Plastic in Winter Sports Over Time
1900 Water Resistant
Charles Macintosh patented his invention of waterproof fabric made from cumbersome rubber-coated cloth. (Rubber— whether from a tree or manmade—is an early type of plastic.) Today, winter sports apparel relies heavily on water-resistant fabrics to repel snow and sleet and comfortable “wicking” fabrics that breathe. High-tech nylon, polyurethane, polyester, and other performance plastics are all in play.
1900 Skiing Competition
The first national skiing competition was held in Norway and won by Sondre Norheim.
1920 Winter Olympics
Skiing (cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping) became the official sport of the first winter Olympics held in France. At this time, skis were made with wood, metal, and leather.
1920 First Snowboard
The first snowboard was built by M.J. “Jack” Burchett, who cut a plank of plywood and strapped his feet to it using horse reins and some clothesline.
1930 Long Jump
Skier Sepp Bradl of Austria became the first to jump more than 100 meters; alpine skiing (downhill and slalom) was added to the Olympics in Bavaria.
The first plastic helmet for use in snow sports was introduced by the John T. Riddell Company of Chicago, helping reduce the number of head injuries.
Cellulix, a cellulose-based plastic used on Dynamic skis, was developed in France. The transition from wood to Cellulix made the skis lighter with more elasticity, making it easier to turn.
1950 Faster Speeds
The first polyethylene plastic base for skis was introduced. Not only did polyethylene glide more smoothly on the snow, but scratches could be repaired fairly easily. Now widely used on skis and snowboards, this type of polyethylene is called ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene—better known as P-Tex.
1950 Ski Boots
American Bob Lange created the first plastic ski boot. It turned out to be too stiff and cumbersome, but Lange followed up with various innovations until polyurethane boots caught on in the mid-1960s.
1960 Gore Tex
Gore-tex®, an insulating and water-resistant plastic fabric now widely used in a variety of winter sports gear, was invented by Wilbert L. Gore, Rowena Taylor, and Robert W. Gore.
1960 Carbon Fiber
Ski manufacturers begin experimenting with new, high-tech plastics such as Kevlar® and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics to improve strength and resilience.
Jake Burton Carpenter started making snowboards out of glass-reinforced plastic—better known as fiberglass—which made them durable, lightweight, and easier to maneuver on the snow. He also added plastic bindings to attach the snowboarder’s feet to the board.
1980 Snowboarding Championship
Athletes rode the recently developed fiberglass snowboards in the first national snowboarding championships in the United States.
The outdoor clothing company Patagonia® introduced fleece clothing made with recycled-plastic bottles. Fleece clothing became an immediate hit with skiers and snowboarders as a lightweight, comfortable clothing layer.
1980 Aerial Skiing
Aerial skiing became an official Olympic sport. Athletes forego ski poles in this sport but use specially designed plastic helmets and mouth guards to help protect them when landing high and acrobatic jumps.
1980 Shaped Skis
Elan invented the first parabolic (shaped) skis that dramatically improved turn performance and radically decreased race times for Olympic skiers. Plastics made possible a range of innovative shapes, as well as critical flexibility and “give” in turns.
1990 Winter X Games
The first Winter X Games took place at Snow Summit Mountain Resort in Big Bear Lake, Calif., with competitions in snowboarding, ice climbing, snow mountain bike racing, super- modified shovel racing and a crossover multi-sport event. From durable, lightweight snowboards to high-strength, nylon climbing ropes, plastics played a large role at the first ever Winter X Games.
1990 Snowboard Bindings
K-2 Corporation invented the first ever strapless snowboard boot consisting of seamless clip bindings for easy boot entry and exit. The stiffer boot made with high performance plastics gave the snowboarder more precise control of the board. Essentially, the binding exists inside the boot.
1990 Halfpipe Gold
Sports sensation Shaun White won his first Olympic gold medal for halfpipe at the games in Turin.
1990 Top Sheet
A snowboard maker began using a plastic made partially from castor bean oil for the top coating of snowboards. This top sheet has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, protects the board, and enhances performance.
2010 Ski Cross
Ski cross became an Olympic sport. Michael Schmid of Switzerland and Ashleigh McIvor of Whistler, BC became the first man and woman to win gold medals in the event.
A company called KneeBinding released a ski binding designed to release the foot laterally, instead of just from the front or back, to help prevent twisting and tearing of the knee ligaments.