Imagine carving graceful turns in deep powder as you glide down the slopes – on skis you designed and made yourself.
For four Liberty Bell High School Design and Construction II students, that vision will become a reality when they finish fabricating custom skis – complete with an original logo design – later this year.
The project had its roots in class last year, when the students entertained a dream of creating their own skis. Construction/Design and Outdoor Recreation teacher Wyatt Southworth, who, despite being a skier, has never made skis before, was enthused about the opportunity for them all to learn together. “It’s a deep dive into the manufacturing and design process,” he said.
After some initial research, the class took a field trip in October to Lithic Skis in Peshastin, which designs and creates custom, handcrafted skis. The owners were generous in sharing their time and expertise with the students, Southworth said.
The folks at Lithic taught them about the various stages of the design/build process – not only for the skis, but also for the tools to make them. “We saw cool tools that they’d designed themselves,” senior Eli Neitlich said.
At Lithic, they walked through the process of building skis from start to finish, and picked up tips and insights to inform their own building process. Back in class, the students designed their own ski press and profile sled. They’ve also built a press for gluing the layers of the ski together.
They built their own ski template from high-density particle board, which they cut with a band saw and finished with a circular sander to smooth out imperfections.
Making their own skis has involved considerable research not only into different types of skis, but also into where to source supplies. They’ve been fortunate to be able to get what they need despite supply-chain issues, Southworth said.
For the basic dimensions, the class started with a commercial ski, but adapted the measurements to their needs. They’ve designed the skis to be extra-wide so they float better in powder, senior Kieren Quigley said.
The students also researched the intricacies of ski functionality and performance, including the pluses and minuses of sandwich versus cap construction for the sidewalls. They chose sandwich for its durability and torsional rigidity, which keeps the ski from twisting and bending as you turn.
They’re currently in the process of creating 10 identical cores, made from poplar and ash, which they clamp to the template and cut with a router.
The profile sled lets them slowly shave off wood with a router to create a gradual curve from the tips and tails, which are just 2 millimeters thick, to the middle of the ski, which is 11 millimeters.
They’ve also cut out the ski bases from a polyethylene base, and created a tiny recess to accommodate metal edges. They’ll grind the bases to fine-tune the skis at the end of the process.
The finished skis will be a sandwich of the nylon top sheet, fiberglass mesh, the wood core, more fiberglass, and the polyethylene base, all glued with epoxy.
They’ll be able to add personalized designs to the top sheet. The class is brainstorming a logo for Steezium Ski Works – a combination of the term ‘steez,’ which describes an effortless, cool style in skiing, and a mispronunciation of the element cesium – that they can engrave on the boards.
While the students are working together on all five pairs of skis, they’ll have the option of creating their own designs for the top sheet.
The skis are the most ambitious undertaking in the students’ education in design and construction. Projects from past years include tables and shelves, cajón drums, a garden shed and root cellar. “This is the most complicated, by a huge margin,” Quigley said.
This initial work sets them up for future production. They can adapt the press for different types of skis and skiers, and can use the template for years, Southworth said.
They expect to finish a beta ski this winter, Ideally, all the students will have a set of skis by the end of the year.
“It’s a really good way to learn more skills,” Quigley said. “The most important part is having a ski you built and designed yourself.”
The project is a great introduction to light manufacturing, with the potential for students to start a custom ski company after graduation, Southworth said. “You can create a value-added product – not in a mysterious place far off, but it’s something that could happen locally,” he said.