A fresh, woody scent is in the air. You might think you’re in a timber store, but the noise of the shop brings your attention back to the present moment. While the complex manufacturing process for skis suggests the employment of heavy machinery, traditional companies still depend on the knowledge and experience of crafting skis by hand.
For three years now, Black Diamond has been producing skis at the renowned Austrian ski manufacturer Blizzard. While design and construction takes place at the company's head-quarters in Salt Lake City, the manual work is carried out in Mittersill, Austria. Black Diamond's ski athletes got the chance to learn and understand the manufacturing process of their skis and admire the new 2017 Winter Season models from their wooden core up to the finished ski.
Thomas Gaisbacher, Black Diamond Athlete
Due to an injury, my number of skiing days could be counted on one hand last season, so I was all the more delighted when I received the invitation to the Black Diamond Athlete's meeting. Even better was that the meeting place was the Blizzard ski factory in Mittersill. Here, we were supposed to find out how our skis were manufactured. After having passed the Blizzard factory for many years, only guessing what was going on behind those walls, I was stunned when we were allowed to enter the sacred halls. These hallways were filled with many different production lines and storage space.
Piles of wooden blocks mark the starting point of the production line. A wide variety of thicknesses and wood compositions were giving us a little taste of what ski model we were looking at: Route, Boundary Pro or Helio. To me it almost felt like rocket science. All those different types of wood, bonded together to form a large plate. Wood is not like metal–it is very hard to determine precisely how it will behave. Depending on the wood grain and growth, each piece is different and so is the flex. That's why each ski is manufactured as an individual piece. Only at the end of the production process does a machine measure the flex and stiffness to pair matching skis. Quite ingenious, I have to say.
The prejudice that skis are only machine-made was quickly overthrown when I saw the many workers busily pursuing their different tasks.
The coatings are laser cut from large panels, including logos and design. Everything is placed on a trolley with various compartments. The further the trolley moves through the factory the more parts are placed on it. It’s fascinating how many single parts one ski is comprised of. Here, the top sheet is also produced. When all components are on the production trolley, the ski designers begin to hand-craft the skis. Decades of experience and knowledge are applied to each ski. Which glue, temperature, time in the oven ... so many details have to be considered.
Now, as skis are being finished, the edges are sharpened and the flex is tested. Here you can see once again the many years of experience, as the skis leave the factory with a cut that is unique on the market. From my experience, skis coming directly from production are usually poorly sharpened and need an extra service to make them “race ready.” But here there is nothing to add. The edges are sharp and absolutely ready to go.
Manfred Reitsamer, responsible for product development at Blizzard Sport GmbH, explained how much knowledge lies within the constructional shape of each ski model. It's an interplay of many years of experience and mathematics.
Skis leave the factory with a cut that is unique on the market.
Boundary Pro 107 Ski
Route 105 Ski
Helio 116 Carbon Ski
I found it incredibly interesting to find out where my skis come from. It gives me a deeper understanding of why each model behaves so differently.
If you consider the materials, and the multitude of individual operations and production steps, the price for a pair of skis seems fair. It’s reassuring to know that through the purchase, you are guaranteed hand-crafted quality.
Words: Thomas Gaisbacher
Images: Jakob Schweighofer, Fred Marmsater
Videos: Jakob Schweighofer