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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

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

 

Secrets to great skis

Picking the perfect skis is more than just matching a skiers weight and height with a form. The brand of skis, the conditions they will be used in, and who will ski them important elements in picking the perfect skis. And some factors that matter more than others.

For starters, only a few brands produce the same skis for World Cup skiers as they distribute to local dealers. For Madshus, it has always been a guiding principle that the top of the line racing skis available in at the retailers should be no different than the Madshus skis the World Cup racers are on, explains Per Wiik, Madshus Global Marketing Director.

Mark Waechter of Nordic Ultratune in Winthrop, Wash., has a lot of experience with selecting skis and race tuning. He has the only Mantec stone grinder used for Nordic skis in North America, selects and takes care of numerous World Cup skis, and was one of the main wax techs with the Slovenian national team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

“It is easy to pick good skis from Madshus. They are consistent, high quality and they have a great warranty,” Waechter says, noting that with other brands, some skis can be up to five kilos apart for stiffness in the same pair.

Different philosophies
Some manufacturers make their World Cup skis by hand and in different factories than where they mass produce skis for the retail market. At Madshus, World Cup skis and retail skis are made in the same facility, using the same machines, materials and construction, Waechter says.

So why does it seem like the World Cup skiers have faster skis than everyone else?

Well, for starters, they often have a lot of skis.

“Anyone who has 25 or 30 pairs of skis in their bag should be able to find a couple of pairs of skis that run better than the others,” Wiik says with a grin, adding that most masters and citizen racers don’t have that luxury.

And while Madshus World Cup skis in principle are no different than the ones off the rack, there are some differences. Madshus does have the capacity to engineer special skis for World Cup racers that have cambers and flexes that the mass market are not going to be interested in, Wiik explains, noting that they still use the same materials, construction, molds and machines. Accordingly, Madshus sometimes will make a ski for a very specific condition that otherwise would not sell, such as a super-wet klister ski or a skate ski for extremely cold and draggy snow.

Furthermore, Madshus also has the capacity to make a replica of a pair that a specific elite athlete is particularly fond of.

For instance, when Vasaloppet Champion Jörgen Brink (SWE) had worn out his favorite skis this spring, he shipped them back to the Madshus factory in Biri, Norway, and asked for some new ones just like those.

“You should have seen the skis Brink returned to us this spring. They looked like rock skis. They had scrapes and scratches in the base that went all the way to the core, and the upper was just trashed,” Wiik recalls, noting that he has rarely seen skis that worn. He was definitely in the market for some new ones.

The Madshus engineers analyzed the properties of the skis, such as flex, camber and pressure distribution, and then adjusted their machines and molds to produce an identical pair.

However, regular masters and citizen racers don’t have this option when their favorite pair is worn out. They have to trust that their local dealer can pick them a new pair from the stock that is fairly similar to the golden boards.

So how do consumers get the best skis?
First, it helps to know who is picking your skis. Serious dealers know their brands and models, and take their time when they determine which model and which pair best suits the skier. This requires more than just asking about the skier’s weight and height. Where the ski will be used, in what conditions, and for what kind of skiing are critical variables. A recreational skier has different needs than a racer, and technique and proficiency also matters, Wiik points out.

Second, it is important to be honest about your skill level and ambitions. Ask yourself what you are really looking for in a ski, and what you realistically need. Some skiers are just never going to be in the first wave of the Birkie, even if they had the skis from God. What is on top of the skis really does matter. If you don’t have time to work out, out in overtime at the office every night and only get on your skis for a few hours on the weekend, you can’t expect the skis to provide some kind of magic weapon. On the other hand, it’s possible that a new pair of skis could motivate you to get out more.

TLC and testing
Finally, having more skis is not necessarily the ticket to great skis. If you don’t take care of your skis and treat them right, it doesn’t matter how many pairs you have.

If you don’t have time to do more than one or two pairs of skis, having more pairs won’t make you faster. And for the record, the elite skiers generally have people who take care of their skis for them, help them test, wax and tune their skis before races. Just testing skis is a time consuming task in itself, let alone the waxing and tuning.

“The most important thing is to have the right skis for the conditions you will ski. If you have a couple of pairs you know well, know how to wax and tune for your needs, then you’ve come a long way,” Wiik concludes.

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