Exclusive: Scaling Construction and Dimensions in Ski Design

We are seeing a trend in the way skis are built and produced, one that goes past pretty top sheets or consistent factory tunes (which, by the way, still needs to be addressed). This trend is about scaling constructions, shapes, and dimensions. "Scaling" a ski is just what it sounds like: each size is tweaked to convey the same on-snow experience. Granted, scaling is not new; it has been going on for some time in the industry, but not like we are seeing today, where almost every manufacturer is getting on board.

Over the years, we have watched size ranges shrink. Once upon a time, a ski model was offered in eight or nine lengths, from, say, 170 to 210 with breaks every 5 cm, and even 3 cm when stepping up from a 200 to a 203. Today, we might see as few as three sizes when using 10cm breaks; but in reality, most product runs boast four or five sizes in increments of 7 or 8 cm. The problem now is to get the bookend sizes (roughly 163 to 191 for the men and 149 to 170 for women) to ski like each other, and then for those to ski like the reference sizes in between.

Building a ski is not an inexpensive process. Molds are expensive, which is why some models share the same mold but use different constructions. What is also expensive is making a 177cm mold and a 170cm mold scaled differently. It costs much less to take a 133-98-123 dimension and just make it shorter or longer. But more often we are seeing that 98mm ski in a 177 become 132-97-120 in a 170 and 134-99-124 in a 184. This way, three sizes of skiers will get the same experience on the "same" ski.

The other method is to alter the construction of the ski. Let's say the 170 cm skier is 175 lb, the 177 cm skier is 190 lb, and the 184 cm skier is 210 lb: Even if all the skis are still 133-98-123, the proportionally scaled construction will give each skier a similar ability to bend it. Some of the more progressive manufacturers are doing both, scaling the dimensions and the construction.

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Looking at a particular waist width within a size range can be confusing and requires attention. Make sure you know on which length it is based. Personally, I would prefer the reference width to be based on one of the middle sizes, and as the ski gets longer, it would get a bit wider, and as it gets shorter, it would get a bit narrower. But in all too many cases, the reference size is based on the longest length, which can be misleading. For example, the previous generation of the Head women's Kore 93 line didn't even include a 93 mm ski. The longest length had a width of 91 mm. Also, the 153 was 87 mm underfoot, which was perplexing, because Head had another model, the Kore 87, of which none were actually 87 mm underfoot. A customer of mine walked away from a transaction because she had to have a ski 93 mm underfoot, and 91 would just not do. To Head’s credit, for the 2022 season, they minimizedsome of the confusion by renaming and renumbering the women’s Kore collection, the Kore 93 W is now the Kore 91 W with a model name more in line with the widths offered. I will also remind our readers that Head has been scaling sizes almost as long as anyone.

Other brands are taking a different approach by proportionally adjusting the construction of the ski instead of the dimensions. Völkl is a good example with its Tailored Titanal Frame on the new M6 Mantra and Secret 96. In the past, you either fit into the Mantra’s wheelhouse or you didn’t. Its shortest length, 170, was overly stiff to the point of being disproportionate, but the 177 and 184 were well balanced, and even the 191 was very versatile for the bigger guy. Now, Völkl can scale the flexes while keeping the dimensions of the skis consistent. Doing so enabled the addition of a men's Mantra in a 163 length.

If neither the construction nor the dimensions are scaled, then what can be an excellent ski may feel mediocre or awkward in a bookend length. The Stöckli Laser AX, one of our readers' darlings, is such a ski. The core sizes are 167 and 175, two sizes that people rarely get on and say, “Eh, this ski is just not for me." But the longer 182? In more than one case, a skier that should be on that length has asked, “Where's the magic?” or said, “This is not what I expected.” The 182 just doesn’t ski like the rest of the collection.

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hese are but a few examples. Ski brands from Armada to Zai have different philosophies in their build processes, and all stand behind what they do. I will conclude that this isn’t as important for most average-sized skiers, but it is for those skiers on opposite ends of the size spectrum who need bookend sizes.

One thing we are always striving to do at SkiTalk is to get better and not just say, "Well, this is the way we always did it..." For 2022 we added a new line in our product pages called Size Scaling. Here, we will note if the ski has scaling done to the construction or dimensions, or even in some cases, both.
About author
I started skiing in the mid-70s in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; from then on, I found myself entrenched in the industry. I have worked in various ski shops from suburban to ski town to resort, giving me a well-rounded perspective on what skiers want from their gear. That experience was parlayed into my time as a Gear Review Editor and also consulting with manufacturers as a product tester. Along with being a Masterfit-trained bootfitter I am a fully certified self proclaimed Gear Guru. Not only do I keep up with the cutting edge of ski gear technology, but I am an avid gear collector and have an extensive array of bindings as well as many vintage skis.

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excellent, great to see the "inconvenient truths" with light being shone on them. at 6'4" and 176 lbs, I have experienced a lot of skis that are darlings in the 178-185 lengths but when they get to my 190ish size turn into high radius dogs..... I noted many years ago that Head was scaling their skis, and with clear performance that showed. Now with more companies spending the $$$ on the molds, there is a lot more choice, and much easier to offer recommendations on a great skis that is being scaled.


I gave this a lot of thought before I wrote something about Augment's claim that they can custom build a ski to ten stiffness specifications on order.
My conclusion was that I didn't think that could be reliably done for a number of reasons.
Part of the reason I concluded this is the materials like fiberglass and high tensile aluminum sheet are not available in small thickness increments.
The cost of custom weaving and rolling is prohibitive so making a ski in small, discrete stiffness increments under manufacturing control is very unlikely.
CNC milling a custom core profile for each ski length and model is a production nightmare for skis costing $1600 or so.
I'm not sure that core thickness adjustments alone without scaling layup materials will do the job.

But, as to the question proposed by Phil, there is another issue.
Scaling resonant properties and stiffness at the same time would be very tough even if you knew what you wanted to do.
I do believe that the vibratory properties of ski models is the magic variable that makes some good and some stinky.
If you get a ski in the prototype length it will probably ski as tested.
Get far off the prototype size and I think things get chancy without actual on snow testing.
Scaling for performance characteristics seems like a no brainer but until the last few years the software that could mimic predictive responses was barely developed. Tire manufacturers now use it to determine how a given tire will perform on a given surface factoring in the weight and drive of the vehicle , surface conditions etc.. Compounds and layers can be tweaked to optimize the tires “ sweet spot”. This predictive modeling could be used by ski designers to create performance parity within a models size range by tweaking laminate thicknesses, geometry etc.
I can definitely feel the difference when skiing different sizes of a ski that is scaled. The new Volkl Secret with Tailored Technology
Thanks for writing this. It has been an "inconvenient truth" that a vast segment of the industry has ignored for far too long. Keeping the width dimensions but lengthening and shortening the ski without regard does not create a ski that elicits the same performance as the "target length" designed and tested. Height and weight of the skier also make a huge difference on the performance of a ski, and at 6'4" and 176 lbs,,,, I have had more than my share of 190ish skis that have with overly long radiuses that do not ski to the likes of the shorter lengths they were modeled from. I am delighted with the change we are seeing in recent years.
@Dakine brings up some very good points about scaling materials for production to achieve similar characteristics.
There is a wild card here though and that is a wood core.
Wood of the same species and even from the same tree can vary widely in its characteristics as it’s a non “manufactured “ material. In other words, not all fir/ aspen/poplar is created equal.
I once asked a K2 tech rep years ago about race stock when they still used wood - as much as he preferred a good wood core over foam, foam was consistent and thus easier to control in production. There is no limit to how deep in the weeds you can go with all the different material permutations, computers greatly simplify the quest for the right combination. Let’s hope the manufacturers take advantage of this.
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Let's not confuse scaling ski sizes and matching ski flexes. K2 has been matching ski flexes back into the 1980's. I have some VO Slaloms and GS Electras in my possession that have matched flexes. Augment is also doign jsut that, matching flexes and allowing the customer to choose how stiff...or stiffer they woudl like their skis. Augment's softest or least stiff skis are being marketed as "Flimsy", to quote the man with 6 fingers on his left hand "You keep using that word (flimsy), I don't think it means what you think it means." Augment's 10, or Flimsy, is about as stiff as a Blizzard Brahma.

But again, this is not about matching flexes in a size but designing a ski so all sizes ski the same.

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