The Physics of Snowboarding

February 22, 2013

So I was in the dorm the other night, when one of my team members says, “I have a physics project that I need to do, and I want to connect it to snowboarding, any ideas??”

Defying the Laws of Physics

Whoa…. Snowboarding is all about physics. I almost feel like it’s the definition of physics in sport. It touches on almost everyone of the Laws of Motion as determined by our great friend Newton.

Newton’s Laws of motion

  • Newton’s first law of motion: A body continues in its state of constant velocity (which may be zero) unless it is acted upon by an external force.
  • Newton’s second law of motion: For an unbalanced force acting on a body, the acceleration produced is proportional to the force impressed; the constant of proportionality is the inertial mass of the body.
  • Newton’s third law of motion: In a system where no external forces are present, every action force is always opposed by an equal and opposite reaction force.

Add to this gravity, acceleration, trajectory, friction, degree of slope – the list goes on and on – and you end up with snowboarding in its purest form. I explained to the student-athlete that physics is everything to snowboarding, and recounted a time when we calculated the height a snowboarder could fly in the half-pipe traveling at 32mph. But when we tested it, some riders would get 3ft high and others 6ft. How could this be?

Well, the one thing we couldn’t calculate was the athlete and how their movements affected the trick – the tiny movements and nuances, that every rider uses to make their riding different and unique. In the coaching world, we describe this as T.I.D. Timing-Intensity-Duration and although the fundamentals are all similar, the T.I.D. has endless configurations, which is what makes snowboarding so fun.

  • Same speed, different trajectories… Curious…!

So, what should the physics paper be about? Waxes and friction? Height in the pipe? Speed down the hill? Well after debating, I think we decided “The Simple Jump.” This would include such questions as:

  1. Speed into jump
  2. Pitch of in -run
  3. Angle of take off
  4. Length and amount of transition
  5. Distance of jump
  6. Angle and length of landing
  7. Trajectory of rider

So let’s wait and see. I think the paper is due next week, will our snowboarding physicist get an A? If it were up to me, it would an A for bringing the worlds of science and snowboarding together.

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