Skiing, like most sports, has developed over the course of hundreds, even thousands of years. Before recreational use, skis were used for hunting, military and other obligatory winter travel situations that would otherwise have been impossible. In fact, skis have been found in caves dating back to as early as 5,000 BC. Surprisingly, not much has changed. It’s not all that uncommon to meet a caveman-like ski bum living in a man-cave, spending the winter months seeking adventure in the mountains.
We’ve all seen them hanging in Grandpa’s garage – an antique pair of skis consisting of simple wood planks with leather straps for bindings. At some point, skiing pioneers recognized the “need for speed.” This need, coupled with the invention of plastic in the late 1800s, allowed for the creation of faster ski bases, which set the sport in motion.
Skiers picked up speed and were soon flying down mountains, out of control. Again, not much has changed. Fortunately, metal edges offered some user control by allowing the skier to grip the snow. Boots and bindings rapidly improved to further increase control. Despite these changes, skis remained long, narrow, stiff and relatively straight for about 100 years.
2 better than 1?
Snowboarding exploded onto the scene as the fastest growing winter sport in the world, and by the 80s and early 90s, freeskiing celebrities like Glen Plake, Doug Coombs and Scot Schmidt struggled to uphold a quickly depreciating image. Skiing just wasn’t the “cool” thing to do. As the snowboarding vs. skiing battle raged on, skiers adopted the freestyle attitude of snowboarders and the industry eventually caught on and rallied to support them. Twin-tips and wide skis were born, and Seth Morrison, Brad Holmes, Shane McConkey and others led freeskiing back to the podium.
In 2003, freeskiing visionary Shane McConkey clicked his alpine ski boots into waterskis in front of the cameras and showed the world what a rockered, shaped ski could do in powder! It sent the ski industry into rocker pandemonium. As a result, average ski waist width exploded from the traditional ~65mm underfoot to around 100mm, and rocker became a must for anyone looking to enjoy skiing powder. Off-piste skiing was forever changed and unique ski shape possibilities became endless.
Ski Building 101
Building freeride powder skis does not require a tremendous amount of scientific knowledge, and the tools and machinery necessary to build a high-performance ski are not incredibly inexpensive. The most valuable trait required in ski development? Passion! At Bluehouse, we have this passion and believe building skis is an art. The variables of the canvas are shape (dimensions), profile, thickness, construction, materials and graphics. Here’s the rundown on each.
- Shape – 193 cm (152-122-149) 24 m: In ski shape design, we operate in a world of micro-millimeters. A few here and a few there can transform a ski into a completely different class. During the shape design process, we’re considering who will want this ski, why and for what type of skiing. An extra millimeter in the tail will change the turning radius by how many meters? Other than making a ski look like a banana, what are the pros and cons of early taper in a ski? Shaping a new ski is often the most challenging yet rewarding part of the design process because it brings a new toy into the world. What defines its success? The number of skiers who are able to enjoy riding it across snow covered mountains.
- Profile: Unsure what a rockered ski is? Imagine the rocker leg on a rocking chair. While developing the shape, the designer must have a clear idea for side profile, especially if building a rockered ski. The side profile defines the height of the ski off the ground throughout the ski from the tip to the underfoot region to the tail. The amount of rocker in a ski will affect the contact points (where the ski base meets the snow on a flat surface) which can result in dramatic changes to the turning radius of the ski. The amount of camber underfoot will play a large part determining how well the ski edges will bite into a turn and create that carving sensation.
- Thickness: When using traditional wood-core skis, the first way to achieve a desired flex pattern is by manipulating the core thickness. Pretty simple right? It would be other than the fact that a tenth of a millimeter here can have a huge impact.
- Materials & Constuction: In addition to sizing the ski core, material selection is the other method for determining flex, as well as torsional rigidity (how much a ski bends across a vertical axis down the middle of the ski), speed, durability, weight and strength. From carbon composites to titanium inserts, all have been used in an attempt to craft the perfect ski. The chart below shows the components of the Bluehouse Precinct 191 cm by weight.
The 2 main types of ski construction are cap construction and sandwich construction. While some manufacturers have created a hybrid semi-cap construction, usually skis are made one way or the other. Cap construction skis are the ones that look like their topsheet is folded over the side all the way down to the top of the ski edge. Sandwich construction, on the other hand, gets it’s name from the core sandwiched between plastic and composite layers above and below.
- Graphics: Graphics provide the ultimate breath of life. They give an image and a purpose. From solid colors to unicorns, robots, and leprechauns, graphics vary in appearance as much as the skiers who ride them. Beautiful graphic designs serve as the finishing touch for a beautiful pair of skis.
And that, friends, explains the evolution of pow skis and the thought and detail that go into making a beautiful pair of them today!
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