The idea of a folding ski is not a new one. Apparently there have been experiments dating back to the First and Second World War. Unfortunately none of the skis could be used for actual skiing. There were some attempts later as well, but nobody got further than the prototype phase, and no one could make it work. We spoke about the demanding process of engineering the Voyager, the first folding all mountain ski, with Global Brand Director Melanja Korošec, Director of Elan’s Development Department Vinko Avguštin, and Strategic Designer Luka Bassanese.
How long has Elan been thinking about a folding ski?
Vinko Avguštin: Elan has worked on the idea of a folding ski several times in the past, but the concept was put on the back burner for quite some time before we actually started with the first activities. The first actual step was made in 2011. We began seriously considering the idea when we started working with the Slovenian Armed Forces. After presenting the Ibex Tactix folding touring ski in 2017 we immediately started thinking about the next challenge - making the first folding carving ski.
The Voyager ski is a technological marvel. How did the breakthrough technology influence the design and form?
Melanja Korošec: Skis work when they are in one piece and we started with breaking ours in half. This fundamentally shifted the perception of the product from a piece of equipment to a product that provides skiers not only with the ability to ski, but also provides a complete skiing experience unlike anything the world has ever seen.
The Elan Voyager is the first folding all mountain ski in the world, so we took care to appropriately express this breakthrough in the product design. The process begun by analyzing users and setting design goals.
The main guidelines for the design were function, intuition, and sustainable quality. The skis have a unique folding function, so the form partially supports and emphasizes that element. All the parts of the ski were developed and designed to enable safe and long lasting use and we sought inspiration for design elements in the aerospace iconography as the pinnacle of mobility. Last but not least, an important part of product identity is also the name that addresses the user experience and gives the ski a global appeal.
What did you learn from the successful development of the Ibex Tactix folding ski?
Vinko Avguštin: It was certainly a strong impulse for development. The idea originated from the user - we observed different groups of skiers, including mountain warfare units, who carry long skis on their backpacks. This is a significant hinderance for moving through the winter environment, especially for soldiers. This gave rise to the idea for a functional folding ski that would also fulfill all the functional requirements, especially in terms of operating loads.
During the development phase we went through several variants of the folding system that we tested, improved, and discarded. Eventually we made the first functional folding touring ski. Since the skis were intended for military use we focused on durability. The mechanism operated flawlessly and it gave us lots of confidence. In terms of performance the ski was sufficient for ski touring, not advanced recreational skiing, but that was enough for what we were trying to achieve. For the Voyager project, the mechanism was upgraded significantly.
What is the key element of the new Voyager folding carving ski?
Vinko Avguštin: The key component of the new Voyager folding ski has to be the binding plate system that provides rigidity equal to classic non-folding skis. Developing the plate in conjunction with the Connect technology certainly required the most creative thought. We made several different solutions and ended up using the one that proved to be the most effective.
What is the role of design in projects as demanding as the Voyager?
Luka Bassanese: Designers are faced with the greatest challenges when it comes to the most demanding products – how to transform technically complex innovations into user friendly products. Design emphasizes usability by focusing primarily on the key element of the ski – the folding function, making the product understandable and accessible.
You also designed a dedicated bag, collapsible poles and a few other accessories to form a coherent whole. It is clear at first sight that all the products have been created with a great deal of passion and deliberation. How difficult is it to find common elements in different products?
Melanja Korošec: The Voyager is not just a single product, it is a solution that brings substantial improvements to the user experience of skiers living in urban areas. It was this thought that directed our activities towards not just focusing on the ski, which of course is the fundamental element of the concept, but to include all the accessories and equipment around the ski.
The first logical step was a collapsible ski pole that complements the user experience very well. Another major mobility element of the system are the two bags – the smaller for storing and carrying skis and the larger with enough space for everything you need for a weekend of skiing. Having the dimensions of the bags correspond to the IATA guidelines for check-in luggage was a very clear design limitation that the engineers included in their development process. Lastly we also considered details such as a brush and cloth for cleaning snow off the skis after use.
We allowed ourselves no compromise when working on the Voyager project; only the best was good enough. After all, each and every detail shapes the end user experience.
The numerous awards received by the Voyager ski are proof that this is a truly groundbreaking innovation. Among the awards is the coveted Red Dot Best of The Best award. What does such recognition mean to you?
Melanja Korošec: Our products are primarily made to be used, not just to be looked at. Usability is always our first priority, as is keeping our promise to users – every day will be their best day on snow. The »Always Good Times« experience is what we want to give skiers.
But we are, of course, incredibly happy to see our work recognized in professional circles and even though we have won many awards for our products in the last decade alone, receiving the Red Dot Best of The Best for the Voyager was very special. It is our first one, and you never forget your first, especially because the Voyager project involved the entire company. Receiving the award is a recognition and validation of our work that delighted and motivated all of us.