Adam Cord talks to BallOfSpray about the founding of AM Skis

HortonHorton Posts: 23,681 Administrator
edited June 2012 in Skis Fins Bindings
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.

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Comments

  • HortonHorton Posts: 23,681 Administrator
    edited June 2012
    Horton: How was Chris’ his first ride on the ski?

    Cord: On his first ride Chris just ran some 38s, and it looked effortless, although Chris could probably run that pass on just about anything. I think he really realized we had something a few weeks after that. We were out at Pocket Lake and Chris had just run a solid 39. Andy suggested he try 41 and Chris said it was too early in the season and he wasn’t ready for that yet. He ended up trying it anyway just for the heck of it and he absolutely stroked it. From that day forward Chris’s skiing has been on a completely different plane.

    Horton: What can you tell us about Chris Parrish that most people do not know?

    Cord: As much as he loves skiing, his true passion is the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee.

    Horton: You were also lucky enough to sign past Women's World Champion Nicole Arthur. How did that come about?

    Cord: Nicole actually happened to be there when I came down last summer and rode the first prototype hollow ski. She was one of the first ones to point out how fast the ski moved under the line and out to the buoy. After seeing that and talking with us that day she said she was in, and that she couldn’t wait to try one of our skis. Fast forward to this winter and we built her a prototype that she was skiing great on. She just switched to one of the production skis recently and her skiing has gotten even better, and the best part is that she says it’s so effortless that her back is no longer bothering her. We’re pumped to have such an incredible skier representing us and riding our ski and we can’t wait to see how far she can take her skiing on it.

    Horton: I can only think of one other manufacturer in the world that has a ski lake within a mile of the factory and they only have a six-month season. What does having a private ski site and year-round skiing mean for AM Skis?

    Cord: We got pretty lucky in that we were able to buy an incredible ski site within a mile of our factory. There is actually room on the property to build so we’re hoping that within a few years we can have the factory right on the water. It’s really amazing because we’re able to test skis on a daily basis as well as work with our athletes at any time. It makes it so easy that we’re out there almost every day working on something new. We also plan to do demos at the lake so that people can come see the factory and try a ski.

    Horton: With Parrish and Mapple skiing at the factory lake every day I have to ask, what is the course record?

    Cord: All I’ll say is that it’s somewhere beyond the world record!

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    Bulldog
  • WishWish Posts: 6,770 Mega Baller
    So with the cat out of the bag, tell us more like what size ski Chris and/or Andy is on and is it a wider ride then typical traditional shapes? Any photos of the inner rib system? How did they come up with the graphics (hoping that's a work in progress)? Is the fin custom? If so how did they come up with the shape? This sounds like an amazing ride. You rode it correct? Are you allowed to toss out you personal opinion? Did you notice a ride difference in the 33 vs other manufacturing processes?
    >>> 11.25..a different kettle of fish. <<<
  • Steven HainesSteven Haines Posts: 914 Solid Baller
    Nice interview Horton!
  • Onside135Onside135 Posts: 378 Solid Baller
    Great interview, but we now need you to press for more info about their lake record!
  • Steven HainesSteven Haines Posts: 914 Solid Baller
    That looks to be a different fin design in the photo of Adam measuring the fin. Or is this an optical illusion?
  • HortonHorton Posts: 23,681 Administrator
    @Steven Haines That fin that Adam is tweaking is a test shape

    @Wish The ski is not a crazy new shape or size. The difference is in the details.

    @Onside135 I watched Andy run a 41 at 55k that was jaw dropping easy. I mean it was not really impressive because it did not look hard.

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    Onside135[Deleted User]
  • BulldogBulldog Posts: 949 Solid Baller
    Great interview!! Thanks for posting it on the worlds greatest waterski website!!!
    Mike Loeffler - "Someone somewhere is having a real problem today...My bad skiing is NOT one of them"
  • HortonHorton Posts: 23,681 Administrator
    If you had seen their marketing girl you know know you have not chance

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  • Nick SullivanNick Sullivan Posts: 676 Baller
    This is a great story. I'm curious though how the ski is going to stand up to a few shots to it with the handle. I've noticed my D3 Fusion can take a beating from the handle and shows no signs of it. My past ski's seemed to be much more succeptable to handle dings.

    I'm thinking the Carbon Fiber is rigid but without anything behind it for support is it strong?
  • MattPMattP Posts: 5,885 Moderator
    edited June 2012
    @Sully Adam told me of how they test handle dings. You do not want to hear it, I cringed when he told me the details, but from what I heard it will take a "beating"
  • 94009400 Posts: 553 Solid Baller
    edited June 2012
    #
    MattPTylerR
  • Nick SullivanNick Sullivan Posts: 676 Baller
    Awesome! I took a ski out last year on its maden voyage and destroyed it the first set. Moma was not happy!
  • Than_BoganThan_Bogan Posts: 5,632 Mega Baller
    Wow, really looking forward to reports from users. I'm such a sucker for real technological breakthroughs, and this sounds like it *could* be one. I'm also a sucker for insanely light materials, even though I recognize that weight is not THE critical factor in ski performance. But skis that weigh less than styrofoam are just so coooool! :)

    It's gonna take a lot to get me off my 9900sl any time soon, because I've really got it dialed in for me. But I'll need a new ski someday, and I'll definitely be keeping on eye on this one.
    Nathaniel Bogan -- GUT Padawan
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,063 MM Trick Skier / Eccentric Person
    Interesting technology. But I used to put graphite ribs in my trick skis. And I used to use autoclaved graphite stringers as well. So there is no magic. But clever applications of the art can produce great results. This does sound cool!

    Couple the technology with Andy's proven shaping skills and with the phenomonal testing of the skis and the end product could be very good!

    Of course, there are a lot of other skis that share these advantages. Maybe it is just marketing hype. "I want an Iphone!" said the bear.

    Eric
  • HortonHorton Posts: 23,681 Administrator
    @eleeski when the details are declassifed and I explain what they are really doing it should change the way you build skis.

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  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,063 MM Trick Skier / Eccentric Person
    @Horton You tease! How long until you release details? Should I not build the new ski I was hoping to find time for? And will they sell me ribs to play with?

    There are many "right" ways to make something. Especially in a fairly mature technology like composites. In waterskiing it all boils down to the skier not the ski.

    I've heard that the best way to improve buoy count is to steal one of @Horton's skis!

    Eric
  • skidawgskidawg Posts: 3,084 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    Hortons skis seem to work better for everyone but Horton :-)
    Mr. Mom is Horton's favorite movie!
  • RichardDoaneRichardDoane Posts: 3,919 Mega Baller
    @horton - correction needed - we have a 12 month season at Radar Lake
    BallOfSpray Pacific Northwest Vice President of Event Management, aka "Zappy"
  • KMKM Posts: 161 Baller
    Have they figured out a way to put inserts into this hollow ski? Doesn't matter to me as I use 3M Dual Lock.......just curious. The other hollow ski on the market (Warp) does not have inserts.
  • MattPMattP Posts: 5,885 Moderator
    They are making a composite plate that will be attached to the top of the ski with some very strong stuff. That will have the studs sticking up and thumb screws to attach your bindings to. Much like the Reflex bond plate.
  • HortonHorton Posts: 23,681 Administrator
    @richarddoane yes but you are insane

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