Monday, March 7, 2011

The Life Cycle of Skis

Making fast skis for our athletes on the World Cup is hard work. Luckily, we do good work and lots of it. I thought it would be interesting to provide a glimpse into the life cycle of a pair of World Cup skis.
Picking skis makes me tired.

June - Most race skis are selected directly from the factory in Europe. The race room is a magical place, filled with amazing skis as far as the eye can ski. World cup skis are produced by a different group of workers using special layups and materials. This results in skis with a more lively feel and incredible speed. The skis are selected entirely by hand, which is a slow, expensive process. An incredible amount of time is spent assessing camber action, dampening characteristics, bridge length and position, etc. to find those special pairs (Caldwellsport).
The Fischer race room (Zach Caldwell's photo).

Early fall - Once the skis arrive in North America they are always stone ground to impart a structure particular to the characteristics of that pair. At the same time, older skis may also be ground to flatten the base and remove burned and damaged base material. The best grinders conduct non-stop research and development to stay ahead of the competition and invent new grinds. Immediately following grinding the bases are very soft and delicate. To saturate the bases with wax the skis are placed in a heat box at a low temperature (50C) for 6-12 hours using a very specific paraffin. Next, the skis are scraped and a harder paraffin wax is applied followed by the heat box at 60C for approximately one hour. This treatment will saturate the base and then harden it to a level where it can be race-waxed with high-temperature fluoros and cold waxes.  (BNS)

Wintersteiger grinding machines.
Late fall - For classic skis, the wax pocket is fully analyzed and marked. It is important that the technicians know not only how many layers to put on each ski, but where those layers should be positioned (caldwellsport).

Winter - At this point, the skis are ready to rock! Most athletes travel with twenty or so pairs of skis, each of which have been tuned to a specific set of conditions. This means that certain skis will get used a lot, while others might spend most of their life in the bag. When the skis are not in use, they are always covered in travel wax (usually Swix LF6, Star LA6, or Sold Performance Red). On race day, the skis will be prepared with paraffin base layers, paraffin race layers, pure flouro powders, topcoats, and hand structure. Immediately following the race the bases are cleaned with solvent (grip zones) or fluoro cleaner (glide zones) and covered in travel wax. In other words, World Cup skis are always waxed when they are not in use.

Now we wax.
Spring - Once the season is over the technicians help the athletes evaluate their skis and look to identify holes in the fleet. Orders are placed with the ski companies in terms of quantities, and the whole process begins again. All the skis are double checked to ensure that they are clean and wax is applied as necessary for storage over the summer.

As spotted at the Fischer factory in Austria. These will not be slow skis
Early in my career as a wax technician someone told me, "Accepting dorkiness is the first step to embracing dorkiness. Without embracing dorkiness you can't make fast skis." I've been accused of being a pretty big dork from time to time. Maybe, in this context, that's not the worst thing.

Dorkiness = fast skis. Boom.

No comments:

Post a Comment