- Snowboard Physics -

Snowboard Physics?

Learning "Snowboard Physics" is in order, to fully enjoy and maximize your snowboarding experience. I will breifly touch on Gravity, Momentum, Acceleration, Inertia, etc... However, it is not the science that I want to convey, but more so an understanding how a rider, a board and physics come together to form a fluid creative outlet.

It is a good idea to work towards understanding your equipment and how you as a rider will use it to manipulate snowboard physics. Understanding how and why it works the way it does. We're talking about all the equipment. Such as snowboarding outerwear, boots, bindings, boards, goggles or glasses and all the other accessories. Like tuning and waxing tools, not to mention binding tools. How and why it all works the way it does. Then understanding how the equipments characteristics combine body movements over the board and physical laws of nature to become snowboarding.

In the following snowboard physics definitions, I want to teach you about the relationship between you the rider and the gear. Though the brands and styles you choose will reflect your personality and are your choice, I feel it is extremely important that you understand the physical effects of the makeup and construction of your gear. That way you can utilize the equipment and your skill to reach towards your potential as a rider.

-for a good place to start-
Check out: Snowboard Reviews Snowboard Science Page

A Snowboarders’ Weapon of Choice

The quality of snowboards continues to rise, consistently trying to find a construction and design that offers the best board characteristics.

  • A snowboarder gets to utilize and manipulate physics, i.e. Gravity, Momentun, Acceleration and Inertia through the use of a snowboards design. The boards design will hold certain riding characteristics, that are a reflection of the boards Flex, Camber, Side cut, Length, Edge Contact, Shape and Board Construction.
  • The design of the board will define such riding characteristics, including Turning Capabilities, Durability, Stability, Edge Hold, Liveliness or Snap, Swing Weight, and Float.
  • All of these factors together create the feel of the board when riding. Therefore, it is good for a rider to experiment to find what they like or dislike in the characteristics of a board and what combination of factors give a board the ride the individual is looking for.

As in any sport, along with progression comes the need for more and more specialized equipment. In the following, I explain the key factors to make a snowboard ride the way it does, and why.

  • Flex-- The flex of a board is basically the resistance or give that is experienced when the board is bent. Flexes are characterized as soft or stiff.

    (Longitudinal flex)–Which is the bend of the entire length of the board. This will give the characteristic of liveliness, also known as the snap. A board that is stiffer will be livelier or have more snap than a board that is softer. This snap will aid in the ability to Ollie or pop of off the tail or nose, and define the feel of the board in a off-balance landing or turn, in terms of the ability to recover. A softer board will be easier to turn, but harder to recover on, because the board will be less able to hold your weight over the tip or tail and lead to a fall. While a stiffer board is more difficult in turn initiation (especially for a beginner), but recovers better because it is more likely to hold your body weight over the tip or tail, and give you a better opportunity to push off of the weighted end of the board, moving back into a stable position.

    (Torsional flex) --The torsional flex will define a boards ability to hold and edge through a carve. A board that is stiff torsionaly, whether it is soft or stiff longitudinally, will hold and edge well. Meaning that a torsionaly soft board has less edge grip or bite in a carved turn. The way to test this is to check the ability to twist a board, so that the tip and tail are rotating in opposite directions. This is its torsional flex.

  • Camber--The camber is the bend built into the board, from tip to tail. For example, if a board is laying on the ground without a rider on it, the arch that lifts the mid-section of the board off of the ground is the camber. Camber is commonly measured in millimeters at the highest part of that arch. The camber of a board is most critically involved in keeping as much of the board or its edge in contact with the snow through a turn, or while traversing across a hill side. It does this through the flexing of the arch, as it pushes down the back side of any bumps or irregularities in the riding surface.

  • Sidecut-- Key to snowboard Physics, the sidecut of a board is the size and shape of the arch made by the edge itself. The sidecut is essentially part of a large circle and defines the length of a carved turn that the board. A board with a single specific circle segment running the length of the board is referred to as a radial sidecut and is the most widely used design in the industry. While other factors, like the flex and camber will really define the feel of the boards ride, the side cut defines the boards natural turn length.

    A board with a long sidecut, or big circle, is more stable than a board with a short sidecut, little circle. In Snowboard Physics, The stability we are referring to a boards’ ability to go fast while maintaining a smooth and predictable ride. A board with a small sidecut would be referred to as squirrelly, because it wants to turn a lot. This causes instability at speed, which can be scary and difficult to feel comfortable with.

    An additional development in sidecuts that has been revolutionary to a certain extent is the progressive sidecut. A progressive sidecut utilizes two or more different sized circles to make up the length of the side cut. Most commonly, the sidecut from the nose of the board through the mid section, to around the back foot, is a consistent circle segment, and then it progresses into a tighter (smaller) circle or cut, through to the tail. This makes the board exit a turn more quickly, and sets up the next turn more easily than a consistent radial side cut would. It also changes the way that a board rides fakie, or backwards. When riding a progressive side cut backwards, the board will hook into the turn, meaning that the turn’s initiation is quicker than the middle and exit parts of the turn. This adds some instability to the fakie riding snowboard physics of a board with a progressive side cut. The progressive side cuts benefits can outweigh the negative effects on a board’s fakie riding, and prove to be enjoyable to ride.

  • Length (overall and edge contact) --Along with the side cut of a board the characteristic of a board that will define its stability is its length. The overall length is the physical measurement from the tip to the tail. This length is only truely felt in deep snow, when the entire board is in contact with the snow. More length, more surface area, better float, and glide in deeper conditions.
    -The edge contact is the length of edge actually touching the snow on a hard surface, such as a recently groomed trail, or icy conditions. This length will dictate how long a board feels to the rider.
    -The actual length is usually used to describe a board’s length and is most commonly measured in centimeters. Average board length measurements range from 150cm up to 165cm for a grown rider. For younger riders, the lengths start around 90cm and progress up as the rider grows in ability and size.

  • Board Construction--A board’s construction is the key to its being a great board or a piece of junk. These days, most of the boards produced are fairly good in their construction. There are many different components that are involved. The actual materials used, along with the core (boards center) design, and construction techniques, can all be very complex, and have very different outcomes. It is too much to go into in this book. I can however tell you that the construction and makeup of a boards core, will define such crucial factors as the flex and camber, affecting the boards, stability, turning capabilities, liveliness, edge hold, and most important to many, its durability. If you are interested in the details that go into a board and its construction, I would go to the companies that build the boards themselves. They are usually very proud of their product, and either have detailed information on its construction, or could point you in the right direction to get the low down info on it.

    Snowboard Physics Create The Feel of Riding

    A snowboards design characteristics and physics will combine to create
    -------the following riding characteristics:

    Turning Capabilities-- A snowboards turning capabilities can be looked at in a few different parts of the turn itself. The ease or difficulty turning a board is marked by the level of effort required at the entry into the turn or its ability to initiate the turn, the response (Stability or Sketchiness) of the board through the middle of a turn, and lastly its action in the exit from the turn to the edge change. As a rider advances, the boards’ characteristics through a turn while riding backwards, or switch, can become equally important. This turning characteristic in any board is defined by its side cut, flex, and length, as described above.

  • Stability--Commonly, the first characteristic that a rider notices when he/she ride a board for the first time is its’ stability. Most importantly, a boards’ stability must match the individual rider needs. If a person is on a board too stable or too unstable, for their personal preference, it can be one of the hardest things to get used to. As in any of these specific characteristics, the preference will come with experimentation, trial and error. Make the most of every day on a different board. Remember or even take notes to help to keep track of your likes and dislikes regarding the snowboard physics of each board you ride.

  • Edge Hold--In some conditions, more than others, this is more or less crucial. For example, if you live on the east coast, you need great edge control. Lot’s of ice. If your in the northwest, where the snow is often powdery, and even when it is not, it is usually a wet, packed, type of snow that helps the edge hold, and the boards ability to hold an edge is less mandatory. Here again, trial and error, is the best bet to find your optimum board. The edge hold is created by a boards’ side-cut and flex, especially its torsional flex. More torsional stiffness, more edge hold. Then when the snow gets real hard, the absolute most important thing, is that your edges themselves are well tuned and sharp.

  • Liveliness or Snap--The liveliness or snap in a board come directly from its longitudinal flex, and can make a great board great. Boards with good snap will ollie higher, recover from falls and off balance turns better, and will be generally more fun for and intermediate to advanced rider. While, a board with a mushy, or soft flex, will feel dead, in being less lively, making it harder to recover on, and harder to pop larger ollies on. A board with less pop does have its place as a beginner, novice, or early intermediate board. It is easier to turn, and easier to learn to feel comfortable on. Being softer will allow a beginner board to initiate turns easier, and the deeper flex will help the novice rider to control speed.

  • Swing Weight--The swing weight is a measurement of how easy or hard it will be to rotate your board clockwise, counter-clockwise, forward or backward around the center of the board. This mainly affects the way a board feels in the air. A rider that likes to spin and flip or is hoping to learn to spin and flip will learn the difference in feel, between boards with drastically different swing weights. A lower swing weight means the board spins easier. Discussing a boards’ swing weight is getting a bit too technical, even for me. I just thought you may want to know about it, so you won’t be caught off guard if it comes up in discussion with a salesman, and if you learn to feel it, you’ll know what it is.

  • Float--Last, but not least, especially if you are a powder hound, is the riding characteristic known as float. Float comes from the boards’ length and width. Riding powder is a source of joy and freedom for any snowboarder fortunate enough to ride it, and float is crucial. When riding powder it can sometimes be easy to get stuck. On flatter terrain it is easier to get stuck than on a steeper pitch. The best way not to get stuck is to stay on top of the snow. To do this you use two things, the float of your board and speed. You must keep your momentum going to maintain float. If your board floats well, you can go a little slower and stay on top of the powder. With a board that doesn’t float as well, you really have to sit on the tail of the board and keep your speed up to keep from diving into the powder and getting stuck.

    Solid Connection from Board to Body

    Ground Control-boots, bindings, and a partnership with the board

    These days there are many different systems that serve the purpose of connecting our feet to the board. No matter the system, it must provide, in the union of boot to binder, warmth, good fit, good ankle support, and good lateral support, forward lean adjustments, multiple stance options, durability, and most importantly total control.

  • Warmth-- It is good to have a boot that will keep your feet comfortable and warm when it is cold out. Make sure that when it is warm out, your boots can breathe and let that moisture out, so your feet don't end up soaking. Sometimes, no matter the case, your feet will be wet. Oh well.

  • Good fit-- This is one area that a salesmen at a shop may be of great help. Getting the right fit can be very difficult. A boot should fit snug all the way around your foot, and hold your heel in place. It is always a good idea to purchase a boot that feels about a size to small. See, nearly all snowboarding boots have an inner liner or lining, that it sure to compress and pack out over time. But, be careful about wearing boots that your toe is compressed into the end of the boot. This will cause some agonizing runs in the first couple days in the boots, but once you break in the inner liner, you'll love them.

  • Ankle support--The combination of you boot / binding should be able to provide comfortable, consistent, and even pressure across the ankle. Any problems with this, will result in lose of control, and possible pain. Many times it is hard to tell if the ankle support from a system os good until you test it out on the hill. Try and demo different set-ups and find what works best for you.

  • Lateral support--Once again this must be provided through the union of you boot and bindings. Lateral support provides resistance in your flexing from tip to tail while standing on the board. Many free-stylers like to have soft lateral support for a better range of movement, adding to the style or poke that you may put into a trick. Many times though, less support means less control on the ground. Every rider must experiment to find what works best for you.

  • Forward Lean Adjustments--No matter what system you are going with, you should make sure that it has a quick and easy way to adjust the forward lean of the high back or boot. As you develop as a rider, you should often experiment with your stance and binding set up. A good high back will always boost a person’s level of riding. Depending on snow conditional and terrain, you will sometimes want more or less forward lean, which will in turn change your positioning as you stand on the board, and is your direct link to your heel-side edge, heel-side turns, and heel-side take-offs and landings.

  • Multiple Stance Options--In the development as a rider, one of the most important elements to consider, is your stance. This is the basis by which your body controls the board. It seems that among the best riders in the world, there are many different stances, and many different styles. As a snowboarder it’s your responsibility to find the stance that is right for you. And so, it is necessary to have adequate stance variations to choose from between board and binding. Then experiment, with the stance. One factor to watch for is the problems associated with toe and heel drag. Just make sure that the binding is adjusted to center the boots length toe to heel, across the board. The basic range of effective stances is:

    Stance Center: 1/4"-1.5" towards the tail from the boards center line
    Front foot- between 6 and 40 degrees
    Back foot- between -15 and 15 degrees
    Stance width- between 17 and 26 inches
    (Directly effected by rider height and style)

  • Durability--This one explains itself. When your gallivanting around on a mountain, exploring, crashing, having fun, you need your equipment to withstand the harsh weather and usage put on it. Just ask the employees in a snowboard shop what styles and brands they use, and that is a good start.

    Total Control- Total control comes from the comfort of a precision fit and the completed adjustment of your snow-riding setup. When you feel it, you know it.

    It’s making me want to head for the hill just thinking about it.

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