Madshus hired 22-year-old Harvard graduate to build their flagship racing ski

Madshus hired 22-year-old Harvard graduate to build their flagship racing ski

A young dude from the US revolutionized how an old, traditional Norwegian ski manufacturer is going about their business: building skis.

The now 24-year-old from Rochester in New York came Madshus in the late summer of 2018, with an engineering degree from Harvard University and a huge passion for skiing. He is now one of the lead ski developers at Madshus.

As a Harvard graduate, you probably had a lot of job options and opportunities. Why did you come to Madshus?
“For me, the goal with my degree was learning different ways to learn and problem-solving methods, figuring out what the main challenge or challenges are, and find ways to overcome them. This has translated really well into my job here,” says Green, explaining that for him, working at Madshus is like living out a dream.

“I had been racing cross-country skiing for a decade, so racing is what I understand the best. But since this is the first time I’m not training to race and compete, I can ski just for fun as well, so I’ve tried all types of skis, and explored the different kinds of skiing from touring and backcountry to randonee,” Green says.

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Testing Madshus Redline 3.0. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

What is the huge difference between Redline 3.0 vs earlier Redline models? Updates and upgrades happen all the time, but how big is this difference?
“It’s hard to say whether this is an evolution or a revolution. In one way, the Redline 3.0 is an optimization. We have kept the same geometries and forms from the Redline 2.0, which makes the 3.0 an evolution. But changed the materials and the cambers, so everything inside is different, which makes the 3.0 more of a revolution. Even how approached what to change is different,” Green explains.

How did you develop this?
“Specific improvement is an ongoing process. Research and development happen continuously with racing. We started this leading up to the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld (AUT). As we got closer to the championship races, we tested more, and we believed the skis were very good. Because they were clearly so much better, the pressure was building to give the 3.0 skis to the athletes as we approached the championships.”

Note: These were the skis that earned Hans Christer Holund (NOR) the gold medal in the 50-kilometer skate, after dropping the field with 30 kilometers to go.

What are some of the specific changes in the 3.0 models?
“We have changed the construction and the materials to make it easier to produce perfect skis with the correct carrying capacity for their intended use. For instance, we have adjusted the camber shape and added more carbon. So, the skis are all stiffer, but still have that reliable kick for classic. They are faster overall, they work better in more conditions, and they work better for a wider range of people.”

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Testing Madshus Redline 3.0 skis at Sjusjøen (NOR) this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Where did the idea come from?
“Modern skiing is more powerful and aggressive than when many of the established parameters and measuring methods for ski engineering were developed. The old way to measure skis was by using flex numbers, which were given in kilograms. These flex numbers reflect how much force it takes to completely flatten the ski. Then you would pick the ski using this flex number, generally by taking the skier’s body weight and adding 10 to 20 kilos, to allow for the force being applied to the ski when pushing off, in order to flatten the ski and optimize the glide,” Green says.

He explains that with the Redline 3.0, they wanted to start over in a fundamental way.

“We wanted to engineer a ski that not only performs better and better matches how cross-country skiing has progressed, but also develop a system that makes it easier to pick the right skis. If you look at skate skiing at the World Cup level today, the athletes are pushing into the ski, rather than side to side the way they did in the early days of skate skiing. The current way of skiing requires skis that are more dynamic, more elastic and provides a better return of the energy that is pushed into the ski, and a way of picking the skis that reflect these properties in a more meaningful way than the flex numbers from the 1980s. So, with the 3.0 models, we use the camber height at the balance point of the ski at full and half weight, which is a better measure of how dynamic the ski is.”

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Svein Ivar Moen, the head of the Madshus ski testing department at Sjusjøen (NOR) this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta/ Madshus

Once you had the idea of what you wanted to achieve, how did you approach the task?
“We generally start with a lot of internal testing, with our engineers and test crew.”

How do you involve the athletes in product development?
“It varies from athlete to athlete. Some are more eager to try new things, while others are happier working with what they have and are familiar with. But we often have them test skis when they are doing intervals. Say they do an interval session with 8 x 3-minute intervals at race speed. Then we would provide six pairs of skis, and they would bring two pairs of their own skis, and ski each interval with a different pair. At the end of the session, we use the times collected from each interval to compare how they perform at high speed,” Green says.

He points out that for other tests, they rely on verbal feedback to support the numbers.

“For certain things, like camber, we rely more on qualitative feedback. This also often involves skiing intervals at race pace but then providing a rating for different characteristics such as stability, glide feeling, and so on. This is where it is important to have a tester or athlete who can clearly articulate what they’re feeling, and who is also able to play around with small adjustments in technique to get the most out of the prototype they’re currently testing.”

What are the most valuable contributions from the athletes?
“Having access to several athletes provides us with different kinds of input. They emphasize different aspects of the ski’s properties and word their feedback differently. That said, the athletes are very different in how they communicate their feedback. For instance, saying that these skis are good, is not helpful. Were they good today? Or were they good compared to the rest of your skis? In what way were they good? Other athletes are great at articulating how the skis feel, whether the acceleration underfoot felt good, bad or different, and how they support their effort.

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Head of the Madshus ski testing department Svein Ivar Moen collecting feedback from Madshus racer Vebjørn Turtveit in April. Photo: Stefano Zatta

Impressed and humble
Although Green started cross-country skiing when he was 12, skied for his high school team and all four years at Harvard, he is impressed that an old, traditional Norwegian ski manufacturer had the courage and trust to completely reconsider how to go about their business: building skis. At the advice from a young American engineer who did his senior project on building a carbon fiber guitar neck.

Connor Green skiing with Thomas Alsgaard (left) at Sjusjøen (NOR) this spring. Photo: Stefano Zatta/ Madshus