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Howard Head, Ski Inventor
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Howard Head holding Head skis


Howard Head holding Head skis



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Broken skis show the layers in its “sandwich” constuction
Broken skis show the layers in its “sandwich” constuction


Kids learning to ski
Kids learning to ski









Was that the End of the Story?

No. The aluminum bottoms of the skis froze up, collecting snow, and the edges dulled too quickly.

To strengthen the skis, Head substituted plywood cores for the honeycomb plastic. To solve the problem of the icy bottoms, Head covered the bottoms of the skis with a special plastic, which slid easily over most snow surfaces and took wax well. Later, he covered the tops and sides of the skis with the same plastic.

Head wanted to use steel to harden the edges of the skis, but he also wanted to keep them as light as possible. His solution was a one-piece, razor-hard steel edge, inlaid and bonded to the bottom of the ski.

In 1950 Head watched a ski instructor wearing Head’s latest pair of skis fly down a steep hill, carve a series of precise turns, and swoop to a stop in front of him. “I couldn’t get up [the hill] with him. I wasn’t a good enough skier. But when I saw him coming at me, that fast and that surely, I knew deep inside that I had it.”

The new skis were heavier than Head had hoped, but much easier to use. “Head” skis made skiing a sport that almost anyone could learn instead of a sport for only the very skilled.

The skis that Head ended up with weighed almost as much as conventional skis but were stronger, and more flexible, and turned more easily. Every innovation was based on a sound structural principle or engineering premise. Head didn’t just improve on the design of existing skis. Instead, he doggedly and creatively “engineered” new skis into existence.
“Sure, I designed the ski to be tough and relatively maintenance-free. But more important, I started out to build a ski that would make the sport easier for anyone who used them.”

Next: Chuck Hoberman, Unfolding Structures Inventor ›





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