Have you been keeping up with the 2018 Winter Olympics? Between the Norwegian curling team’s pants and the emotional victories in speed skating, it’s been exciting. One sport we’ve been following closely is snowboarding. From Shaun White’s Gold medal win in the Halfpipe to Markus Schairer’s gnarly crash in snowboard cross, it’s certainly been nothing but nail-biting action this time around.
Why are we talking about snowboarding? We doubt any of us here at PSI’s independent testing lab have aspirations of Olympic snowboard glory. No…we’ve found something even better: a way to explore polymers and snowboards together!
Olympic athletes demand the highest-performing technology in order to stay ahead of their competition. Across many different disciplines, those athletes turn to equipment made of advanced polymers in order to ensure top performance.
Let’s explore the connection between snowboarding and the polymers used to make them. The different compounds are both sturdy enough to withstand intense force and light enough so athletes can launch themselves stories above superpipes for big-air twists & turns (like Shaun White’s incredible back-to-back 1440s!) We’ll start by exploring the history of snowboards and then discuss the materials that makes modern snowboarding possible.
In the scheme of winter sports, snowboarding is still quite new. Despite its mainstream acceptance & olympic standing, there are still resorts that don’t allow snowboarding.
Before snowboards look like what we know today, there were early iterations. The Snurfer board was a major stepping stone to the modern, high-performance boards. For professional-grade snowboards today, different materials like plastics, metals, and even wood are layered together to ensure the strength, durability, and weight-saving that are required for safe, functional design.
One of the main plastic components in snowboards is Polyoxymethylene (POM). POM is a thermoplastic that provides rigidity and stiffness in its applications. This is vital for snowboarders in need of responsive boards that can handle the intense physics of competition jumps & tricks. This, combined with steel or fiberglass edge materials, results in stiff boards that meet athletes’ performance needs.
In addition to POM and metal components, P-tex is another polymer used in snowboard construction. P-tex is a polyethylene used for the base of snowboards. Like POM, it is also thermoplastic. Polyethylene is found in countless applications and is one of the most produced plastics in the world.
Another polymer related to polyethylene and used in snowboard design is Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). Thanks to the UHMWPE’s extremely long chains, it is both incredibly strong and impact resistant–both attributes of the material that help allow these boards to stand up to the rigors of a mountainous environment and jarring impacts.
For snowboarders, boards aren’t the only thing they have thanks to polymer scientists. Gore-Tex and Primaloft are made from polymers, found in the winter jackets that keep athletes warm and dry as they tumble through snow & ice. Without a doubt, polymer innovation in athletic industries will only increase as time goes on.
From high-flying athletes to healthcare, polymers help make the world a better place everyday. Here at PSI, we’re proud to have an over three decades long heritage dedicated to the quality, independent testing of these sorts of materials. We can’t wait to see what amazing innovation scientists will create to allow even more high-flying, extremely captivating performances in the future.