The new ski from AM Skis, known simply as the “33”, is a new shape and design, but the most unusual thing about the 33 is on the inside. The “33” is hollow with a precision carbon fiber rib replacing the core. Below is some Q&A with AM Skis co-founder Adam Cord about building hollow skis, eating Thai food with Chris Parrish and founding a ski company with Andy Mapple.
Horton: Skis have been built with a foam core since the 1970’s. EP made skis with honeycomb cores for a few years, and one of the European companies makes a hollow ski. What was the inspiration for building a ski with a carbon fiber rib instead of a traditional core?
Cord: I had been interested in building a hollow ski for a long time, but it wasn’t until I visited the SAMPE show last year in LA that I really made the decision to give it a go. I saw a lot of examples of very high tech carbon fiber parts that were built hollow, and I was surprised to see that almost no one is using foam cores anymore for anything other than sandwich panels. Anything that has a complex shape and is engineered to have certain flex and rebound characteristics is now being made hollow because of the precision you can achieve. After that show I started working with my friend Tom Pollack, who is a fellow skier and is also the ultimate composites nerd. He works for a defense company figuring out how to make all kinds of cool carbon fiber parts that he’s not allowed to tell me about. From there we started working out the calculations and modeling of how it should be constructed.
Horton: Using the rib construction, how will the ski compare in terms of weight?
Cord: Although weight reduction was never a primary goal for our skis, they weigh about 2.5 lbs depending on which size you get.
Horton: Are there any additional side benefits to your manufacturing process?
Cord: We can actually adjust the rocker and flex of a ski as we build it. This allows us to make every ski the same or even make custom skis for people without much difficulty. Also we don’t need a lot of big machinery. Each individual part is made in a composite mold under vacuum in our curing oven.
Horton: Your very first prototype was tested in July of last year. That was long before you had a factory, where and how did you build it?
Cord: I made that first mold in my garage in Redmond, WA. I hand built all the parts there and pieced together a ski, figuring out the process as I went. I had planned a trip to Orlando that same week so I didn’t have much time to finish the ski before I left, and I’m pretty sure some of the resin was still a bit soft when I loaded that ski on the plane.
Horton: It has to be nerve-racking to take that first pass on the ski you built in your garage with a new technology.
Cord: Using the very scientific “flex it by hand and see if it breaks” technique, I was able to verify that the ski was strong enough to ski on.
Horton: How did the first prototype ski, and what happened to it?
Cord: The ski came out very stiff so I was unsure of what to expect. In the end it skied like a rocket and went out to the apex like nothing I had ever felt. It was obvious that we had something special. I believe I ran a few 35s on that ski before stopping. When we got back to Andy’s garage he wanted to see how I’d built it and before I knew it he’d cut the ski in half!
Horton: At that point you had proof of concept and the birth of a new manufacturing method?
Cord: From there we had not only proven that this could work, but also that there are some definite benefits to building a ski this way in terms of performance. There were still many many details to work out in order to bring the process to full on production, but we knew we were on the right track.
Horton: You were still living in Seattle with your wife. Moving to Orlando represented quite a leap of faith and trust in Andy.
Cord: Yes it was definitely a big change, and an investment packing up and moving across the country. I’m not really sure if Andy knew whether or not I was serious until I showed up at his doorstep in October with a car full of my composites equipment. Oh…and my wife and our dogs.
Horton: From the time you and Andy started design process how long did it take you to find the shape for the 33?
Cord: We started working on the shape when I first moved to Orlando in early October. We skied almost every day, improving the shape every time. We didn’t decide on a final shape until February.
Horton: From a performance perspective, how much of a factor is the rib core?
Cord: The construction of the ski allows us to very precisely dial in the torsional stiffness as well as the longitudinal stiffness. The result is a ski that is very forgiving in the turns but also has that “snap” through the edge change that makes it super easy to get way up course and wide of the buoy.
Horton: When you were designing “33”, what where your performance goals?
Cord: When we first started working on a new shape last fall we honestly weren’t completely sure where we were headed. Most people would take the last ski they designed and tweak from there, but we wanted to make bigger leaps. We began by getting our hands on every ski we could, riding all the high end skis on the market as well as popular older models…basically everything. We measured each ski and painstakingly documented how they rode. By going about this in a systematic way we were able to see some very interesting correlations between different shapes and skiing characteristics. From there we were able to extrapolate upon what we had seen in order to start making some new shapes. By focusing on the certain skiing characteristics that we wanted our ski to have and avoiding the ones we didn’t, we were able to make massive leaps in improvement in a relatively short amount of time. After a solid four months of R&D like this we were able to decide on our final shape.
Horton: Chris Parrish is perhaps the greatest skier in the modern era. What led to Chris joining the team?
Cord: This was actually completely random. This winter my wife and I went to a Thai restaurant around the corner from our Orlando condo, and we just happened to run into Chris there. He invited us to eat with him so we sat and started talking about the progress Andy and I had been making on ski shape and some of the theory behind it. Chris was immediately intrigued. Later that week I went with him to ski with his dad and he tried one of our early prototypes for the first time. After a few passes he was just grinning ear to ear, and he hasn’t looked back since.