Though it only became an official Olympic sport in 1998, snowboarding has actually been in existence for much longer. Without plastic, snowboarding would likely be stuck at its humble beginnings. The very first snowboards from 1929 were made from a mix of plywood, leather reins, and clothesline, making them heavy, awkward and stiff. When plastic was introduced to the sport, it allowed snowboards and other related equipment to become more durable, flexible, lighter and stronger, helping snowboarders achieve greater speed and allowing them to develop new tricks and stunts, from fakies to alley oops.
Following are some of the ways that plastics have helped revolutionize snowboarding:
• Snowboards: Whether they’re designed for freestyle, all-mountain, or slalom events, snowboards share several common elements that enhance their performance. Each has a topsheet, core, outer edge and base. Sandwiched foam and plastic laminates are used as a core for most snowboards because they are more durable and lighter than the wood that was once used. The core is then wrapped in metal, fiberglass, or high-tech composites, such as carbon fibers and Kevlar®, chosen for its lightweight and superior resiliency. Fiberglass-reinforced plastic provides the board’s stiffness and strength. P-Tex polyethylene laminates are added to the base of the board to make it slide well on snow. To top it off, plastic top sheets provide stylish boarders with UV and damage protection in addition to graphic options.
• Boots and Bindings: Boots crafted from durable plastics stabilize leg movement and maximize control of the board by allowing the legs to serve as a steering mechanism. Snowboarding boots are constructed from plastics, such as nylon, that are chosen for durability and a strong weight-to-strength ratio. This is how thin, lightweight shells can still make solid, strong boots. Snowboarding enthusiasts will notice that it takes minimal energy to hike up to the lift and their feet stay warm, dry and stable. Boots are held to the board with bindings often made from plastic.
• Safety: The most common injuries for snowboarders are to the wrists and tailbone. For this reason, wrist guards and hip pads are often used as a precautionary measure. While protecting wrists, hips and backsides, they also help boarders stay dry and warm! Bangs and bumps to the knees also are common during a snowboarding run. Kneepads can be worn in between snow pants and long underwear to help prevent such injuries. Helmets are becoming more common in snowboarding, as they can help prevent serious head injuries. Today’s plastic designs have made them well-ventilated and less bulky. Goggles made from polycarbonates provide safety in several ways: they protect eyes against snow, wind and UV rays and also filter light to help sharpen vision. Finally, a leash is essential to the safety of others on the slopes. This strap that attaches your boot to your board helps prevent it from sliding away and injuring others – even if you take a topple.