Inside A Telemark Ski Factory
by Mitch Weber
Recently we were
lucky enough to get a look inside the Karhu/Line ski factory
in Cowansville, Quebec, Canada. Nils Larson, John Siebert and
I were given the full tour by chief ski designer François
Sylvain. It was an eye opening experience to see how much art
goes into the process! The result of our tour is a nearly nine
minute long web video unlike any other video we have produced
in the past. This movie will give you a very good look at how
skis are made. We followed a single ski, one of Karhu's new fat
skis, the Jak, all the way through the factory. From the core
and base fabrication areas to the shrink wrap machine, you'll
see it all.
Many skiers have wondered
why new skis cost so much. After viewing this video most are
left wondering why they are not even more expensive than they
are. Laid up skis are virtually made by hand. Skilled technicians,
trained in the art, build each ski with an astonishing amount
note, November, 2006: At
the time that we filmed this video, Karhu's facility in Cowansville
was the last ski factory in North America producing skis for
a major manufacturer. Sadly, this factory was closed in the spring
of 2005 and all of the equipment was shipped to a new factory
located in China. A year later, Seattle-based K2 acquired Trak
Sports, the parent company of Karhu and Line skis. K2 continues
to manufacture all of its family of snow skis in China.
This is where the story begins, in the lab
of the R&D department. Here François Sylvain and his
crew work on developing and refining their ski designs. They
use some very high tech equipment.
And sometimes a lower tech approach too. Here
François is demonstrating a highly effective test he came
up with to see how strong a special new tip design might be.
When 9 out of ten times the tip snapped off before the modification
and 0 out of ten after incorporating his new design, François
knew he was on the right track!
In one of the few truly automated steps along
the way, a special machine is programmed to cut out p-tex bases,
In this photo you can see the tech getting
set to lay the wood core into the mold. Below are the base material,
a layer of a special 4 direction woven fiberglass cloth and a
strip of titanal. A second metal layer is added above the core.
François explained to us that it is important to balance
the bottom titanal layer with one on top to preserve the skis
camber regardless of changes in temperature.
The laid up ski, inside its mold, is then
placed in a ski press where both heat and pressure are applied.
This step takes around 30 minutes.
After the ski comes out of the mold it is
taken to an area where the excess material is trimmed off...
..and several different machines are used
to grind, shape and finish the ski.
One of those machines is this stone grinder
used to prep the base. Techs use other machines to bevel the
edges and apply hot wax.
François is running this electronic gauge up and down
the ski to see how consistent the edges and the bevel are. They
were dead-on all along the length of this half-pair of Jaks.
A center mark and the serial number are stamped
on at a station before the ski makes it to this shrink wrapping
machine. At last, this ski is done.
The only chairs we saw in the Karhu factory
were like this one, empty. It takes a lot of hard working, highly
skilled technicians, managers and development people all pulling
together to produce a pair of skis. The amount of handwork and
the general level of craftsmanship involved was the biggest surprise
to us. Take a look at the nearly nine minute long video and you'll
no doubt agree. It's an amazing process.
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Telemarktips.com would like to thank
Doug Barber, Ted McGuiness, François Sylvain, and the
people at Karhu's Cowansville factory for helping make this video