Spend Matters welcomes another guest post from Samantha Miles of Mintec.
An annual pilgrimage to the slopes is common for many, whether it is a few days in the Rocky Mountains or a trip abroad to the Alps. Skiing and snowboarding trips are one of the most popular holiday attractions with millions of people pulling on their coats, goggles, and boots each year to get the thrill and adrenaline rush during the cold, dreary winter months. It is expected that numbers will rise this year as the buzz from the Sochi Winter Olympics gets the adrenaline junkies going. For this reason, our eyes turn to the production of the essentials: skis and snowboards.
Skis and snowboards have very similar components, and whilst the structure of each does differ slightly, they are both made of a number of different material layers held together by resin. The central cores of skis and boards are most commonly made from laminated hardwoods, such as beech, birch, and aspen. The hardness, wear-resistance, strength, and excellent flexibility of beech means it is commonly used in ski and snowboard production. Prices are volatile, but beech wood export prices in Europe have followed an upward trend since mid-2012 as Chinese demand has increased for hardwood construction materials such as flooring.
The wood used in the core can either be of a single type or it can be a mixture of woods to try and optimise the characteristics. Other materials can also be used, such as polycarbonate foam, carbon fibre, or kevlar, which bring different characteristics but often come at a higher cost. Current US prices for polycarbonate (PC) structural foam are stable as new production capacity in North America has made it difficult for PC producers to increase prices. Asia, which accounts for around 60 percent of global PC demand, is also adding extra capacity of up to 2 billion pounds, which should result in a drop in demand for US exports and also act to restrain prices.
On top of the core are layers of composite materials, with fibreglass being the most commonly used. This increases the stiffness and the strength of the skis or board, as well as provides protection to the core. The final major layers are the top sheet and the base. The top sheet layer shows the design and graphics on the skis or board and also provides a protective outer layer to the inner structure. The top sheet is only a couple of millimetres thick and can be made from nylon, plastic, fibreglass or wood. The graphics are either printed on paper or cloth and put under the top sheet (encapsulated), or fused onto the materials using special inks, plastics, and heat (sublimation).
Nylon prices have been following the trend of the feedstock benzene, with recent prices increasing in line with the cost of the feedstock. In the coming months and years, there is likely to be a lower demand for benzene as industries switch to cheaper feedstocks that are expected to keep the price of nylon down.
The bases of both skis and boards are made of P-Tex, a polyethylene plastic. This material will typically be followed by a number that represents the molecular weight of the polyethylene used; the higher the number, the higher the molecular weight and the better the ski or board. This number is even more important when the ski or board is being used competitively, as it affects the overall mass of the equipment and can help determine both the velocity and maneuverability and increase the chances of a win.
Enjoy the rest of the ski season!