Two-Plank Wanks Go Bigger Than You end pagetitle By Tim Mutrie for EXPN.com end left col CONTENT COLUMN
Skiers go bigger than snowboarders.
Wade McKoy/focusproductions.com Jamie Pierre threw this 255-footer off Fred's Mountain near Jackson. An act of free will? Doubtful. Fred must have shoved him off.
I say that out loud? Depending on present company, this kind of
statement might land you at the cold end of a snowball barrage or dunk
tank. So, for clarity, this refers strictly to amplitude, not image or
pop-culture relevancy, where nothing is bigger than snowboarding these
The divide in this freeriding arms race is most
evident in the halfpipe. Skiers like Simon Dumont, Candide Thovex,
Tanner Hall and C.R. Johnson routinely super-size the best efforts of
the best snowboarders, and often in the same pipe on the same day. At
competitions, spectators and TV viewers are invited to draw their own
conclusions with help from demarcating wands that show, in feet, the
height above the deck of the pipe. Dumont usually orbits somewhere into
the neighborhood of 25 feet, depending on conditions, pipe specs and
proximity of helicopters or geese in adjacent airspace.
the pipe and backcountry cliffs, skiers go bigger, but in natural,
powder terrain—backcountry gaps and man-made booters—snowboarders can
go just as big as skiers," says freeskier Seth Morrison, focusing in
Snowboard halfpipe Olympic silver medalist
Gretchen Bleiler confirms, "I hate saying these things because it
usually gets me in trouble, but in general, yes, I think it's true and
you see it most in the pipe. You can't totally generalize, though.
Nothing is absolute."
What remains unclear about this
phenomenon is the reason why. Can it be explained by science? While
scientific papers have been written on both the physics of skiing and
the physics of snowboarding, it seems physicists have yet to probe the
differences and similarities of each group of snow-sliding brethren in,
say, the superpipe.
Christian Pondella Chris Davenport has skied 51 of Colorado's 54 14ers since last January. Three more, and he'll have furthered his bragging rights over snowboarders.
thing I've noticed over the years," continues Morrison, 33, a veteran
of 25-plus films, "is that it's difficult for snowboarders to go
super-big off cliffs because they take all the impact on their back
leg. We can land equally on both feet. Imagine jumping something big
and landing on one foot."
Neal Beidleman, a decorated
climber, skier and author of the new Aspen Ski and Snowboard Guide, is
also a mechanical engineer and something of a "rocket scientist" (by
virtue of his work as an aerospace designer for rockets and
satellites). He thinks the answer lies in part with skiers' increased
in-flight dexterity (furthering Morrison's independent-suspension
belief). "You've got four extremities to throw around for balance, as
opposed to having both legs locked in on one axis," he says. "I
couldn't do the proof, but it would be appropriate to say that, in my
opinion, the 'oh shit' factor favors skiers."
the niche sport of speed skiing, it's long been established that, when
both groups are adorned in skin-tight plastic suits, skiers are faster
than snowboarders in straight-ahead, mass-hauling descents. This is the
result of friction, mass, aerodynamics, slope angle, and, of course,
the skill and experience of the pilot (as well as other things like wax
and tune and so on).
Physicist and longtime former New
Yorker writer Jeremy Bernstein explains: "I claim they will speed down
at the same rate and the only issue is air resistance. I can give you
the physics, but I'm sure you don't want to know. Newton's Law says
force equals mass times acceleration. The friction forces depend on the
mass so it cancels. Air resistance does not. . ."
Um, okay. Got it? Big mountain skier and former X Games medalist Chris Davenport breaks it down in laymen's terms.
definitely something to be said for facing straight-ahead downhill,"
says Davenport. "You're more agile with two feet working independently,
pressing and milking the terrain for more energy, you're more
aerodynamic on equal-footing to react and you get a lot more pop out of
stiff plastic boots on two skis in the fall line."
Markus Paulsen/ESPN Images Finch goes pretty damn large...for a snowboarder.
might just agree. "Sure, in slow conditions, skiers can go bigger
because they can skate and use poles. You've got two skis, four edges
and more ability to manipulate your own speed. On a snowboard, you're
locked in and you can't rely on edging as much. It's all about edging,
the line you take and the speed you're able to carry."
in the pipe, another angle to consider is take-off and landing. The
rider or skier who goes biggest will transition diagonally up and down
the pipe walls on each hit, thus carrying more speed throughout a run
(by going up, down and across like a big wave surfer, rather than
straight up and down like a vert skater). Morrison also notes that
skis, which are generally longer than snowboards, might also enhance
skiers' abilities to capture more energy from pipe transitions than
Skiers like Dumont and C.R. Johnson have
laid down pipe runs so huge they can only incorporate four or five hits
into them, instead of the six to eight hits other skiers and top
snowboarders can pull. Snowboarders, according to Bleiler, haven't
always been encouraged to amp it up, and this concerns Bleiler more
than the latest reading on the huge-ometer.
Olympic qualifiers Andy Finch was penalized because he wasn't getting
as many hits as everyone else—maybe just four absolutely huge ones—and
that's definitely a problem with the sport now. It's inhibiting
"He goes huge—I saw him at Tahoe, probably
22 feet out on his first hit. That's pretty damn big, and I don't think
skiers are going bigger than Andy," she says.
And so continues the rivalry, and the quest for knowledge, power and the latest in anti-gravity counter-measures.