Overall, the sports market is no different than other markets that likely won’t fully embrace CFRP until the composites industry can find a way to drive down the price of raw carbon fiber. While market intelligence firm Lucintel maintains that use of carbon fiber in the worldwide sporting goods market is growing at a lower rate than most other markets for composites, Grande says the growth of the alpine touring movement and increasing size of skis could drive up demand for CFRP. In a market that has seen game-changing innovation in every decade since the 1950s, that’s good news for ski manufacturers looking to stay ahead of the curve.

A Short History of Composite Skis
According to the International Skiing History Association (ISHA), the first successful GFRP alpine ski was invented in 1959 in Montreal by engineers Fred Langendorf and Art Molnar and was marketed under the Toni Sailer label. Three years later, Bill and Don Kirschner, who owned a company manufacturing fiberglass splints and veterinary cages, created K2 Sports and began making GFRP skis of their own. In 1967, Molnar left Langendorf to work for K2 and develop a line of GFRP skis using foam cores. By 1968, fiberglass had supplanted both wood and aluminum for use in slalom racing skis and in most recreational skis. GFRP made its way into cross country skis in 1970.

During the rest of the 1970s, the skiing industry made improvements to composite design. Prepreg GFRP construction proved efficient but very expensive. S-glass supplanted E-glass in wet lay-ups. Manufacturers began mixing small quantities of Kevlar®, carbon fiber, ceramic fiber and other high-strength materials into GFRP to help improve strength, resilience, damping and torsion properties of skis. Sintered polyethylene began to supplant extruded polyethylene as a tough, wax-retentive, high-speed base material.

The oldest existing ski brand producing Nordic skis is Biri, Norway-based Madshus, which was acquired by K2 in 1988. Since 1906, Madshus has been involved in the evolution of Nordic skis. The company started producing GFRP skis in 1974 and in 1979 introduced the double torsion box construction concept, which is the standard form of construction used in most skis today.

In 1989, Volant skis, the first commercially manufactured steel skis, were introduced by Bucky Kashiwa. While the company saw some early success, its factory failed in 2001 due to high labor costs and moved production Austria. Some of the Volant production equipment was bought by David Goode, who uses it to produce a ski made largely of CFRP. In 2005, DPS introduced the world’s first (and North America’s only) pure prepreg CFRP sandwich ski. Today, prepreg CFRP is on the rise, and traditional CFRP dominates the Nordic market. For a complete history of materials used in skis, visit www.skiinghistory.org/history/short-history-skis-0.