In an effort to be transparent with our valued customers, we wanted to offer a place for customers to ask our president questions about RAMP skis, snowboards, and longboards. If you have a question for Mike that you want addressed in his weekly blog, please email [email protected] and include "Ask Mike" in the subject line.
Hi friends of RAMP,
We do a lot of product testing and development in the course of a season. Often times we post pictures on social channels while we’re there—testing is one of the more enjoyable parts of the job. People ask us a lot what we do to get the product from idea to the point where we are actually testing it. I think it's interesting to talk about how a ski and snowboard actually works; this I think gives insight into the whole process.
The first step is identifying the characteristics you want the product to have. For instance, if you want the ski to be for 60-percent on piste but versatile enough to go everywhere—you start with a waist width that is appropriate for this, a 90mm. Then identify the turn radius it needs to have; in a very modern version of this ski 16 to 18M is right. Since it needs to be able to go off piste, it needs at least some early rise in the tip but it needs a camber profile that feels carvy, so an aggressive tail. Next identify the level of skier using it, say advanced to expert. This gives you the basis for starting. When we started our new U.S. factory with vacuum molding and new materials we had a LOT of work to do to optimize the structure that would work the best, and what type of flexes various core profiles would provide—it was all new. Now we have a lot of experience so it is a lot easier to predict.
Skis and boards work like an I-Beam in many ways. The flex of a ski or board is related to how far apart you make the structural layers (these are layers of fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon, etc). These structural layers are actually doing the majority of the work. Many people think it's the core and in most skis, even wood core skis, but the core is a filler-spacer that separates these layers. Make the core thicker, and it moves the layers farther apart so the ski or board gets stiffer. Make it thinner, and it moves the layers closer so it gets softer. This is why a ski or board is stiffer in the middle versus the extremities. When a ski or board is flexing, the layers on the bottom are stretching (this is the outside of the arc), and the layers on the top are compressing (inside of the arc). In the middle is the neutral axis; this is where these sheering forces come together.
When we are prototyping we generally develop several core profiles, which means various skis or boards with lots of different flexes and different flex patterns.
So, when we are designing skis and snowboards, we take these properties into account. We choose a bamboo core because it is nearly 4 times harder than the normal Poplar or Aspen cores, which are in most skis and boards. In fact, the bamboo is so hard it actually has a big influence on the behavior on snow. The softer cores primarily act as a spacer-filler between the composite layers. Bamboo is so hard it feels like you have a metal layer in the ski or board, makes it feel more solid and precise. We use a layer of Kevlar in the bottom of a ski for several reasons. First it is much more resistant to the stretching and deformation happening in the bottom layers as mentioned above; this means it tries to get back to its original shape more aggressively than other composites, which gives it more energy and rebound. Kevlar also absorbs vibration better than other composites, giving it a buttery feel, and making the ski very strong. The Kevlar is on top of the edges so it ties the structure together very well. The combination of bamboo cores-sidewalls and Kevlar seem to make our skis as indestructible as a ski can be. Rocks just can't seem to make an impression.
If getting the materials and flex perfect were all it took, it would be a lot simpler. To have a great ski or snowboard you need to have the perfect combination of overall global flex and materials (already discussed above). You also need to have perfect torsional flex and perfect sidecut shape. When all these elements come together perfectly, you have a ski or board that is incredibly stable, precise, dynamic, and still easy to use.
This is what we work toward at every test we do, getting that perfect combination. It used to be really difficult when we produced in Taiwan; we couldn't get anywhere near enough test skis or boards made or try nearly enough different materials. That's the curse of being a sourcing company, using another company to make your stuff. It became easier when we opened our own factory, but we had a huge amount to learn to optimize our process and structure. Now we are really flying as we have learned from experience. And we are trying all kinds of new concepts now. Really fun and exciting.
Thanks for listening. Let me know your thoughts. Comment below or email me questions ([email protected]). Be back next week.
Mike Kilchenstein, CESnow