It is officially August and it’s almost time to start gearing up for winter. Sure, it could be a few months until the lifts start spinning, but it’s never too early to get your ducks and a row ski-wise. Alexander Graham Bell once said “preparation is the key to success” and he must have been talking about purchasing the perfect pair of shred sticks.
When perusing the internet, you’ll undoubtedly come across plenty of well-organized spec sheets and ski descriptions that promise ‘bomber bases’ and ‘the strongest edges on the market.’ But one specification that deserves respect is sidewall construction. Sandwich construction, ABS sidewall, capped, semi-cap, hybrid….what does it all mean? Here is a quick rundown to help you sort it out.
A sidewall with a sandwich construction uses an almost vertical layer of plastic covering the stack of core materials that would be otherwise exposed. The plastic that covers the sidewall is known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or ABS plastic. This strip of very dense plastic is pressed onto the wall to protect the core of the ski from water, rocks and stumps.
Using an ABS sidewall is more costly for manufacturers, but it brings very important and desirable properties to the ski. Since this plastic is very strong and dense, it adds an element of torsional rigidity. Torsional rigidity is the resistance of the ski from twisting and bending side to side as you initiate a turn and start to put it on edge. As a result, skis with an ABS sidewall have better edge hold and grip. In addition, if you damage your edge, skis with this kind of sidewall are easier to repair. It’s not all wonderful though, skis that use this system are heavier and more expensive to produce.
Examples: Volkl Mantra, Blizzard Zero G, Black Crows Corvus, and Head Monster
A sidewall with a cap construction has a topsheet that extends off the top of the ski, down the sidewall and to the edge of the ski. In other words, the topsheet caps the sidewall. This is easy to spot as the sides of the skis are generally the same color as the topsheet and appear as a smooth continuation of material.
A cap construction is lighter than an ABS/sandwich construction. The lighter sidewall is especially important towards the tips and the tails of the skis as it reduces swing weight. This means ripping off those 3:00 PM jump turns will require less effort. Capped skis are less expensive to produce as they require less material. Some of the downsides are that this design is not as durable as an ABS sidewall. In addition, edge hold and torsional strength suffer.
Example: DSP Wailer Tour1, Voile X7
We know ABS sidewalls are strong, durable and provide excellent grip. We also know cap sidewalls are lighter and less expensive to produce. Well, a semi-cap or hybrid sidewall is the best of both worlds. This design uses a cap construction on the tips and the tail to reduce swing weight while an ABS sidewall underfoot and behind/in front of the binding provides strength and grip.
This is a kind of Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation. Semi-cap skis reap the benefit of both sandwich and cap sidewall systems by borrowing the most desirable characteristics of each design. If we flip this logic upside down for a moment, it could be argued that a ski like this is neither as strong on edge as a full sandwich ski nor is it as light as a capped ski.
Examples: Line Sickday, K2 Marksman, Black Crows Navis Freebird, Atomic Benchetler
Well there you have it, that is just a brief rundown on this topic that doesn’t receive much attention. To be sure, sidewall construction shouldn’t make or break your opinion of a ski, but it is useful information. That said, knowledge is most certainly power.