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Inside the Factory: Skin skis are coming to the World Cup

World Cup skiers testing Redline Intelligrip skin skis prior to the Lillehammer World Cup in December. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Product developer Svein Ivar Moen expects to see skin skis at the World Cup level. Photo: Stefano Zatta

“I suspect that we will se skin skis on the World Cup in not too long,” says Svein Ivar Moen.

The former Norwegian national biathlon team wax tech, personal wax tech for Ole Einar Bjørndalen and product developer at Madshus, is certain that we have only seen the start of the skin ski revolution.

“As product developers, we always assume that the product we are working on will be used at the absolute highest level,” Moen says, explaining that many of the World Cup skiers already have and use skin skis.

With more than 20 years experience as a wax tech, Moen knows that things can get quite hectic in the wax room if conditions change right before a race.

“At this point, most of the World Cup skiers use their skin skis as a backup. They may bring them to the venue as a last resort if conditions change radically right before the race starts and there is no time to prepare another pair of skis. In those cases, the skin skis serve as a safety option. However, I am pretty sure that the skin skis will evolve to a viable race day option,” he says.

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Heidi Weng with her Reline Intelligrip skis at the Lillehammer World Cup in December. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Heidi Weng with her Redline Intelligrip skis at the Lillehammer World Cup in December. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Amazing progress
Moen points out that the progress in skin ski technology over the past few years has been mind-blowing, and that skins are now available on the top racing ski models including Redline. At Madshus, the engineers and testers are constantly working on optimizing both the ski construction and the skins themselves.

“We are always working to optimize the camber and flex, and the actual skin composition, the materials used in the skins, the length of the skins, as well as the length and stiffness of the hairs in the skin. This is an area where we are currently working on a lot of different projects,” Moen says.

The bindings will expand the use
Moen points out that the new binding system MOVE, which allows the skier to move the bindings forward and backward on the NIS binding plate without stopping to take the skis off, will make the skin skis even more attractive. These small adjustments can make a huge difference in the skis grip and glide properties.

“Moving the binding backward will improve the glide. Likewise, moving the binding forward will improve your grip. So if you know that you are headed into a section of sustained climbing, you can move your binding forward for better kick, and when you see a long downhill you can move the binding backward. This added flexibility will dramatically widen the use of the skin skis both for elite racers and recreational skiers,” Moen says.

Related: Behind the scenes: A passion for innovation

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The new MOVE bindings allow the skier to move the binding forward and backward on the NIS plate without taking the skis off. Photo: Stefano Zatta

With the new MOVE bindings, skiers can move the binding forward and backward on the NIS plate without taking their skis off. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Skin skis are a game changer
While the experienced wax tech primarily works on providing the World Cup racers with those marginal competitive advantages and mostly on traditional waxable classic skis, Moen considers the skin skis a game changer for cross-country skiing.

“At the end of the day, what really drives and motivates me, is building skis and equipment that fuel that passion for skiing regardless of level – fun experiences every time. Skin skis contribute to lower the barriers to getting started with skiing, and they make it easier to get out on busy weeknights. With skin skis, it’s just as convenient to go for a quick ski as it is to reach for your running shoes and go for a jog. And I’m pretty sure we will see the skin skis on the World Cup as well,” Moen says.

Svein Ivar Moen (far left) discussing test results with fellow Madshus product developers. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Svein Ivar Moen (far left) discussing test results with fellow Madshus product developers. 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

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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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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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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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


Expecting a Gold Watch

Thomas Alsgaard (NOR) won the Rampa con i Campioni in Val di Fiemme 2013, the amateur version of the final stage in Tour de Ski – uphill on Alpe Cermis. Photo:

This year marks the 25th year that Thomas Alsgaard (NOR)  is racing for Madshus on a contract. And he doesn’t see the end of it. Alsgaard loves skiing. He loves racing. And he loves product development.

“It’s been 25 years since I was 16 years old and signed my first Madshus contract,” Alsgaard recalls, and adds jokingly that he is expecting a gold watch in the near future.

It might have to be a golden heart rate monitor, because Alsgaard is not planning to retire anytime soon. And Alsgaard has never regretted nor doubted his commitment to Madshus.

“I have been with this company throughout my entire career. We have had ups and downs, but I love the people who work at Madshus. They take such pride in their work, and are so eager to make the best gear in the world,” Alsgaard says.

“Even if I didn’t have a contract with them, I would ski Madshus skis until I die. I am a Madshus racer, that’s where my heart is,” Alsgaard says.

“Contract negotiations with Madshus are really easy. They take between 30 seconds and a minute, depending on how fast we can find a pen to sign the paperwork,” he says with a grin.

Part of the process, not just a tester
Alsgaard also appreciates the way Madshus includes their racers in the product development. The athletes are not just high-profile testers and billboards for the company, and that is inspiring.

“The people at the factory are passionate about their products. When you have feedback on the gear, they listen and try to figure out the best way to solve it. They are very open to ideas, and extremely innovative,” he says.

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