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Evolution of the humble ski

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Skiing is an exhilarating experience, one in which keeps millions anticipating the first flakes of the new season's snow. puts the humble ski under the microscope.

There was once a time when skiing involved strapping animal bones to the feet with crude leather straps and wasn’t for fun and enjoyment, but more a question of necessity and daily survival. It wasn’t until skis were designed for war that the evolution of the humble ski began and included bindings, poles and clothing.

In 1910 Henry Hoek, championed the use of wood as the material for skis, particularly the tele-mark design where both skis were the same length, curled up at the tip and tapered toward the centre. Another early ski design was the Osterdal, where one ski was shorter than the other and was used to push off against the snow.

Today, ski manufacturers spend millions on researching and developing the design and materials of the ski. Ski magazines and industry press now test and review anything up to 800 models a year. Each design having subtle tweaks, tapers and material combinations designed to be the perfect ski for a particular type of skier.

Skis can be categorised into four basic types; downhill, slalom, giant slalom and standard skis, each designed to give a different level of speed and control to match its terrain and purpose. The length of the ski within these categories is usually dependant on the height and experience of the individual skier. Standard skis are geared toward general use and the leisure sector, such as the ski holiday.

In the days when skis were constructed of wood, considerations such as the inner core where irrelevant. Now due to advancements in metal engineering, the inner core has been established as a fundamental factor determining the skis overall strength and flexibility. Foam can also be used for an inner core and results in lighter more flexible ski which is able to absorb more vibrations and reduces manufacturing costs. Other inner core materials include wood, and metal structures arranged in a honeycomb formation which retain great tensile strength, but are less absorbing of vibration.

The outer layer material of the ski has been the part which has benefited the most due to leaps forward in materials. The most common materials used are fibreglass, carbon fibre and various types of resin, all of which seal in state of the art graphics.

Wear and tear usually takes its toll on this outer layer of material particularly that in which makes contact with the terrain. The damage comes from the base of the skis gliding over small stones and ice. The maintenance of the base has become a science all of its own. Varieties of polyethylene candles and wax are commercially available to help skiers protect and repair damage and imperfections after a day skiing.

The humble ski has gone from being an unthought-of item of necessity to being at the centre of a multi-million pound industry where physics, science and art work together in harmony.

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