By Sandra Henderson
Avid skiers love the buttery smooth ride of an aluminum or titanium ski. Achieving a steady ride without vibrations-coined as "flutter"-at high speeds is a major challenge for any ski designer because most vibration reduction techniques are parasitic; they may reduce vibrations but with a weight penalty and without adding more value to the structure. So, when a Colorado custom ski builder with a mechanical engineering degree focused on composite materials and computer aided design partnered up with the maker of a visco-elastically dampened carbon fiber material, it was a match made in skier heaven.
Pete Wagner, CEO and founder of Wagner Custom got into building boutique ski gear out of a personal need. He had a pair of mass-produced skis he didn't like. After working as a design engineer in the golf industry for ten years developing technology for fitting professional golfers into custom equipment, Wagner figured he could do the same with skis. He tweaked the design software he had created for the golf industry and made himself a custom-designed pair of personal skis.
In 2006, he founded Wagner Custom, an engineering and fabrication shop outside Telluride, Colo. "Big ski companies build custom skis for their top Olympic and World Cup athletes, tailor-made to ensure the athlete does their absolute best. That's what we do for recreational skiers," Wagner says. Each pair of Wagner skis is designed based on what he calls the "skier's DNA" - not just height, weight, ability, style and favorite terrain, but also what a skier aspires to accomplish with a new pair of skis. Since 2006, Wagner has done extensive in-house materials testing and R&D in order to design the perfect pair of skis for his customers, including partnership with one composite company.
Pennsylvania-based Materials Sciences Corporation had already developed Countervail, a continuous fiber reinforced polymer product that provides integral vibration damping in performance-critical composite structures. "The composite product, originally developed for the aerospace industry, was designed to dampen vibrations in tubular satellite truss members, where conventional constrained layer damping techniques are ineffective because loads within the structure are in the plane of the laminate. As a result, our product forestalls flutter in the carbon-fiber surfaces of supersonic aircraft," says Anthony Caiazzo, Materials Sciences Corporation's chief technical officer.
"When I recently watched a World Cup ski race on television," Caiazzo says, "and saw the ski tips 'chatter' and listened to the experts talk about the inability of the racers to hold an edge on icy, bumpy turns, I immediately understood the skiers' conundrum. The idea is: Less vibration amplitude equals more time the ski edge spends on the snow, hence more control," he says. "It is very difficult to reduce vibrations in skis, which are essentially core sandwich constructions subjected to flexural loads, without adding parasitic mass or compromising stiffness and strength." Determined to find a solution, he began looking for a partner to make the carbon composite skis.