When I (Cord) first got my start in the industry working for one of the bigger water sports companies, I was an engineer fresh out of college with basic CAD experience and skills. I could build very simple 3D models like a fin block or a binding plate, but designing an entire ski was like black magic. There are so many curved surfaces that have to be blended together and controlled to the thousandth of an inch, I assumed that the company must use a highly talented and trained ski designer to do the CAD work. I also assumed that this designer must have an extremely intimate understanding of the hydrodynamics of the ski in order to define and control all of the surfaces in a way that they function in harmony on the water. I think most people who aren’t in the industry assume the same thing. When it came time to design the new ski for the following year, I learned the truth. “We just have the guy who works at the machine shop where the molds are made do the CAD.” What?? Are you kidding me??!!
So here is how “designing” that first ski went. Our top pro and I went down to the machine shop and sat with the CAD guy for about 3 hours. We tried to explain to him how this ski should look. “Make the concave a little deeper here, make the bevels a little sharper here, let’s make the tail a bit wider, etc.” And he would try and draw something up quickly so we could decide if it “looked” right. Once we felt like he understood what we wanted, we left. He would spend the next week or so getting the CAD done and building the molds. It wasn’t until we built the first ski, and had spent $10,000+ per mold, that we had an idea if the ski was close to what we wanted or not. And even if it wasn’t, we didn’t have the money to change it, so we had to live with it.
Now this is definitely worst case. Some companies have their own in-house CAD programmer, who does wakeboards, kneeboards, skis, bindings, etc, and they also sometimes have their own CNC machine, which gives them the ability to recut the mold a few times if the ski doesn’t come out right. But the problems are the same. The people who make the decisions about design are not the same people designing the ski, and that disconnect is a huge problem. There are so many blends, transitions, radiuses, and other minor surfaces that are not easily defined in words, but make a huge impact on the performance of the ski that are left undefined. When that happens the CAD programmer must make decisions about how to integrate them. Do I keep this surface tangent, and if so how strong should it be? Where should the break in this curve lie? How should this bevel blend to the tunnel? There are hundreds of small questions like these that the CAD programmer must answer when designing a ski, and each one is vital to the ski’s performance.
We at Denali do all our own CAD, tool path programming, CNC machining, mold finishing, and lastly, we build the skis ourselves. By keeping the entire process within the realm of the ski designers, there is no unknown variable, no miscommunication. What we design is EXACTLY what you get. There is no ski that is more precisely controlled from start to finish. It’s time consuming and it’s tedious work, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. If you are willing to spend your hard earned money on a ski from us, we want to be sure that what you get is the absolute best we can offer. We’ll never be a huge ski company selling thousands of skis, and that’s perfectly fine with us. We’d much rather help a small number of people ski very well, than sell as many skis as possible!