Elan is skiing’s ultimate innovator. Through its seventy year history, the company has launched a number of “disruptive” technologies - inventions that have revolutionized the sport – but none bigger than the Elan SCX. The SCX ski single-handedly opened the door to a completely new way of skiing – and introduced a new term into the skiing lexicon – carving.
The year was 1994. Elan had launched its legendary MBX ski just two years earlier with great success. The MBX was the first monoblock ski construction on the market and well ahead of its time, but it was still a very classical straight and long ski design - straight as an arrow, about two meters long and with very little sidecut. At the time, ski sizing was determined by your height and the correct length was about twenty centimeters above your head. The main difference in skis was their stiffness and flex. Slalom skis were the stiffest, followed by slightly softer GS skis and even softer recreational skis. Needless to say, most skiers at the time skidded or slid their turns, reserving the more precise and controlled skiing styles to experts, professional and racers.
Elan’s R&D team saw this as a challenge and strived to develop a solution. This was a group of engineers and designers who were always ahead of the curve, thinking up solutions that at the time seemed impossible and on the verge of science fiction. As it turns out, 15 years prior, the Swedish ski legend Ingemar Stenmark and his serviceman Jure Vogelnik had already spoken to the R&D department about their idea that turns could be performed much faster and more efficiently if the skis had a more pronounced sidecut. If the idea came from the best skier of all time, a skier whose technique was the epitome of skiing perfection, there must have been something to it.
So the Elan R&D guys got to work, thinking, tinkering, experimenting and finding their way to achieve the goal. It took a few years, but by the early 90’s, the group had made a breakthrough that would change skiing forever.
“At our first tests on Soriška Planina mountain we skied completely incognito – no company cars or Elan uniforms“ recalls Jurij Franko, who, along with Pavel Škofic and Andrej Robič, one of the main designers behind the first ever pronounced sidecut skis. “The skis worked just as we imagined. The idea that a skier can bend a ski with their action while skiing was finally proven to be fallacy. One that unfortunately still guides some people even today. A sidecut is a prerequisite for the bending of a ski and the ski can only carve a turn on its edge with an appropriate sidecut. What we felt on the piste that day was exactly what our calculations showed,” says Franko. “I must thank Andrej Robič, who used his reputation to gain support for our project and was also part of the first tests. Without his support we would not even have a first prototype.”
One would think that the designers would face many challenges and problems in terms of technology, but that wasn’t the case.
“We really had no major problems. The aluminium laminated sidewall construction had been around since the late fifties and has remained virtually unchanged to this day. There simply was no consistent theoretical basis and mathematical calculations to support ski construction at the time. Our tests and observations showed that we were limited in terms of combining flex and torsional stiffness, so we simply did not bother with it at the time. Our greatest technological problem was the base. Fortunately, Elan also made jumping skis, so we had sufficiently wider base material on hand. This was ski jumping’s contribution to the development of alpine skiing,” adds engineer Franko and admits that the R&D team had absolutely no idea of the impact their innovation would have on the word of skiing. “We never thought about that during our calculations and development, but as soon as we made the first turns it became clear that nothing in skiing will ever be the same. I vividly remember the time I was presenting the first prototypes to an American Elan dealer at Kaprun a few years later. When we switched skis and I tried to do a few turns with his latest and greatest “traditional” skis, I just fell over initiating a turn because the ski simply refused to turn on its own. Of course, I could do it once I set my mind to it, but it was far from easy. The end result of our test was a fax stating that while the skis do work, there was simply no chance of selling them with any degree of success in the consumer market.”
The fax stated that the market demand wasn’t there, and do little to progress the sport. That said, the SCX was created outside any market analysis and the needs and demands of marketing. All they were was an answer to a simple engineering problem: how to make a ski that does not skid in a turn. The result was shocking and unacceptable for many “experts in the field”. There were pressures to make a different geometry with less sidecut but with the same ride characteristics, but mathematics cannot be cheated and the sidecut remained. The skis were made shorter, but that’s another story.
This marks perhaps one of the greatest skiing innovations in the history of the sport, and Elan was at the forefront. Elan created a product that changed the way people ski - making it more efficient and dynamic forracers, while at the same time easier and more fun for recreational skiers. Over the decades that followed the elan r&d team further refined their unique innovation with new technologies that continue to thrill users each year.