Does The World Need A Custom Ski Just For You?

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You can buy a computer built just for you. How about a ski?

Way back in the winter of 2018, long before Covid raised its ugly head, I asked the heads of marketing (none of whom would qualify for a SeniorsSkiing/com subscription) from three manufacturers a simple question: “Has ski material science and engineering reached the point where—with a simple, easy-to-measure parameters, and algorithms— a ski manufacturer can produce a ski tailored to the way an individual, recreational skier skis?”

The answer was yes, they have been making custom skis for World Cup and Olympic Ski racers for decades. But what about us common folks?

Again, the answer was yes. Physical dimensions of the skier and other limits such as artificial joints could be entered by the buyer.

All it takes is translating measurement to manufacturing.

The hardest part would be translating how a skier skis into data that can be used by a computer to then control the manufacturing process. For elite racers, they have zillions of gigabytes of footage “experts” can analyze coupled with on-snow testing.

Unlike ski racers where the variations in their technique are subtle, recreational skiers are all over the map. If you don’t believe me, watch a well-traveled slope. Even the “untrained” eye can see the differences in technique, some good, some, well, not-so-good bordering on awful, or where they are in learning to ski.

All three ski designers hypothesized that with two to three minutes of video of a skier on a a ski whose design parameters were known skiing down a known piece of terrain with measured condition, a custom ski could be done. The individuals all agreed that this approach would eliminate many variables.

From there, they could have internal experts go through their analysis, come up with whatever inputs a computer model needs, and, voilá, out would come the engineering/design specs for the ski.

Cost of manufacture is another story. Credit: Volkl

Now we get to the second issue: Producing the ski. Ski manufacturers make huge investments in equipment that can be used to turn out thousands of skis so they can amortize the investment over each ski produced. In this “personal ski” scenario, the molds and materials can still be used. Workers would have to be re-trained. How and why happens is beyond the scope of this piece, so just accept the fact that custom construction is possible.

Which brings us to cost. The custom ski would cost more than the $1,000 for a top-of-the-line ski. How much more, my informal panel wouldn’t or couldn’t agree on a number, but again, for the sake of dreaming, let’s say $3,000. Whether or not the ski was salable at that price is a different subject, again beyond the scope of this post.

So the obstacle was not cost, nor engineering, nor manufacturing, but identifying and then gathering the needed data that could be translated into ones and zeros. In the end, they all said,  “Why bother?”  The current designs meet the needs of 80—90 percent of recreational skiers. And therein lies the rub and why, at least not yet, everyone can’t have a custom designed ski.

 

2 Comments

  1. Avatar Richard Kavey says:

    There us an answer to your question which is widely credited in advertising and social psychology. Decades ago, a company released a perfume at an extremely low price. Very few people bought it. After initially losing $ the company switched to plan B – they repackaged the same perfume in crystal and priced it among the most expensive perfumes sold. The result? Sales went through the roof!

    Now to the advantage of a custom ski. If you’re not a very accomplished skier it isn’t going to matter. Furthermore, most skiers ski on equipment so far out of tune that the ski they’re on doesnt have a chance to perform. It will ski terribly. An analogy is pulling 2 of the spark plug wires off a Porsche Cayman S. It will have the performance of a riding lawnmower.

    Rather than buy a vanity ski, readers would be wise to learn how to tune and wax their skis. A base level of competency is easy to acquire and the tools the approximate cost of a pair of skis.

    Show of hands. How many times did you wax your skis last year? How many times did you de-burr the edges? How flat are your bases? Do you know an appropriate base and side bevel for your edges? What bevels are your skis now? How much tree sap and goo are in the bases from last spring?

    The above is much more relevant to the quality of your ski experience than a $3000 pair of skis.

  2. Avatar Marc Liebman says:

    You are so right about tuning your skis. Any pair I’ve owned has been hot waxed, scraped and buffed to fill in the pores in the P-Tex. And I did it pretty much every night. Skis edges were tuned, de-burred at the same time. As a rental ski skier, I check the edges and the bottoms.

    Back when I traveled with skis, I also traveled with a hot waxing “kit” and have left many a wax shaving on the balcony of my condo/hotel room. Today, sadly, most hotels don’t have a room where you can prep skis.

    And, I can tell the difference between a tuned ski and one not tuned and the type of burrs on the edges!!!

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