It was less a question of if, but when. British rider Billy Morgan just landed what seemed to be the inevitable next step in *plus-one progression—the quad cork 1800. That shouldn't be surprising since people were doing quad flips on skis back in 1983.
Predictably, Morgan's quad ignited commentary over whether the ever-increasing number of corks are good for snowboarding, how snowboarding is turning into aerial skiing (it's not, riders doing quad corks are just one part of snowboarding, go watch a Yawgoons edit or The Northern Sky, for example, to see the complete opposite movement growing), and how many more corks can possibly be done.
After hearing that last question for years, and since there's a definite physical limit to how many times you can tumble through the air and land and claim it, we decided to find the answer. (We ran a similar version of this story back in our December 2011 issue. The results still stand and have been rewritten here with more details).
First, we reached out to David Benedek and got the specs from the 2006 Red Bull Gap Session jump built in Garmish, Germany. Designed to be as safe as possible while giving riders max air, Benedek landed the first double cork 1260 and Christophe Schmidt boosted 3.1 seconds of hang time, the longest recorded air we could find for a snowboarder.
Next, we got ahold of Rebecca Thompson, a physicist at the American Physical Society, and sent her this stuff about the Gap Jump:
Maximum airtime: 3.1 seconds
Maximum distance: 35 meters (114.82 feet)
Takeoff Height: 12 meters (39.37 feet)
Landing Height: 22 meters (72.17 feet)
Approximate in-run speed: 100 km/h (62.13 miles per hour)
After adding some more numbers to the equation, like the radius of an average snowboarder tucked in cork position and the average strength of a snowboarder, she came back with this answer:
"I found the maximum spin speed based on velocity leaving the [jump], then make it a perfect [takeoff] where as much energy as possible is put into the rotation and you get 6.5 revolutions."
Okay, a couple of things. You probably don't want to land on your head/face/neck/back after spinning as hard as you can while flying a hundred or so feet, which is right around where six and half corks would put you. In that case, six corks becomes the actual number you could ride away from.
And getting there, according to Thompson, means that everything has to go exactly perfect—the rider has to hit the jump at the perfect speed and pop off the lip with the perfect timing, spinning as hard as he absolutely can. Not easy.
Still, James Riordon, who also works at the AMA says, (and we cringe at the ice skating reference) "the fact that ice skaters can spin that fast means that it's at least mechanically possible for snowboarders to spin just as fast. In other words, snowboarders are nowhere near the limits imposed by physics. However, [snowboarders] may be at the limits that human skill can achieve."
What Riordron means is that even though a sextuple cork is theoretically doable, someone may never be good enough to land one.
That, however, remains to be seen. Until 1954, no one thought runners could break the four-minute mile but after Roger Bannister logged a time of 3:59.4 it's now become routine to beat that mark. Since then, runners have lowered the time by almost 17 seconds.
In snowboarding there's a vast gulf between what we think is possible and what's actually possible. Just 14 years ago people weren't sure a double cork could be done until JP Walker dropped the first in 2003, and, well, we all know where we are today.
All this assumes that a rider is hitting a jump similar to the Gap Session kicker, so the question remains, could a jump be built that gives a rider even more airtime? In video above, Morgan gets 2.9 seconds of air, and so far, three seconds seems to be near the limit of what's possible when spinning off a jump.
So for now at least, given that range of airtime, and whether you like it or not, a sextuple cork is at least possible.
*Plus-one progression is viewing progression as adding one more flip, spin, or cork to the highest rotation that's already been done.