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Inside the Factory: Building Skin Skis

How do we build skin skis? Constructing the optimal skin ski presents a handful of added challenges compared to traditional skis.

Most importantly, you want to make a ski that makes you forget that you’re skiing on a skin ski. To do that, you want to make sure you maintain the properties of the ski and make the ski feel and behave like your waxableskis. So how do we accomplish that?

 

How do we build the IntelliGrip® skin skis? Photo: Ian Coble

How do we build the IntelliGrip® skin skis with perfect kick without sacrificing great glide? Photo: Ian Coble

Perfect kick and amazing glide
Madshus head of engineering, Bjørn Ivar Austrem, explains that one major challenge is that you need a skin that provides both secure and reliable grip as well as superior glide, and that is built like perfectly applied layers of wax. To achieve that, Madshus has developed a method to cut a pocket in the base that is deeper toward the ends of the skin, which in turn makes the skin protrude progressively toward the middle and taper to the ends – just like the perfect wax job.

The IntelliGrip® skins are set down into the base, rather than attached onto the base, to create smooth transitions between base and skin and ensure reliable grip without sacrificing glide.

“Progressive skin skis provide better grip than skin skis with a flat skin. When using a progressive skin, a ski that has a normal to high camber will provide better glide. So we found that by folding the skin into the base, we are able to maintain a high camber that keeps the skin off the snow when gliding while the skin is aggressive enough to make contact with the snow in the kick phase. Again, this is exactly the same principle as the perfectly waxed ski,” Austrem says.

A progressive skin that is set down into the base creates a better, more waxlike experience. Photo: Stefano Zatta

A progressive skin that is set down into the base creates a better, more waxlike experience. Photo: Stefano Zatta

The engineering conundrum
At the same time, this progressive skin construction presents a challenge, because the skin has to be folded into the base without compromising the properties of the ski, such as flex and stiffness. These key properties are a result of the thickness of the ski and the distance between the top and bottom layers of the fiberglass and/or carbon fibers that provide stiffness. Adding only a millimeter to the distance between the top and bottom layers of the fibers can make the ski significantly stiffer, and vice versa: placing the layers a millimeter closer can make the ski that much softer, Austrem explains.

“Once we cracked that code, we managed to construct a lively ski that’s stiff enough and fast enough to race.”

Of course, the actual skin matters as well.

“We use a blend of mohair and nylon on most of our models. The mohair provides great glide and reliable kick, while the nylon adds durability and prolongs the life of the skin. On the Redline IntelliGrip® , we use 100 percent mohair,” Austrem says, adding that the skin can easily be replaced if it gets worn out or damaged.

More skiing, less waxing, and still perfect kick and glide. That is the IntelliGrip® skin difference. Photo: Stefano Zatta

More skiing, less waxing, and still perfect kick and glide. That is the IntelliGrip® skin difference. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Inside the Factory

Inside the factory. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus
A series of Madshus skis, ready to ship. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Making the Perfect Skis – How is it done?

Simply put: No compromises. Precision and keen attention to detail is the defining factor in our production. But let us show you – take a tour with us inside the factory!

From a foam core to the smartest skis in the world
All of Madshus top racing skis are manufactures in Biri, in the heart of Norway and only a hop and a skip from the Birkebeiner course and Sjusjøen, which is one of our most valuable testing labs. However, the production takes place behind closed door at the Biri factory.

Here is how we turn a foam core into the fastest, smartest skis in the world; pre-ground and race-ready out of the box.

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Take a tour of our factory – where the best skis in the world are born. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Materials
Madshus buys most of the materials in bulk rolls or sheets. This allows us to cut the materials just right and according to our molds, and we waste less of the materials, which is good both for the planet and the bottom line.

“There are three things that separate the different lines of race skis: the core, the base and the graphics,” says Bjørn-Ivar Austrem, who is the director of skis and engineering at Madshus.

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Ski bases, ready to use. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Ski bases, ready to use. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Madshus produces 1200 to 1500 pairs of skis per week, and all skis start with a sheet of foam. The sheet is trimmed to ski cores, shaped as much as possible like the final geometry of the ski.

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Ski cores - waiting to be turned into skis. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Ski cores – waiting to be turned into skis. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Then the other construction materials are added in layers: carbon fibers and fiberglass adds rigidity and stability. More carbon makes for a lighter ski, while fiberglass is heavier. Carbon is expensive; fiberglass costs less.

Fiberglass is used to add stiffness and stability to the ski. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Fiberglass is an important part of the ski. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Finally, we pull a knitted “stocking” around the core and the fibers, and the skis move on.

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A lot of our materials come in rolls or sheets. This is both efficient and eco-friendly. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Many of our materials come in rolls or sheets. This is both efficient and eco-friendly: This way, we cut the right length for each ski we produce, and cut down on waste. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

The skis are cast in molds where 20 skis can be cast next to each other. The machines are developed right here at Madshus.

When the molds are shut, we add heat for 15 minutes, which allows the excess epoxy to exit the molds. The overflow is collected in trays adjacent to the molds. Then we add cold water to the molds, cooling the epoxy in the skis and setting the shape of the skis just right. The skis are measured, and if there are any discrepancies, we adjust this with tension screws.

“This is both efficient and clean, and very flexible. We have observed many different industries and models, but never found anything that rivals our own,” Austrem says.

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Bolts

Tightening bolts along the top of each mold allow us to make final adjustments for each individual ski. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Digital print shop in-house
At Madshus, we also have our own, all-digital print shop right in the factory, where we set the graphic right onto the cap of the ski. We buy the cap materials in big rolls from the manufacturer, set the machine to the correct ski length and cut the material accordingly.

“This process makes us less dependent on the cap material manufacturer,” Austrem says.

All graphics are printed on the inside of the top layer, and we use epoxy-based print from the same epoxy that we use in the ski construction. This creates a very solid fixation, and also helps protect the surface of the skis from scratches and cuts.

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printing

At our in-house print shop, we print the graphics directly onto the skis right at the factory, which saves time, money and the planet. Madshus uses only eco-friendly inks and materials. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Once the skis are out of the casting, with all their layers, base and graphics in place, the tips and tails are trimmed. Then the skis are ground and fine-tuned with a laser.

After trimming and tuning, the skis are headed to the base grinders. In total, the skis are run through eighth different grinding stones and three machines, making sure the skis are race-ready out of the box, whether it’s a factory structure or a specialty grind is ordered.

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grinding

Ski exiting one of the grind stations, perfectly cared for by one of our efficient and diligent robots. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Grinding skis. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Finally, we add the NIS binding plate, and the skis are ready to be shipped to the retailers.

The details that make each ski unique
Our compuflex-machine measures all pressure curves, flexes and camber heights. These are the properties that determine what the skis’ ideal use and conditions are.

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All skis have their own unique properties, their own DNA if you will, and this information is recorded on the chip embedded in our SmartSki models. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

All skis have their own unique properties, their own DNA if you will, and this information is recorded on the chip embedded in our SmartSki models. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Everything is measured
Skis with short pressure zones and higher camber are better in wet and warm conditions. In such conditions you want less of the glide zones on the snow to reduce the suctioning effect of the water, and a higher camber allows room for thicker, softer kick waxes.

For cold conditions, the opposite applies: you want longer pressure zones in order to create a thin film of water to increase the glide on the sharp, cold snow crystals. The camber height can be lower, as the kick wax is harder and applied thinner.

“A cold conditions ski will generally have a camber height of 1 to 1.1mm, while a klister/warm condition ski will have about 1.4mm,” Austrem explains.

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robot books

Every spec for each ski and model is recorded, and all skis are checked to their charts before leaving the factory. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Perfect control: Chip
Retailers have their own versions of our Compuflex machine. But with the Madshus SMART skis, we have made it even easier: all the information about the skis’ properties – every detail about flex, camber height and wax zones – is accessible with a quick scan, without having to test each ski individually.

This is how it all starts - with a block of foam. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

This is how it all starts – with a block of foam. Funny really, isn’t it? Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

 

Testing – testing!

Spring skiing at Beitostoelen. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus
Beitostoelen provided the perfect testing ground for upcoming products and fine-tuning. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Beitostoelen provided the perfect testing ground for upcoming products and fine-tuning. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Madshus athletes and engineers are taking advantage of the late season snow to fine-tune the gear for the 2016 season and experiment with some brand new concept ideas.

Last week engineers from both the factory in Biri, Norway, and the K2 corporate headquarters in Seattle, USA, gathered at Beitostoelen in Norway to test all the new products in the ski, boots and poles categories.

“It’s been a fantastic week at Beito. We’ve had a chance to test in all kinds of conditions. In the beginning of the week, we had a lot of wind and some snow, but by the end of the week it was spectacularly sunny and amazing,” says Stefano Zatta, who works on graphics and layout at the Madshus factory in Biri.

Lead ski engineer Bjoern Ivar Austrem, boot engineer John Svensson and category manager for boots and poles Jon Fewster met with World Cup racers such as Noah Hoffman from the USA, Paal Golberg and Simen Sveen from Norway as well as legendary veteran Thomas Alsgaard, who now owns and manages his own racing project Team LeaseplanGO with racers competing both on the marathon circuit as well as in the traditional cross-country events. The crew tested relentlessly for hours every day, making notes and tweaks to perfect every product on all performance levels and in all categories, from touring and backcountry to World Cup. Stay tuned!

“Most of the gear we tested was products that will be for retail sale in the fall of 2016, but we have also put some of the concept products and designs on the snow this week. The concept products are designs that we are just testing to see if they even work. Some of them will be amazing, and some will never make it to standard production,” Zatta explains, adding that even the marketing and graphic design crew joined the testing.

“We had marketing and strategy meetings in the morning, but almost all of us took advantage of the opportunity to ski with the athletes after the meetings. It was really fun to ski next to some of the top racers in the world,” says Zatta.

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