How Skis Are Made
Making skis is a surprisingly labour-intensive process; from design and construction to testing and validation, there is a lot of craftsmanship and a great deal of skill going into the finished article. The Atomic ski factory is located in
Alternmarkt, Austria, surrounded by mountains and with lots of skiing on the doorstep.
The environment is important to Atomic and they do as much as possible to take care of it including recycling raw materials and heating their offices and factory via a biomass facility. This is one of the most high-tech and skilled factories in the world; the experienced workforce uses both cutting-edge technology and traditional methods passed down through generations of ski-makers.
A ski has many components including plastics, woods, metals, fibreglass, carbon, resins and glues to hold it all together. Using these parts to make a pair of skis is a very hands-on process, meaning that there are constant checks and quality control during the production. We were very lucky to be invited into the heart of Atomic’s ski factory recently... here’s the inside track on how a pair of skis are made.
The first step in making a ski is ensuring all the various components exist and match exactly what is required. There are racks and racks filled with different plastics for sidewalls and bases, giant tubs of resin for bonding everything together, inks for printing, edges waiting to be cut down, stacks of prepared wood for cores and sheets for metal waiting to be trimmed to shape. Then there are the parts that are added on such as the binding systems and tip protectors.
All the components that are required need to match exactly to the specification for each particular model and size. This involves a lot of pre-production work milling and trimming wood cores; the cutting down of plastics such as sidewalls and bases, and cutting the metal sheets and edges to exact sizes.
The top sheets and graphics are printed, either by screen or digital printing. Skis are produced in small batches of at least 50 pairs of a particular model in one size. When the ski is due to be made all the components are gathered and taken to the press for assembly.
This is when a group of seemingly disassociated parts come together to form what starts to look like a ski. The various components are carefully put together in metal moulds, each mould is specific to a particular model and size. Bases, edges and tip/tails go in first then slowly the ski is built up to include dampening layers, strengthening layers, the core, sidewalls and topsheet. Certain parts may be pre-impregnated with glue, otherwise each layer needs an application of resin to bond it all together.
When it is all there the mould is closed and put into a press where it will sit for 10-15 minutes. These presses are heavy pieces of equipment that can exert huge forces, pushing all the layers together, bonding them and helping the ski to take a more recognisable form and profile. 2 skis will be made at the same time.
4. GRINDING LINE
When the ski comes off the press it’s put on a trolley until that batch is completed. At this moment in production the ski will be recognisable in shape but it will look very unfinished with excess resin down the sides and around the tip and tail.
This material needs to be cut away and the base and sides need to be ground carefully to create a flat, smooth base, with a structure on it; then the edges need grinding to create the desired angle and an even surface. This will involve huge long lines of automated machinery and also the use of skilled labour. At the end, the bases receive a penetrative hot wax to protect them and help them glide on snow.
The next step is the testing of the skis, checking the camber and the stiffness along the length. This part of the process is done by a mixture of robots and the most experienced staff. Everything is measured and checked, and it is only now that the skis are put into pairs ready for the final steps.
6. FINISHING/QUALITY CONTROL
The last stage involves fixing extra components such as binding plates or tip protectors and it’s during this stage that the skis will have their final quality control and protective wrappings added before heading to a warehouse and eventually being shipped out to shops.