There is a long and storied history of innovators that transformed straight, wood carved skis into the technological marvels of today.
H.M. Christiansen, a Norwegian, put together layers of wood as early as 1893. Austrian Rudolph Lettner creates a segmented steel edge in 1926. Adhesives and laminates were being crafted into water tight and durable skis in the 1930’s by Norwegian Bjørn Ullevoldsaeter and American George Aaland. Plastic bases were developed in France by Dynamic Skis (later to become Dynastar).
World War 2 spurred technological in the defense industry. Aerospace technology was dramatically accelerated by government defense investments. Innovative metal alloys (i.e., aluminum) and composites (e.g., fiberglass) combined with manufacturing process (layered, honeycomb, etc.) and adhesives changed forever the way ski manufacturers would view the possibilities.
The first sandwich skis using aluminum and wood (and lasting adhesives) was developed by the aircraft company Vought-Sikorsky. Engineers from this company founded TEY Manufactiring that developed aluminon variants that could be used for skis fabricated in with sandwich techniques.
Ultimately, it was Howard Head that put together these advancements and built the first super successful aluminum skis. Head was an aerospace engineer who knew all about composite and layered materials. He founded Head Skis. In the early 1950’s, Head’s experiments with materials, adhesives, and fabrication techniques came together. Heads skis took off and would forever change ski manufacturing.
After Head’s successful integration of aerospace technologies into skis, waves of ski manufacturing entrepreneurs followed. An Air Force brat who studied mechanical engineering named Hubert Zemke is credited with developing the first honeycomb core. His first investor was Dave McCoy of Mammoth Mtn. The skis used Hexcel Corp materials and Hexcel Corp ultimately bought Zemke and his technology and started producing Hexcel Skis. The honeycomb techniques combined with aluminum and fiberglass materials led to as ski half as heavy as alternatives.
For history buffs, Hexcel sold its ski division to Hanson Company, maker of the innovative rear entry boot, in the late 1970’s.
Today, the Do It Yourself (DIY) generation is creating boutique ski manufacturers like they were microbreweries. Using state of the art fabrication technologies and readily available construction materials, craft ski manufacturers are able to produce high quality skis at affordable costs.
Some of the DIY manufacturers worth checking out.