With snow sports more popular (and more expensive) than ever, it will come as no surprise that ski and snowboard manufacturers are continuing to innovate, and are seeking protection for their hard-earned developments. However, one may be more surprised to learn that ski-related patents have been around for almost a century. Here are some of the more notable examples.

US Patent 1,593,937 is one of the earlier ski patents, and was filed by Mr Emil Hall at the US Patent Office in July 1923 (Figure 1).

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Figure 1

The patent was directed to an arrangement for fastening a ski to a boot in a more comfortable and flexible manner. We can only speculate as to whether the invention was a success, however it is safe to say the concept of a ‘flexible’ ski binding was a favourite with the ankle surgeons.

As is the case with many excellent inventions, the next in our list of skiing patents came about quite literally by accident. As the story goes, whilst skiing in 1917, Austrian accountant Rudolf Lettner lost control when his hickory  skis became worn at the edges causing a loss of bite on a patch of ice, and leaving Lettner uncontrollably slide-slipping towards some rocks. Saved by the metallic tip of his ski poles, Lettner decided to extend the concept to his  skis and, in 1926, filed a patent application for a ski with steel edges. Steel edges were a huge success and became ubiquitous in the following years. One of Lettner’s later patents DE476885 filed in 1928 and also directed to metallic ski edges (Figure 2.)

A seasoned ski innovator, Peter Ostbye was a Norwegian skier and ski manufacturer, and 

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Figure 2

was well-known as the inventor of the famous Klister snow wax for which a patent was filed as early as 1913. Ostbye went on to file one of the earliest Australian ski patents in December 1934. AU1935020861 (Figure 3) was a clever invention relating to tapering a central layer of the ski to reduce warping, as well as increasing springiness.

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Figure 3

Notably, the patent attorney recorded as the Agent for Ostbye’s Australian application was none other than Cecil W. Le Plastrier of the firm Phillips Ormonde Le Plastrier & Kelson (as Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick was known between 1920 and 1967). We are not sure whether Cecil was an avid skier, however at the very least he was up-to-date with the latest in ski technology.

For those of us with an aversion to chair lifts, exercise, snowmobiles or all of the above,US Patent 3,964,560 filed in June 1976 provided a self-driven ‘power ski’. The ski is propelled by an endless track powered by a small internal combustion engine worn on the skier’s back  and controlled by a hand throttle (Figure 4). It is anyone’s guess why ‘power-skiing’ never really took off, however considering the risks already associated with regular old ‘gravity skiing’, it is possibly for the best.

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Figure 4

Those of us who were skiing pre-1990s (and those of us still using 30+ year old equipment), will appreciate the dramatic change in ski shape over the past few decades. Until the ‘90s, the conventional ski ‘sidecut’ (the amount the ski width is narrowed at the waist as compared to the ends) was between 4mm–10mm.

Fortunately for novice skiers, US Patent 4,700,967 (Figure 5) was lodged in March 1985 by Olin Engineer Frank Meatto for a parabolic ski design with a deep sidecut two or three times the industry norm, providing a significant improvement in the skis ability to turn and ‘carve’.

The asymmetrical and unconventional design proved to be ahead of its time and was not a commercial success. However it paved (or carved) the way for the development of skis with deep symmetrical sidecuts such as the well-known and hugely successful Elan SCX, which boasted a 22mm sidecut, and led to a revolution in narrow or ‘wasp-waisted’ skis that skiers of all abilities found far easier to turn.

The final ski-patent on our short list is not a patent for a ski per se, but is noteworthy nonetheless. Most of us will be familiar with the ski-brake; the wonderful spring-loaded device which prevents a ski flying off down the hill whenever a boot becomes detached from  a ski. Many of us may be less familiar with its aerodynamic cousin, the ski-sail. As explained in US Patent 4,531,763 (Figure 6), the device consists of a foldable sail extending between a pair of ski poles for deployment when conventional braking won’t suffice.

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Figure 6

Some patent attorneys are all too familiar with flying out of control down a black run that far exceeds our abilities and will readily appreciate the need for such a device. Unfortunately, finding a local retailer that stocks the aerodynamic ski-brake has apparently proven difficult.

See you on the slopes!