Physics, anything but boring
Ryan Summerlin April 1, 2014
If the ‘Physics of Freestyle’ event at the Eccles Center last Thursday proved anything, it’s that the University of Utah is really good at making science accessible for audiences of all ages.
The U’s College of Science put on the event – the first of its kind – to explore the science behind skiing and snowboarding for students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors.
The program included film clips of terrifying avalanches, live trampoline jumping and entertaining demonstrations by physicists.
Scott Marland, chairman of the National Ski Patrol, gave a presentation on the forces involved with avalanches. He discussed techniques for staying safe in the backcountry and demonstrated how different kinds of rescue equipment work. As part of the presentation, U physicist Adam Beehler fired a ping pong ball through aluminum soda cans using only air pressure to show how avalanches rapidly gain so much power.
Erik Schlopy, a three-time Olympian ski racer and coach for the U.S. Ski Team in Sochi, gave a presentation on the science behind skiing fast. He focused on friction and explained how ski racers need to be aware of it in order to adapt to and be successful in always-changing conditions where hundredths of a second matter.
Trace Worthington, another former Olympian and a pioneer in aerials, presented on the physics behind aerial tricks. He brought along an Olympic-sized trampoline and athletes from his Park City-based company, Flying Ace Productions, who performed various flips and twists for the audience while Worthington explained the science behind the moves.
The final presentation was conducted by Fly Freestyle – the year-round Utah Olympic Park program geared towards aspiring aerialists and freeskiers. Fly Freestyle coaches walked the audience, step by step, through several different slopestyle tricks. The presentation focused on angular momentum, and the way in which it is a constant force that makes complicated tricks possible.
The focus on skiing, the variety of the presentations and the occasional raffling off of ski gear all combined to keep the audience engaged and interested throughout the program.
Outside the auditorium, in the Eccles Center’s main foyer, were various exhibits hosted by students and faculty from its physics department as well as U.S. Ski Team aerialists Kiley McKinnon and Morgan Northrop and mogulist Mikaela Matthews, who were on hand to sign autographs for their excited young fans.
The Park City Education Foundation partnered with the U in presenting the Physics of Freestyle event and its executive director Abby McNulty said that it "jumped at the opportunity."