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Howard Head, Ski Inventor
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Profile photo of Howard Head in tennis gear

Profile photo of Howard Head in tennis gear

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Drawing of layered “sandwich” construction of an airplane wing
Drawing of layered “sandwich” construction of an airplane wing

Howard Head, Ski Inventor

Aircraft engineer and frustrated athlete Howard Head used structural principles from the aircraft industry and different materials to build better equipment. Head revolutionized skiing by taking ski design out of the hands of woodcrafters and putting it into the hands of scientists and technicians.

Head tried skiing for the first time in 1947. “I had a lot of falls, but I knew then that skiing was to be my sport.” Head couldn’t stop thinking about the clumsy, heavy wooden skis that left him exhausted. Lighter, more efficient skis would make the sport much easier. Head thought better skis could be made out of aircraft materials.

His idea was based on a structural principle common in the aircraft industry: metal-sandwich construction. Head imagined a ski made of two light layers of aluminum bonded to sidewalls of thin plywood, with a center filling of honeycomb plastic.

Head took his first six pairs of skis to the Stowe resort in Vermont, where instructors tested them. Some pairs lasted longer than others, but eventually they all broke.

A pro skier, Neil Robinson, gave Head the encouragement and opportunity he needed. “If you can make this ski so it won’t break,” he told him, “I’ll try it out.”

All winter long, Head made skis--one pair at a time--and sent them to Robinson, who skied them, broke them, and sent them back. Each time, Head figured out why the ski had broken and made changes. By the end of the winter, he achieved his goal: a ski as strong as those made out of wood but only half as heavy.

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