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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: TUNNEL TESTING

Torsby Skitunnel. Photo: Lars Sjöqvist

Torsby Skitunnel. Photo: Lars Sjöqvist

August and September is crunch time for the R&D test crew. Join them on a trip to the ski tunnel.

The dawn of the indoor ski tunnels in the mid-2000s significantly eased the workday for the Madshus research and development department, test crew and service techs.

From August until there is consistent natural snow outside, which usually isn’t until mid-October at best, the Torsby ski tunnel a short drive across the border into Sweden is a part of the their test lab and office.

“With the ski tunnel in Torsby only a few hours away, we can manufacture skis early in the week and be on the snow testing by midweek,” says Peter Blom, who has been part of the Madshus test crew for a decade.

Convenient and reliable = more and better test data
While nothing beats real winter, Blom explains that the tunnels offer some advantages to traditional testing on the glaciers.

For starters, the tunnel is close to the factory, while the glaciers in Central Europe require extended travel, a lot more logistics, and no easy opportunity to come back to the factory, adjust, and retest.

“From August until October, we are in the tunnel almost every week. That means we test a lot more than we would if we had to travel far to test. The more we test, the more we know and the better the skis get. Because the tunnel offers such reliable and consistent conditions, we test a lot, and accumulate a huge amount of testing data that is easily comparable, both day to day and year to year, as well as model to model and case by case,” he explains.

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The Torsby ski tunnel offers the same conditions every day of the year. Photo: Lars Sjöqvist, ute.se

The Torsby ski tunnel offers the same conditions every day of the year. Photo: Lars Sjöqvist, ute.se

Eliminates interfering factors
Also, the snow conditions in the tunnel are more like winter than the summer snow conditions on the glaciers. Additionally, there is no wind, no sudden changes in temperatures or snow consistency in the tunnel, which contributes to make the test data more accurate and reliable.

“The glaciers have very inconsistent temperatures and conditions. Some days it can be a blizzard and bitter cold, the next day you have baking sun and slush. In the tunnel we know exactly what the snow and the temperature will be like,” Blom says, noting that the past few years, the tunnels have become very good at controlling the climate and the snow quality.

“They dropped the temperature slightly, and they no longer groom too often. If you groom the tunnel snow too much, it the snow loses its structure and becomes sugary and “dead.” But this is not that much of an issue anymore,” he says.

Access to the skiers
With near perfect conditions in the tunnel, Blom and his crew frequently run into the Madshus World Cup skiers, their national teams and the World Cup wax techs. This allows for easy interaction, exchange of experiences and improves the testing with real-time, on-site feedback.

 

See you in the tunnel?

Passion for Perfection: The Daily Grind

Roger Dahl puts the same attention and precision into every ski he grinds, whether the ski belongs to Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Heidi Weng or a recreational skier. Photo: Stefano Zatta
Roger Dahl is the head of grinding at Madshus. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Roger Dahl is the head of grinding at Madshus. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Starting with the 2017/18 season, Madshus will offer our proprietary World Cup grinds to everyone. But what are these grinds and why do grinds matter? Meet the head of the grinding department: Roger Dahl.

Dahl has been involved in grinding skis since the first stone grinders came on the market in the mid- to late 1980s. He was involved with the Norwegian Ski Team’s grinding project that revolutionized the industry in the 1990s. And he has been grinding skis full time at Madshus since 1999.

“Everyone will benefit from the right grind. It doesn’t matter what kind of ski or wax you have if the grind isn’t right for the snow and conditions.”

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Roger Dahl. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Roger Dahl never lets the ski out of sight during the grinding process. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Putting his passion to work
On top of his 42 years of experience and a skilled hand for pushing the ski through the grinder, Dahl has a keen eye for detail and a passion for perfection, as well as a nose for invention.

“This is craftsmanship. It requires an attention to detail to a level that this is certainly not a trade for everyone,” Dahl says.

“You have to be meticulous. We are operating with margins that are in the fractions of one thousands, where just a hair too much or too little of the grind patterns separates the medalists from the list fillers,” he explains.

But Dahl thrives on the challenge. He is always looking for improvements to the grinds, and brand new structures.

“We always try to improve glide. We are constantly thinking about ways to adjust the structures or even come up with entirely new patterns.”

Dahl loves working with the community, and puts the feedback to work.

“I feel really lucky to be able to combine my job with my passion. One of the things I love about this job is that I get so close to the community. I meet a lot of people, World Cup athletes and recreational skiers, wax techs and equipment manufacturers, who are passionate about skiing,” Dahl says.

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Madshus dominated the Tour de Ski podium in Val Mustair (SUI) after the 5km classic mass start race: Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (center) won, with Heidi Weng (left) in 2nd place and Krista Pärmäkoski (FIN) in 3rd place. Photo: Nordic Focus

Roger Dahl makes sure the Madshus racers have the best glide. This is the Tour de Ski podium in Val Mustair (SUI) after the 5km classic mass start race where Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (center) won, with Heidi Weng (left) was 2nd and Krista Pärmäkoski (FIN) was 3rd. Photo: Nordic Focus

More than just a pattern
“Grinding and the research and science behind the grinding is probably the most important thing that has happened in this industry,” Dahl says.

“I’ve seen a lot of structures and grinds. It fascinates me how much of a difference just a small adjustment can make. It can be things like the speed of the grinding stone, the speed of the grinding diamond, the speed at which you feed the ski through the machine… Any and all of these parameters can make a ski great or completely destroy it,” he explains, noting that specialty grinds are not just for the World Cup elite.

“At Madshus, all the research that goes into making the perfect grinds for the World Cup skis directly benefits the consumer. I use the same grinds, the same equipment and put the same level of effort an attention into the skis I grind for recreational skiers as I do for the skis I grind for Ole Einar Bjørndalen or Krista Pärmäkoski,” Dahl says.

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Roger Dahl puts the same attention and precision into every ski he grinds, whether the ski belongs to Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Heidi Weng or a recreational skier. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Roger Dahl puts the same attention and precision into every ski he grinds, whether the ski belongs to Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Heidi Weng or a recreational skier. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Go general rather than specific
Grinds are designed to make skis glide better in various conditions. There are different grinds for different temperatures and conditions, such as warm conditions and cold conditions, new snow, old snow, transformed snow and man-made snow, wet snow and dry snow, and any combination of these.

But while the World Cup skiers have a large quiver of skis and grinds to cover all of these, most recreational skiers don’t. Accordingly, Dahl recommends getting grinds that cover a wider range of conditions, such as a more universal warm grind or a universal cold grind. The 9-6 grind is a good example.

“Our 9-6 grind is one of the most versatile grinds on the market. It covers a wide temperature range and will work on a variety of snow types from quite cold and dry to quite warm. Additionally, the 9-6 is a grind that takes well to a manual rill on top of the basic grind as well, so this is one I recommend as a good, all-round grind,” says Dahl, adding that the 9-6 grind is popular among the World Cup skiers as well.

Spring brings some of the best skiing of the whole season. Photo: Kent Murdoch

No matter what your goals are, the perfect grind adds to the experience. Try one of the Madshus speciality grinds, which are available from the factory starting this season. Photo: Kent Murdoch

Inside the factory: Making use of summer

Peter Blom testing skis at Sjusjøen in April. Photo: Stefano Zatta
Peter Blom testing skis at Sjusjøen in April. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Testing skis is a science. Peter Blom at work during a test camp at Sjusjøen in April. Photo: Stefano Zatta

The snow may be melted, but the Madshus test crew never stops testing. Check out how they pick the perfect skis.

This time of the year, Peter Blom and his fellow Madshus test-crew members are testing and selecting over 1000 pairs of skis for the upcoming World Cup season.

“We have been testing extensively since this winter but the spring and early summer months are particularly intense. That’s when we go out with the national teams and try out many of the new models and bases that we have been working on, and try out the different grinds that we offer and find which run better in various temperatures and snow conditions,” Blom explains.

The extensive testing and data collection not only helps Blom and his crew pick the perfect skis for the World Cup racers. This also benefits skiers at all levels.

“There is really no difference between the skis we pick for the World Cup skiers and the skis you can buy at your local retailer. We pick from the same stock, all made right here at the Biri factory. Sometimes we try new prototypes on the World Cup circuit, just as a part of the testing, but everything that performs well will be available to the consumer market as soon as it has been proven perfect,” Blom says.

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Madshus racers are actively taking part in the testing processes, like here at Sognefjellet. Photo: Madshus.com

Madshus racers are actively taking part in the testing processes, like here at Sognefjellet. Photo: Madshus.com

Picking a thousand pairs of skis
The Madshus test crew selects skis for all the different national teams and elite skiers who order directly from the factory.

“We just finished picking skis for Russia, the Czech Republic, the Baltic countries and Japan and are shipping those to the distributors in the various countries. Earlier this spring, we selected skis for the elite Norwegian racers and several of the other national teams, so I estimate that we have picked about a thousand pairs so far. Once we have made the selection, we send the skis down to Roger Dahl in the grinding facility at the factory. He is the one who makes sure the skis get the correct grind according to what the teams have ordered,” Blom says, adding that only rarely do they get skis returned from the teams.

“We pick out skis based on the information the teams send us, and based on what we know about the skiers. We often meet them throughout the winter at various races and events, so over time, we get a good idea about which skis and models might be a good fit for the individual racers.”

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Photo: Stefano Zatta

Yet another set of test skis waiting. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Extensive experience
Blom explains that selecting the perfect skis is part science and part experience.

“There are a lot of theories out there on how to pick the right skis, but it’s not so easy to see which ski is the best just by looking at the stats for a certain ski model. Ultimately, it comes down to getting test skis on the snow, trying them in all kinds of conditions, making meticulous notes and keeping track of different skis, bases and grinds over time.”

Accordingly, Blom and his men ski a lot. They ski in sunshine and snow and rain, in cold and warm conditions, on dry snow and wet snow, at high altitudes and at sea level and everything in between.

“I ski at least a few times every week from August until the end of June. So when I go on summer vacation in July, I try not to ski,” he says with a laugh.

Svein Ivar Moen (left), Haakan Nordbäck and Peter Blom comparing their findings during a test camp at Sjusjøen this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Svein Ivar Moen (left), Haakan Nordbäck and Peter Blom comparing their findings during a test camp at Sjusjøen this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Inside the factory: Testing

In the early summer, the Madshus test crew is working hard on perfecting products. Photo: Madshus
Test skis Sjusjøen April 2017 - Stefano Zatta 680x

How do we test our products, and what do we test? Take a trip with the Madshus test crew. Photo: Madshus

Making the best skis in the world is no coincidence. Before a product ships, there are years of research and development, testing and retesting. How do we test our products, and what do we test?

Take a trip with the Madshus test crew.

Right now, in the early summer, they are super busy getting everything lined up perfectly for the upcoming season. There is testing to be done with the top athletes in biathlon, cross-country, marathon and Nordic Combined, helping them dial in their equipment, as well as testing new models and products. Both of these processes provide invaluable feedback for the test crew and our product developers at the factory.

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In the early summer, the Madshus test crew is working hard on perfecting products. Photo: Madshus

In the early summer, the Madshus test crew is working hard on perfecting products. Photo: Madshus

Close to the venues and the community
At Madshus, we are fortunate to have some of the worlds best test arenas and test labs right in our back yard. In April and May, we often do field tests at Sjusjøen and Beitostølen, known for great snow and skiing conditions well into May and accordingly favored locations for the national teams and elite skiers. Then we move to Sognefjellet along with the top skiers when the summer ski center opens there in June.

The Madshus service techs also work closely with the Norwegian national team’s wax techs. The idea is that the national wax teams have a chance to learn the properties of the skis and how to optimize each pair well in advance of the race season. Working side by side with the Madshus service crew, the wax techs have a walking, talking, live help desk on site, and a both sides can exchange experiences and test results, says Madshus service tech Peter Blom.

“The national team wax techs now have all the athletes’ skis for the upcoming season, and can test individually with the athletes. Also, with more time on snow, athletes who were missing race skis for certain conditions can work with us and their wax team to find a pair or two that will fill those holes,” Blom explains.

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Madshus marathon racer Øystein Pettersen (NOR) works on his skis during a test camp at Sjusjøen this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Madshus marathon racer Øystein Pettersen (NOR) works on his skis during a test camp at Sjusjøen this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta

What do we test?
“For each product, we test a lot of different aspects,” says Bjørn Ivar Austrem, head of research and development at Madshus.

One example is how base materials are tested.

“We try a lot of different materials and finishes to determine which bases glide best and are the most dirt resistant in various snow conditions and temperatures. This requires a lot of field testing,” Austrem says.

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Ski bases at the factory. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Ski bases at the Madshus factory are the result of years of testing. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Flexes, cambers and properties are other properties of the ski that require extensive testing.

“When we compare flexes, cambers and related properties, we collect data on what glides the best, but also what provides the best ski feel. We record how the skis behave and maneuver in different conditions, and what we can do to improve the skis,” he says, noting that all testing is a combination of working with the athletes and the product developers at the factory.

For each parameter, there is a lot of prep work to do before taking the product to the snow to test it out.

“There are a lot of aspects to test for each parameter, which is what makes proper testing so tricky. You have to make sure you are only testing and comparing one parameter at a time, otherwise you get lost in causes and effects,” Austrem explains.

“We have to be absolutely sure of which factors we are testing, and eliminating everything else,” he says.

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Comparing feedback in the field. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus.com

Comparing feedback in the field. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus.com

Two years to a new base
Going back to his base testing as an example, Austrem explains that they always start with the manufacturers to get as much information about the potential base products and their properties.

With this data on hand, Madshus manufactures a series of test skis, often with about 10 different bases, and go to work: Which of the bases glide better? This is more than just the downhill speed on a hill.

“You do a glide test. Then you stop, look at the bases, record what you see and experience. Then you ski some more and ski different terrains.”

Then they look at how the bases take to waxing, grooming and prep: How do the bases absorb products? Which are more durable?

Then they take all the field notes and the feedback to the office, compare this information with the lab and factory notes, and try to narrow down the options. When they have done that, they manufacture two or three prototypes. These skis are tested on several World Cup races, in different snow conditions and temperatures. During this field/competition testing the Madshus service techs collect data and feedback from the athletes on performance and feel. Finally, this data is analyzed and some are turned into new models.

“The process of developing new bases typically takes a year and a half to two years, from the initial contact with base material manufacturers, to a new base is shipped to retailers,” Austrem says.

This process is also similar to how Madshus will develop and test various specialty grinds.

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) during a test camp at Sognefjellet. Photo: Madshus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen (NOR) during a test camp at Sognefjellet. Photo: Madshus

Changing environment
Climate change affects both the testing and the end product.

“We notice that the snow is getting a lot more difficult. We have a lot less of the classic Nordic conditions with cold, powdery and natural snow, and a lot more manmade snow. This is particularly tricky during large events such as championships where the skiers use the same venues for a couple of weeks in a row and often the longest loops are three to five kilometers. Toward the end of the event, that snow is completely transformed and dead, Austrem points out.

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