As you rip down the mountain on your fancy snowboard, do you ever wonder what makes it go, or why it handles the way it does? There is a lot to consider in answering this question; there’s more to it than just a flat surface, some snow and a slope!

Did you know? Snowboards were designed to combine the style of surfing with the basic science of skis.

The snowboard is composed of four major parts — the core, top sheet, sidewalls and base — and is one of the most important components in the equation. The core is a critical piece of the board as it acts to provide the level of stiffness desired by the rider. A stiffer board allows for a faster, sharper and harder turning board. Inversely a softer board allows for more flexibility, which is required when riding in a trick-park for example. The core may be composed of laminated wood, aluminum or carbon fiber. The sidewalls are often constructed of steel and act as a blade to dig into the snow and ice, allowing for easier turns. The top sheet and the base protect the core. The top sheet is often made of acrylic and usually sports an artist’s or brand’s design. The base is another critical component, as it is in contact with the snow. As such, it needs to glide over the snow smoothly and quickly. To achieve this, the base is composed of porous, polyethylene plastic, which is capable of absorbing wax. The wax allows the board to have little friction between the base and the snow. The pressure of the board on the snow creates a thin layer of water between the board and the surface of the snow allowing the board to slide with as little friction as possible.

Did you know? The first snowboard was invented by Sherman Poppen in 1965 in Muskegon, Michigan and named a "Snurfer". It was a skateboard sized board that later became the grounds of innovation for the popular Burton Snowboard company.

The characteristics of a board can change how a board handles down a mountain. The length is proportional to the achievable speed. A longer board allows the rider to go faster down a mountain; but a longer board also results in less maneuverability, which isn’t helpful in a trick-park. The length of a board is typically chosen based upon the weight of the rider. A board can also be cut differently for different applications. Narrower boards are faster because they lack the surface area that a wider board has, thus reducing the drag and friction applied to the base. The sidecut, or concave cut to the middle of the board, dictates how agile a board will be. The deeper the cut, the more helpful it will be in achieving that perfect turn. The only thing remaining in this whole equation is the graphic on the top sheet — and that’s entirely up to you! It may not help you go faster or turn harder, but it will definitely help you stand out on the hill!

Did you know? The sport of snowboarding first appeared in the 1998 Winter Olympics held in Nagano, Japan.

Learn More!

Wikipedia: Snowboarding

Wikipedia: Snurfer

Article first published on December 23, 2009.

Photo credit: Brierley, stock.xchng

Colin Seepersad

I am currently a MSc student in the department of Cell & Systems Biology at the University of Toronto.  My undergraduate studies focused on cellular and molecular biology and my current research focuses on identifying various events and interactions that occur in the brain after a stroke.  Outside of the lab I am a waiter at a steakhouse and spend my free time in the gym, on a snowboard or playing hockey.  World travel is a large passion of mine; I have already tackled large parts of Europe and have plans to visit Asia and Australia.

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