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Game changers in skiing - The steel edge

Game changers in skiing - The steel edge

Posted by Simon Tjernström

2019-10-25 09:50

Game changers is a series looking at paradigm shifting ski gear throughout history.

You can't start a serie like this with on any other end than the steel edge. You can't begin a sequence covering Skiing's greatest inventions without mentioning John Fry. A ski historian and author who made this job substantially easier, since he paved the way with his work. So here we go.

The year is

1917

On a icy slope on a foggy day not far from Salzburg, an office worker began to sideslip. His hickory edges where too round to grip the hard surface. As he slid downhill, on colliding course with a number of rocks below he managed to bring himself top a stop by dragging the steel tips of his poles.

What you didn't know was that his entrepreneurial or marketing skills was in the same low category.

The unlikely inventor

Rudolf Lettner, a 30-year-old Austrian who loved to spend his one free day per winter skiing, thought a lot about what had happened that day. A nearly fatal accident was avoided.

Skärmavbild 2019-10-25 kl. 16.23.06.pngRudolf Lettner

Rudolf was an accountant at Austria’s historic salt works, the giant Saline Hallein near Salzburg. A typical office worker with no engineering or inventing ambitions.

A 10 year process

Skiing could be made safer, was the thought echoing in Rudolf's mind. Skiing could be safer, and skis would certainly turn better if their edges where metallic. Just like the tip of his poles that had saved him that dramatic day south of Salzburg.

But how do you attach metal edges to skis that didn't impede the ski's natural bending?

And the metal had to be hard so that a skier can sharpen it after some use. But not too hard so that you cant sharpen it.

Steel Edge Lettner.png
After a process that took Lettner almost 10 years to finalize his solution. The solution was to screw short sections of steel strip along the edges. That would allow the ski to flex. The first prototypes from clock springs, which he screwed onto the tread.

To make the steel flush with the ski’s base and sidewall, he routed a strip along the length of the wooden edge to match the width and thickness of the steel.

In 1926 Lettner patented his invention. As we mentioned above, he had little to none engineering aspirations. What you didn't know was that his entrepreneurial or marketing skills was in the same low category. His invention was mostly just ignored the coming four years.

Steel edge.png

Racing with the Lettner edge

It wasn't until the University Winter Games at Davos, Switzerland, in 1930 that people took notice of the invention in broad scale.

The Austrian racing team had tried and decided on the Lettner edge. A few gates down the difference was obvious. They created a sensation with their razor-sharp turns. Winning easily.

Protests

The losers protested heavily. The protest failed. But they where still very important. It was loud enough to make the newspaper, and soon everyone realized that in order to win, you must race with steel edges.

New Gear

Skiing was flooded with gear set out to compete with Lettners steel edge. By 1935, the dependable British Ski Year Book listed no less than 17 different brands of steel edge. Along with other products that came to life because of the steel edge, like shin guards to prevent legs from being cut and pants torn.

Lettner himself invented what must be the first edge sharpener and made good business. The ski shops where happy, making money replacing lost and damaged edge sections.

In the 50s came metal skis and fiberglass in the 60s. And the edge became a continuous steel strip integrated into the ski’s construction.

Lettner's steel edge is gone, but if you look closely on the walls of mountain chalets in the alps - you can sometimes spot a Lettner edge hanging there.



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