Matej Božičnik, Marko Kozjek and Franci Šmit are the engineers behind Elan skis. They are part of an eleven person R&D team led by Vinko Avguštin. These are the men whose ideas and knowhow change the course of skiing history. Their invisible signatures are present on all Elan skis past and present and skiers around the world owe them a debt of gratitude.
Just about every boy or girl who discovers skiing at a young age sooner or later inevitably starts daydreaming about making their own skis. For most the dream remains just that, a dream. But the most dedicated dreamers turn their dreams into reality. The best ones develop their ideas so well that their friends start asking for a pair of their skis, and then their friends’ friends and so on. The news of good ski gear always spreads quickly and the local dreamer suddenly becomes a supplier of skis to hundreds of eager customers. This is more or less exactly the story of Elan. Rudi Finžgar was the archetypal dreamer as described above, but he also had a clear vision. His unbridled passion for the sport rubbed off on many coworkers and successors who over a course of over seventy years all contributed to Elan becoming the ultimate innovator in skiing. Elan’s developers and engineers have always been masters of their craft. For a while Elan even fostered the Elan Institute that churned out successful innovations like a well oiled machine. The venerable tradition continues to this day as Elan skis continue to represent the very top of the innovative ski industry and set standards that others can only follow while picking up award after award for breakthrough innovation and design each year.
The smart guys
While we admire the beauty, performance and technical characteristics of Elan skis we seldom think about the smart guys that develop the skis and put them to work on the slopes for our enjoyment. Engineers are Elan’s brains. They spend days and nights thinking only about how to make ever better and more efficient skis. Their imagination is limitless, their knowledge is profound and their experience is priceless. Amphibio, Wingman, Delight and Ripstick are the names of Elan’s greatest hits and under their attractive skins they all bear the hidden signatures of Franci Šmit, Marko Kozjek, Matej Božičnik and Jernej Rijavec. All four are Elan guys through and through. Their mileages at the Begunje company vary. Veterans Marko and Franci have been part of the team for nearly thirty years. Matej has been working on Elan skis for the best part of twenty years while young gun Jernej moved from the coast to Begunje only three years ago. They are the men behind the scenes that skiers around the world owe a debt of gratitude. Even though they belong to different generations they have many things in common. The first among them is a profound love of skiing. The second is a treasure trove of technical knowledge. All four have degrees in engineering - Franci, Marko and Jernej are mechanical engineers while Matej has a degree in metallurgy. Their third common asset is practical experience which in their line of work counts for much more than any amount of theory. The fine art of making skis requires many skills that are not taught in schools and books, the chief among them being a detailed knowledge of materials and their characteristics, skiing knowledge and all the minute specifics of skis that can only be learned by spending long hours in their company. All four of the guys started skiing soon after learning to walk. It is no wonder then that their eyes all light up when they talk about skiing. “Skiing is one of the most important things in my life,” said Jernej, the youngest member of the team. “I have been skiing for as long as I can remember. And ever since the beginning I have also been thinking about how to make my own skis,” added Matej. Marko told us he had been thinking up ways to make his skis better since he was a teenager. Back in Finžgar’s days tinkering with skis was much easier than these days. Back then a ski was more or less just a curved plank of wood. “I had a very reverential relationship with the craft of making skis, as well as a major dose of respect. Through the years I found out that many things can be achieved through persistence, effort and study,” added Matej Božičnik.
Greatest innovation of all time
Considering the Elan factory in Begunje developed and launched countless innovations that changed the course of skiing, it was interesting to hear which invention the engineers deemed the most important. Franci Šmit shot out without hesitation: “Amphibio” “SCX or carving,” said Jernej Rijavec. Marko Kozjek and Matej Božičnik on the other hand approached the question more philosophically. “It is difficult to select a single innovation. I think it’s perhaps most important that we never backed off and slept on our laurels and our innovations continue year after year. There are many brands that build on just one new thing. We have been continuously developing new concepts for the past seventy years.” explained Kozjek. “Our innovations are intertwined, the solutions we developed for a certain type of ski later showed to be even more useful in another model. I think what makes us strongest is how we successfully resolve the problems and challenges we face,” answered Božičnik.
The birthplace of ideas
The ideas that Elan introduced into the world of skiing were always revolutionary, from the first ever skis with a transparent base that proudly showcased the Elan logo and VSS skis that could be made wider or narrower to wavy Waveflex skis with integrated Fusion bindings, asymmetrical Amphibio skis and many others. All these products brought a completely new way of thinking about and making skis. They stood out from the crowd at first glance. But they were nothing in comparison to the thought processes of the men who created them. How does somebody even start thinking about making a different left and right ski? “I worked on racing skis most of the time and we used different ways of grinding the edges to create some asymmetry in the skis. So we set about bringing a similar approach to recreational skiing,” said Matej Božičnik. The ideas that seem so simple and self explanatory once the product is put on shelves are born in quite diverse circumstances. Some come when people are completely isolated from the outside world, others come suddenly as a flash of divine inspiration and yet others come when people actively think about how to make things differently, make them better and more efficient.
Love for wood
There have been many attempts at making skis entirely from man made materials in the past. In the end it was always shown time and time again that there is no better material than wood. “Wood is a unique natural composite that retains its characteristics at a wide range of temperatures. It acts like that in nature and when put into skis. It is alive and so is a ski,” poetically stated Matej Božičnik. That is why most Elan skis have a wood core, the old evergreen classic.
The birth of a ski
The creation of a ski is a special process that starts with a commission or need for a new product. The requirements start of a stream of thought that includes different operations. Mathematical calculations are the boring aspect of ski development for the most part, but the selection of materials and their assembly into a functional whole is what gets the engineers out of bed in the morning. The entire process takes about six months. Then it is time for the most beautiful moment when the prototype is first put on snow. “It’s a bit like a birth. It fills us all up with expectation and pride. If what we made up works as we planned in practice, then so much the better. If not, we get back to work and keep at it until we are completely satisfied with the result” say the four engineers and go back to their lives in the future. For them it’s already Winter 2021/2022.