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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.

Next season has already started

 

Stian Groenaas (center) helps tune skis for both Thomas Alsgaard (right) and Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (front), as well as pick and test skis for the entire World Cup team racers and contract skiers. Photo: Madshus.com

For the Madshus service crew, the 2014 season started before the snow melted from the factory roof. By the end of June, all World Cup skis need to be selected, the summer snow camps start next week, and Madshus service rep Stian Groenaas is knee-deep in skis, grinds and testing. But the jovial Norwegian ski tech doesn’t mind. If Groenaas has it his way: the busier, the better.

“Right now is some of the busiest time for us, actually. This is when we pick skis for all the national teams for the upcoming season, and in a few days we leave for on-snow testing at Sognefjellet,” Groenaas says with a big grin.

 

Right on schedule 
The Norwegian national team skis are already picked. The Russians are here now, and the German national team is coming next week along with the Swedes. Groenaas is also picking skis for Thomas Alsgaard who just launched his own new marathon team, which includes 3-time Vasaloppet champion Joergen Brink.

“The work we do now is crucial for the next season. The spring and summer testing provides a lot of insight on what we can tweak in terms of flex and the camber, and how we can fine-tune the skis come race season,” Groenaas explains.

 

REDLINE excitement 
“The new REDLINE skis became a total hit as soon as they launched. There is a lot of demand among the skiers, and I’m super excited to continue the process and optimize the details,” Groenaas says zealously.

“And the snow camps with the racers are always great. That’s when we really discover if the job we do is up to snuff,” Groenaas says, adding that the feedback from the racers contributes to improve the products.

“There is always something we can do better, and that’s really exciting. The racers give us feedback and challenges. It’s really fun to make it happen, and I’m always looking forward to that.”

 

Quality and commitment sells 
For Madshus, the job the service crew does is worth its weight in gold.

“The job our service techs do in providing perfect skis and solid craftsmanship every day of the year is invaluable. We are confident that Groenaas and the guys deliver, and we totally appreciate the efforts they put in and their commitment to the team and the community,” says Per Wiik, who is the Global Marketing Director at Madshus.

When the tech reps deliver, the racers perform at their best, and that moves products. Performance is the best selling argument.

“The service techs are our ambassadors. They are on site where our customers are. They build and cultivate our relationship with the racers and the consumers, and contribute immensely to promote our brand and earn the street cred we have, both in the racing community and among recreational skiers.”

 

Stian Groenaas is always there, helping racers with waxing, tuning and any equipment issues. And the wax hut is always a warm and welcoming place if you just need someone to chat with before a race because you are nervous. Photo: Inge Scheve

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