Assembling a pair of custom skis is labor intensive — they truly are handbuilt. Though each company has its own techniques, the basics are similar. Mainly, custom builders tend to prefer sandwich construction because it allows greater fine-tuning than cap or torsion box designs.
The heart of any sandwich construction ski is the core; to a great extent this determines the feel of the skis. Companies like Folsom will hand select the wood for their cores to ensure proper grain orientation without knots. Whether using poplar and bamboo (Folsom) or ash and maple (Igneous and Wagner), blocks of wood are vertically laminated and then cut in half (called bookmatching) so that a pair of skis has identical characteristics.
The core blanks are then shaped on a CNC milling machine to get the desired flex. This is where small changes in thickness can make big differences in how a ski performs for the type of snow conditions we like here at WildSnow.com. Even when using a standard ski shape for a backcountry or resort ski, variations in the core are what determines a custom ski flex.
After the core has been shaped, it is preassembled with sidewalls, tip and tail spacers. If aramid or carbon layers are part of the design, they will be tacked down to the core with heat glue at this stage.
While there are few suppliers of base material and ski edges in the world, they do offer a range of quality and custom builders don’t skimp. Bases must be cut to the precise shape of the ski then logos are die cut and taped in place. Then the edges are carefully bent to fit the base and glued in place. This is an important step for strong edges that won’t rip out.
Since I had the option, I designed my own ski graphics using the photograph of a peak from one of my expeditions. I submitted a high-res file and we tweaked a few things (adding a full moon to the Folsom logo, etc.). The final design is output by a printer onto a transfer sheet, which is then sublimated onto the polyamide top sheet material.
While the core is what largely determines the ride, the fiberglass/epoxy matrix is what holds the camber, gives torsional rigidity and provides strength. The specific layup will vary with each ski design but typically consists of triaxial glass with biaxial reinforcements.
Once the hardener is added to the epoxy, it takes Folsom 18-20 minutes to assemble each ski. This is a longer assembly time than many mass-production skis, which among other advantages may give the resin more time to completely saturate the cloth. By ensuring no resin voids exist in the ski, you get a stronger, more durable product.
With the epoxy clock literally ticking, each layer is placed into the cassette and the resin is massaged into the cloth. Rubber strips go over the edges to help dampen the ski. The final layer, of course, is the top sheet, which is carefully centered and taped down to prevent shifting (inaccurate boot center marks are all too common in mass-produced skis).
The top of the cassette goes on and the entire assembly slides into the heated press. With even pressure (45 PSI) and temperature (185°F), the resin cures in about 20 minutes. The ski is removed from the cassette and allowed to rest for 24 hours to completely cure. Then the flash is trimmed away, sidewalls are beveled, base stone ground, edges beveled, and hot wax applied.
The finished skis look great! Jordan at Folsom custom skis had predicted the pair would weigh 9 lbs and they came in at 2027 g + 2048g = 4075 g = 8.9 lbs. Comparing the flex and camber, the skis are very evenly matched. Now the proof will come in the skiing! Stay tuned for a follow up review.
(WildSnow.com guest blogger Clyde Soles is a prolific writer who has covered backcountry sports gear for years. His writing is known for a thorough style that probably no one in the human powered sports world has ever equaled. He’s the author of several books, enjoys everything from fluffy powder to fine wine, and also spends quite a bit of time behind a camera. Check his website.)