This Is Plastics: Plastics in the Winter Sporting Industry


Plastics in the Winter Sporting Industry

Beyond creating lightweight, durable and strong equipment, plastics use in winter sports has led to strides in protective gear for Olympic athletes and enthusiasts.


With the Winter Olympics around the corner in February 2022, new events in snowboarding, ski jumping, and bobsledding will join the roster, many of which rely on plastic equipment to be possible. In fact, the modernization of winter sports can largely be tracked to advances in plastics. Beyond creating lightweight, durable and strong equipment, plastics use in winter sports has led to strides in protective gear for Olympic athletes and enthusiasts by enabling physicality and an increase in speed thereby enhancing their performance while remaining safe playing the sports they love.

Plastics increase the safety of winter sports

Plastic resin, the basic building block of plastics, can be dyed in any color to increase visibility of the wearer in case of an emergency. The use of plastics in avalanche vests and airbags have reduced mortality rates by 50% due to ease of spotting by emergency rescuers, and the cushioning effect from trauma caused by collision with rocks, trees, and other objects on the way down.

Plastic is also useful for its impact resistance qualities, making it the ideal material for manufacturing safety gear and helmets. For example, “plastic coatings are specialized polymer materials applied in thin layers to metal or other surfaces to improve their natural characteristics.” These coatings are critical to winter sport safety as a protective layer on any kind of equipment. Plastisol, one such coating, can provide insulation and cushioning from handling cold metal. Additionally, low-friction plastic coatings lessen the risk of dull ice-skating blades to keep skaters safe while moving across the ice.

Beyond avoiding risks of injury and weakened gear, plastics are vital in creating layers of protection that allow athletes to withstand freezing temperatures and prevent life-threatening frostbite. The clothing necessary to protect extremities from severe cold and frost bite are made of polypropylene, which is a form of plastic. 

Plastics make winter sports gear more durable and create opportunities for sustainability

In addition to improving athlete safety, plastics have improved the design and functionality of sporting gear and clothing. Snowboarding boots made from nylon allow snowboarders to stay upright on the slopes and keep their toes warm. Using nylon enables shoes to be lightweight and durable  as well better insulated and water-resistant. Skis have gone from the wood and metal designs of the past to a more lightweight polyurethane plastic. The advantage of having plastic skis rather than wood or metal lies in its flexibility enabling it to take harder hits on the slope without damage. Plastic skis also allow for a better slide over the snow than stiff metal. The more lightweight an athlete can make themselves and equipment the easier it is maneuver both one’s body and gear around the slopes.

While being able to get around the slope with ease is critical to an athlete, the improved design through plastic is also contributing to more sustainable gear. Clothing and equipment brands like Everlane and Adidas create winter gear from recycled plastics to reduce waste. Adidas’ Parley Collection features some of the first high performance products made entirely from recycled plastics. The ability of plastics to be infinitely recycled, upcycled and repurposed reduce lifecycle emissions and support sustainability goals. Plastics outshine other materials in this regard by simply providing the most durable and cost-effective ways to achieve full value of plastic products repeatedly, while also often providing the most sustainability benefits, compared to alternative materials.

Plastics makes winter sports accessible 

Historically, winter sports have been dominated by athletes from wealthier northern hemisphere countries with the resources and climate to support development of the sports. However, these sports are now becoming more competitive as a variety of climates can now be included due to the use of synthetic ice, made from plastic, to make winter sports more accessible worldwide. 

Plastic is both durable and cost-effective alternatives to snow and ice which naturally occur in a select few regions of the globe. The engineering of high-density polyethylene has greatly improved synthetic ice technology and has aided in its widespread adoption, which helps to level the playing field and increase the accessibility of winter sporting around the globe. For example, China ahead of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games prepared by using a sustainable ice rink engineered using synthetic ice. 

Plastic innovations in the winter sports industry play a vital role. Today, winter sports are safer, more fun, and accessible than ever before due to plastics use. Winter sports will continue to be made safer through plastic products that contribute to both athlete safety and performance. Through the help of plastics athletes and snow-enthusiasts at all levels can protect themselves on and off the ice, while collectively supporting sustainability goals simply by what they wear and what they play.

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