Hello all. The recent ski origins thread drifted into an interesting discussion of ski prices versus what production costs in various countries. The underlying question is whether ski makers are fleecing us by moving production to places like China.
OK, Quant2325 has provided a link to a good site for retail prices of ski building materials: http://www.skibuilders.com/howto/skicon/materials.shtml.
I've done some nosing around and found some prices for metals and carbon used in skis.
First, it's useful to understand that Titanal is a proprietary aluminum alloy, without an ATOM of titanium in it. Formula is: 88.5% aluminum, 1.7% copper, 2.5% magnesium, 7% zinc, and .1% zirconium. Knowing this puts puts you one up on any ski magazine review section ever written, as well as a (nameless) major indie ski builder, and probably most posters here and elsewhere. It's spelled similarly as a marketing trick, folks, nothing more.
But also means that it's pricier than standard alu alloy, since the maker is Austria Metall AG (AMAG), and if you use the name, you buy from them. What would be interesting would be to see if any so-called titanium skis actually have any titanium in them, or are just using aluminum alloy with a slightly different formula than Titanal. As I stated, even many people in the industry use "titanium" and "titanal" interchangeably.
OK, prices: Real titanium alloys seem to retail over $140/lb, or put another way, the .5 mm sheet in a typical ski would run about $70/sq foot, which would weight about 2/3 of a lb. A single ski would have roughly 3 sq feet of metal sheet in it, so that works out to $210. I suspect if "titanium" skis like the AC50 use this metal, it's a small% of yet another alu alloy.
Aerospace grade aluminum alloy in .5mm (similar to but not Titanal, couldn't find a quote on that) retails at about $7/sq foot, weighs about half what titanium alloy sheet weighs. So same size ski would have about $21 of aluminum, which fits with another estimate, in the Wall Street Journal, of Titanal adding $25-$30 per ski to production costs.
Unidirectional carbon fiber sheet of .5 mm thickness runs about $30/sq. foot, weighs only .16 lbs for that area. Most skis, except for Goode and DPS, do not use an entire carbon sheet across the width of the ski, but rather fiberglass with thin carbon stringers built in. Haven't found a quote for that yet, maybe someone can help. Also most carbon in skis is tri or quad, with fibers crisscrossing. Assume this is built up from very thin unidirectional sheets, but may be wrong. Glass mavens out there?
Obviously, the wholesale cost to ski makers would be a bit less than half of these, but my tentative conclusions: Real aerospace titanium alloy is expensive, and heavy relative to the other possible materials. (Although not if you're Volant.) I doubt titanium is used in any skis. Carbon fiber is still fairly expensive, but very light. Typical aluminum alloy, probably including Titanal, is fairly cheap, and middleweight.
However, according to metalworking sites, the real issue with alloys is lamination and bonding. Alu is fairly ductile, likes to deform unless it's up against wood or glass laminates. But that's tricky because alu doesn't like to bond, requires special surface treatment after rolling, often proprietary again. Also keep in mind that alu has to be bent fairly carefully into a camber curve, or it'll kink. AMAG advertises that it shapes and bends ski metal, so I assume it may ship pre-cambered sheets.
Cores, I sense, are fairly expensive because of the human labor involved in selection, fit, prior to lamination, but so far can't pin down a retail, let alone a wholesale price. Pretty specialized item. I know that PM Gear for several years got some of its cores from AK, now appears to be making all its own. So it looks like some ski makers also supply cores to a other makers.
What this all means to me so far is that 1) skis made of materials other than wood and fiberglass are considerably more complicated to make. 2) These skis will have increased materials costs, but the real issue will be the expert labor needed to get the sheet metal or carbon into a ski and keep it there. And 3) as far as I can tell, most materials for a ski will come from sources other than the place that actually presses the skis, finishes them, eg, "makes" them. I'd guess that K2's "Chinese" skis have materials from all over, including Austria if they say "Titanal," and I'd guess that they are designed in the U.S. and that U.S. or European experts with a lot of previous experience oversee the tricky bits of metal or carbon prep, etc.
This does not suggest so far that K2, Volkl, DPS, or others are making out like bandits...
Edited by beyond - 5/27/10 at 2:18pm