprehend most of this stuff and mastering the movement through perfect mental and physical synergy.
Shredding isn’t the only elementary movement in snowboarding to use as a proper Physics example, however it was done because it is the most common and can grasp the most understanding from a reader. There are more that may compare with it in terms of physics in snowboarding. Techniques like skidding are a great example. Skidding is when you take a turn and plow through the snow to decelerate with a high frictional resistance. When skidding, it is important the snowboard is facing the same direction as it’s velocity. This is a wonderful tactic most pros can easily do when performing carved turns. This tactic is used for getting the least snow resistance and maximizing speed at the same time. Skidding though is the amateur equivalent to carved turns, which is how professionals take corners in snowboarding. The difference between the two being that with skidding you go through quite a bit of resistance through the snow, and with a carved turn the rider would use the edges of the board to ease into and slice through the turn easier. When the snowboard is laying down flat, if the radius of the turn equals the radius of the turn you just cut through, then the carved turn was executed correctly.
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The quad corkscrew above was a unique example of a trick with a lot of in-depth movement that was chosen for that specific reason, but not all tricks work exactly or like how that one works. Performers often develop new tricks to stand out and seem that much more impressive, and the more unorthodox and jaw-dropping the trick is, the better the performer stands out. To even double down on the difficulty, some performers might even combine other tricks together to demonstrate even further just how talented they all are. One person named Max Parrot, had performed a cab 1800 triple cork and a front triple 1440 at an Olympic Winter Games. To complete this move, he had to make five complete rotations while sideways opposite of his stance, and four complete spins on his front side. This performer almost knows instinctively how to manipulate his angular momentum in a way that pales in comparison to a common man.
There are also more methods to preventing injury that could be further elaborated upon. Depending on the shape of the jump the athlete has, depends on the momentum the performer has during the jump. An example of this can be if a snowboarder was surprised by the angle he had on a jump because it was worn out from previous riders. The jump would be curved upward sharply and would induce backward rotation. Physicists suggest that professional jumps these days should have better guards that can handle impact better reducing injury frequency with snowboarders. Most snowboarders are indifferent due to their own confidence in their own abilities to control their bodies, but they don’t realize exactly how hard they can come down. Most injuries occur with riders when they fall and land on a flat surface, and most people who design courses now only allow a downward slope. The way this works is that if someone falls straight down on a flat surface, he’s bound to be injured. But at an angle, the rider is moving down the slope and falling from a lower height, converting the gravitational energy into kinetic energy. At the very least, the knees have far less energy from them to absorb from the impact. Most riders acknowledge a jump with a landing they can’t feel a impact was a perfect landing.
- Physics Of Snowboarding. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.real-world-physics-problems.com/physics-of-snowboarding.html
- Chen, S. (2018, February 02). The Physics of One of the Craziest Big Air Snowboard Tricks Ever. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/the-physics-of-one-of-the-craziest-big-air-snowboard-tricks-ever/
- Skibba, R. (2018, February 02). Olympic Big Air Snowboarders Use Physics to Their Advantage. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/olympic-big-air-snowboarders-use-physics-to-their-advantage/
- Skorucak, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae447.cfm
- Snowboard Physics and Explanation of Snowboard Characteristics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.snowboard-coach.com/snowboard-physics.html
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