by Wagner Skis / Sep 29, 2022

Like everything good in this world—nachos, traveling, love, beer, toddlers, sweatpants—skiing has a downside.

No, it doesn’t make your butt look saggy (thank you, sweatpants), but it does cause injuries, in most cases to major joints like knees and hips.

Most serious skiers have had at least one torn ACL. And people who have been doing mountain sports for decades often need to swap out parts like a worn-out car, making knee and hip replacements the norm, not the anomaly. Our tribe is a plucky one, and we’re not about to hang it up because of pain, discomfort, or even major surgeries. This, of course, is where custom skis come in.

According to Pete Wagner, the brains behind this whole operation, skiers can see immediate benefit from skis built specifically for their injury, pain points, or recovery. “We want things to be light and easy, and to minimize torque,” he said. “We build skis so people can be pain-free and just have fun out there.”

The goal is to minimize stress and strain, which, to a ski designer, means minimizing vibration. To that end, that “lightness” he referred to is not the actual weight of the skis but a feeling a ski can give you if it’s responsive and efficient. Because in order to give you that “stuck to the snow” feeling, the ski needs to be beefy enough to be stable. In short, you want the skis to do most of the work and yet let you be in the driver’s seat.

A breakdown of the layers that go into a pair of Wagner Custom skis.

“We can achieve this with the right ski design,” Wagner said. “It’s all about the materials. We have more than 2,500 material combinations we can do, which is where the process starts with us.”

The materials of a ski (along with length and width) are what determine its flex pattern, which in turn determine its stability at speed and overall responsiveness. The flex pattern means both stiffness tip to tail, which is what you’ll see people testing by bending the ski at ski shops, and torsional rigidity, which is the ski’s resistance to twisting.

Generally speaking, a stiffer flex pattern is more stable at speed and more responsive to skier’s input. This may be counterintuitive for injured skiers: Those looking to take it easy may feel like a soft ski would be better, while they’d likely be far better served by a ski that has a stiffer flex. (Click for more on materials and flex pattern.)

In this sense, skis are similar to boots, Wagner said. Obviously, a soft, roomy ski boot will feel more comfortable when you’re walking around the shop. But the stiffer, tighter, less comfortable boot will perform better on the hill, allowing you to transfer your energy more seamlessly to the ski. In other words, even the best ski in the world won’t listen to you if you don’t have a stiff enough boot to drive it. So the question in both boots and skis becomes, “What is the right balance of stiffness, support, and comfort?”

Ski widths make quite a difference when designing skis for injury recovery.

After settling on the materials—most frequently injuries require a medium-light construction—Wagner’s designers get to work on geometry. The first part of this equation is determining what type of terrain the skier will be spending most of his or her time in, which then determines the waist width. Usually, the softer the snow, the wider the waist, but for some knee injuries, for example, Wagner may recommend going slightly narrower to reduce torque. (Click here for more on width.)

After the dimensions are dialed, the second part of the geometry equation is a ski’s profile, i.e. rocker and camber. For an all-mountain ski, Wagner recommends moderate rocker in the tip and tail so the ski is easy to initiate and lets go of a turn easily in steep and tight terrain. “We don’t want too much rocker, though, because we don’t want the tip to be floppy,” Wagner said. A modicum of rocker can make a ski more forgiving, even for a model that’s designed for mostly on-piste terrain. (Click here for more on shape.)

Once you’ve got the materials, dimensions, and profile dialed, you’re ready for the final step: topsheet graphics. This one’s entirely up to you, but our best suggestion for recovery? Unicorns. Lots and lots of unicorns.

Schedule your call with a ski designer today.


Article by Kimberly Beekman

Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.


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