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All Impacts are Proportional — and I'm not just Talking about Physics
How to balance speed, thrill, and control in a world where we're increasingly encouraged to reject risk
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Down For the Count
If you’ve been reading Cole’s Climb for a bit, this probably looks familiar:
I was out on my warm-up lap, practicing my carves. I got down into a deep squat to hold my heel side edge when my quadriceps — still sore from the previous day’s riding — began to shiver. The muscle twitch jostled me out of position. I caught an edge and went flying.
Because I’d been wearing my GoPro, I actually caught the whole thing on video. When I first played back the clip, I cringed in anticipation of the impact. The run had been going so well. Alas:
I’ve rewatched this to make sure I can spot my mistake. You can actually see right before the fall where I’m caught off position. At the 5 second mark, I throw my full body weight into a toe-side turn. But my aching muscles prevent me from properly shifting my balance to accommodate the carve. Because of that, I’m locked on my heel-side edge as I flop my upper body forward.
Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, and I think there are a few reasons for that here:
I tumbled with the board parallel to the mountain. The tail and nose alternated digging into the snow, absorbing most of the impact
This was a steep run, which means most of the force from my fall was expended carrying me farther downhill, rather than transferring to my body
The long tumble is a good thing, because it gave me time to come to a stop gradually. (Compare slamming on your breaks at 10 mph, to slowly pressing down on them when you’re going 35)
Good equipment saves. In this clip I’m wearing wrist guards, a helmet, and impact shorts to protect against snowboarding’s most common injuries
When I stopped sliding — face down in the cold snow but grateful to be in good health — I thought back to a much warmer place in my childhood:
“Don’t Go Any Faster than You’re Willing to Hit Something”
My mother and I leaned over the port side of our little ski boat, bumpers and dock lines in hand. The tide was going out, tugging us away from the dock and back out of the inlet. My father pointed the bow directly at the dock and eased the throttle forward.
I winced, expecting an impact. Instead, the current corrected our position and we glided up right into the slip at the old fishing station. My dad dropped the boat into neutral, and the prow bounced off the large black and white bumper handing at the edge of the dock.
The impact was gentle, all things considered, but still jostled us and our cargo.
Before the current could pull us farther away, I looped my line around the cleat and hopped onto the weathered planks.
When I learned to drive the boat, and later a car, my parents gave me a simple piece of advice as pertains to parking: “Don’t go any faster than you’re willing to hit something.”
As a teenager, this was helpful advice: it reminded me to take things slow. Then, even if you do make a mistake, the consequences will be less severe.
Unfortunately, this advice all falls apart the second you pull out of the parking lot or marina. I suppose you could keep the speedometer under 5, but you won’t get very far.
With that in mind, I’d like to refine my parents’ advice to something a little simpler:
All Impacts are Proportional
…And not every impact is bad. Think back to that little love tap we gave the bumper on the dock. If my dad hadn’t brought us into the slip with a decent amount of speed, the current would’ve yanked us back to sea, sideways.
Back on the mountain: one of the biggest problems riders have when learning to carve is approaching turns too slowly. Cutting a nice, deep curve requires centrifugal force. This is what allows us to lean far enough to almost kiss the snow, without ever touching it. Too little speed, and you’ll keel right over.
Some activities require you to go a little faster. The question you ought to be asking yourself before you take them on is: are you okay with that?
I’ve broached the subject of risk assessment more than half a year ago — back before many of you subscribed. If you haven’t yet read this piece, it’s one of my favorites.
There’s a difference though, between understanding the risk, and actually feeling the consequences of it. I know what can go wrong snowboarding. I’ve been injured before. But that doesn’t always prepare you for that proportional impact.
One second you can be cruising, feeling free and on top of the world. The next, that very same force can send you spiraling, tumbling out of control.
A tumble like that on your warm-up lap can be a real confidence shaker. Still, there’s always something you can learn from falling. As it turns out, there’s actually a double-lesson here:
The faster you go, the harder the impact
You need some speed to steer and keep control
A lot of our time is going to be spent looking for that sweet spot between the two, and everyone’s answer will depend on how much of a proportional impact they feel comfortable taking on.