Kildonan Community Member
Dylan Desgache ’20
A Passion Ignited for Ski Making
One winter day of my 9th grade, I found myself sitting alone in my history class. When my teacher asked what I wanted to talk about, the subject of skiing came up because skiing has been my passion forever. After 10 or 15 minutes of ski talk, my teacher asked why I wasn’t in Edge designing and making skis. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. Ever since that day, ski making was always on my mind.
Toward the end of 9th grade, I began talking to my teachers about being in Edge and learning to design and make skis. They all agreed that it was a great idea. Edge is specifically for students who are up for the challenge of designing their own self-directed project, following their personal passion. Although the Edge advisors loved my idea, they explained that usually, Edge is for 11th and 12th graders and that it was already full. Luckily, in the end, I was accepted into Edge for my 10th-grade year.
The Edge Program has proved to be a huge blessing because it turns out I needed all three years to fully realize my dream. My project turned out to be one that would take a long time, with many frustrations, setbacks, learning from my mistakes, and re-dos.
What Seems Easy… Isn’t
When I first started, I thought ski making was not going to be hard at all. I had no idea how many steps there were. I also didn’t know how difficult and important it was to make everything precise. In the beginning, I didn’t realize that in order to make a ski, I had to first create all the tools.
I planned from the beginning to make my own ski press for two reasons: I needed the learning experience, and the cost of buying and shipping a press was outside of my budget. I thought that, other than the press, I could buy all the tools I needed. I quickly found out that I had to make a core profiler as well as exact guides of a ski shape for a router table.
After doing a lot of research, I started making the ski press. It took more than half the year to get all my cuts perfect for the camber. Camber is the upward curvature in the base of a ski. The camber I stumbled upon was the hybrid rocker camber. This type of camber has a couple of advantages over the triple camber twin rocker which I originally was planning to use for my mold. The hybrid rocker camber has the edge hold you need from the camber sections in front and behind the bindings. It also produces the kind of pop you get out of traditional camber. The rocker in the ski gives the ski a buttery feel for park riding, more than with the triple camber twin rocker. Also, it gives a better float in powder and allows for easier turn initiations.
Failure Leads to Learning
At first, I used multiple clamps to press the ski press instead of the traditional way which uses pneumatics. This way worked, but there were problems. I wasn’t able to know or track how much pressure was being pressed. Because of that, the distribution of pressure may have been off, and I had no way of knowing.
After I finished the camber for the mold, I started designing the core profile that took over a month of research to make. The core profile is made to cut the thickness of the core for the ski for more of a lighter and higher quality performance. I found out the dimensions in the profile rails by measuring the thickness with a caliper every two inches of the ski. This worked, but it wasn’t precise. Next, I had to find a shape for my skis. I found this by tracing the shape of one of my old skis, but again it wasn’t precise. After finding the shape for the ski, I realized that for the base of the ski I needed to cut out 2 mm off both sides for the edges to fit flush with the core of the ski. I did this by slowly sanding and measuring.
It worked but it wasn’t precise, and it was a very long and tedious process. After that, I started cutting out the shape of the core with the same shape that I traced for the base of the ski. I cut this shape with a band saw and jigsaw. Next, I cut 0.5” on both sides of the sidecut radius of the ski for the side walls to fit flush with the base of the ski. Again, it wasn’t perfectly precise.
When it Comes to Epoxy… More is Better.
Then I glued the edges to the base of the ski and glued the sidewalls to the core of the ski. I also researched different types of wood and their flexibilities, epoxy proportions, and how to layer a ski. The research into epoxying a ski and finding the right proportion was very difficult. I contacted four companies, and they all said the same thing: they couldn’t help because their formulas were secret. The only help they gave me was more epoxy is better than less.
I began putting the layers of the ski together. First, I epoxyed the base with edges attached to a fiberglass sheet. Then I put the core with sidewalls on top of the fiberglass sheet with tip and tail (UHMW) material. Then two fiberglass sheets near the tip and tail. The final step was to add the top sheet and put the skis in the press.
The First Skis: A Success and a Failure
After a whole night (8 to 12 hours) of pressing the ski to let the epoxy cure, I came to the final process. This involved trimming the excess materials off the ski. This also included detailing the skis which meant tuning and beveling the sides of the ski with a router. After doing this, I had another ‘aha’ moment. I realized that all of the cuts for a ski can’t be “almost precise.” They need to be exact, and more epoxy is way better than less. While the skis did press to my standards and the press did work, the actual construction of the skis wasn’t up to my standards. I didn’t want to take them to the mountain to ride. I knew the construction was off, and I needed more epoxy; I didn’t want them to break.
I didn’t want to look at them because of all the mistakes I had made and because I now realized a more efficient way I could have done it. At the same time, I knew that if I never made those mistakes, I never would have learned as much about ski making as I did.
Funds Needed to Support Project
This year my goals were to make the nicest and most durable skis I could with the tools I have and to make as many skis as possible. I wrote and posted a Go Fund Me to raise money for enough ski material to build two skis this year. I have reached the $1000 goal I set to make this possible.
Computer Aided Design
I am designing my skis on a software called SnoCAD-X that I accidentally found over the summer. If I hadn’t found this software, it would have been very challenging to precisely cut out different shapes for skis, as I discovered last year. SnoCAD allows me to design every tool I need to shape a ski. These shapes are the core, the base of the ski, and the core profile. This year, I transferred all these shapes to a DXF file in order to send them out to be cut out on a CNC (computer numerical control) machine for guides for a router table and a core profile set-up. This method has helped me cut out my material for a ski faster and more efficiently.
Materials and Performance
Now that I had the tools and understood the layering process both from lots of research and from doing it last year, I needed to learn how to use my tools properly. I first learned how to cut out the base and core material using my CNC guides with a router and router table. This step involved cutting out plywood three to four times on both guides for practice before I cut out the actual material for my skis. Cutting out the base material for the ski went as planned. Cutting out the shape of the core, on the other hand, was quite difficult because of the wood I picked. I picked bamboo as my core. Bamboo is strong, but it has a very straight grain which makes the grain sometimes split from cutting curves in the wood.
After that step, I needed to cut the thickness of the core using my core profile. I learned very quickly that you need to cut in layers instead of cutting the thickness you’re looking for in one pass because the wood will split.
My layering process basically looked like this diagram. The main difference is that I added a 1.5” wide nondirectional carbon fiber fabric through the ski for durability and light-weightedness instead of making the core thicker.
After cutting the excess material around the skis, tuning the skis, and getting the bindings mounted came the fun part: riding the skis and finding ways I could make them better. The skis were very durable, but I needed to add a little more epoxy for the construction of the skis to be perfect. The flexibility was exactly what I was looking for. The skis have a “playful” feel with a snappy pop from the carbon fiber. [Playful: a term generally associated with a loose tail and a snappy feel. The snappy feel is from the carbon fiber in the ski. The opposite of “powerful”, “playful” skis are happy to skid on hard pack. . “Powerful”: Like an expensive car, a powerful ski feels stable at high speeds and bites into hard snow.]
For my next skis, I’m changing up the camber to a camber with front and tail rocker. This will make the skis not as playful and will help make skiing on hard snow/ice more responsive. Also, the tip and tail rocker will help with park-related tricks and butters. Butters are when you find a balance point on the tips or tails of your skis.
The Edge Program: Life-changing Experience
Edge has been the best experience I have ever had in school. With the freedom that Edge gives you, I have learned so much about my project and about myself. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.