The Designers: Elan’s Melanja Sober on the Challenges of Crafting Ultra-Lightweight Skis

After a successful racing career, and a stint exploring the peaks of the world, Melanja Šober landed at Elan Skis and over the last seven years has worked her way up to become the Head of Product Management. We sat down with Malanja to talk design, inspiration and the challenges of creating some of the lightest skis on the market.

Can you briefly describe how you came to be the Head of Product Management at Elan?
I was pretty much born with skis. After my ski racing career, I decided to travel the world to explore mountains and new areas. Seven years ago, I switched from traveling to developing products at Elan, first in a design management role and then progressed through multiple positions, eventually leading to a head of product.

What does a Head of Product Management do, and what’s a typical day for you like?
I am responsible for the overall product line strategy and management, I coordinate Elan’s product roadmap and product-related initiatives. It is typical to work on multiple things in one day, always overcoming challenges with R&D, production, sales and marketing.

The best part about your job?
Seeing a new product when it comes from the new mold for the first time. This feeling is unique and it doesn’t change over the years.

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What is it about product design that excites you the most?
Overcoming boundaries and setting new standards in product design. If something was not possible yesterday, it does not mean that it cannot be tomorrow and when I manage to move that boundary successfully, it’s really exciting.

Are there any designs at Elan you’re especially stoked on this year?
The Elan women’s line, from the design perspective is always the ultimate challenge. The ski industry is particularly male dominated, and women’s products are judged and selected mainly by men. Well, not at Elan. We have an extensive team, called W Studio which not only contributes to design, but it is included in entire product development cycle. The Delight Supreme is one of the key products in the women’s line—following a woman’s desire to ski on women’s specific lightweight skis, yet never compromise on performance. This season the ski is petroleum blue combined with shinny yellow what follows the style trends in fashion.

 

 

What are the challenges for designing women specific products, and how have you overcome them?
In any weight-focused product, the challenge is to keep the performance at the level no one can call a compromise. Elan developed a unique solution called Tubelite woodcore—an extremely light wood combined with carbon rods, which provide the strength of titanium layers at a lot lighter weight.

Have these technologies and designs made their way into other product categories?
Elan Ripstick, which is one of the lightest skis in freeride ski category, is constructed with carbon rods, as well as the latest innovation in free touring segment called IBEX. Each of these skis are topped with a different innovation, but lightweight, powerful rebound and stability is what they have in common.

 

 

What are the most important things a customer should look for or consider when looking for a lightweight ski?
It goes the same for all skis, not just light weight one, as we truly believe that lightweight should not compromise the performance. Selecting the skis based on the type of terrain and ability. Terrain defines type of the skis and ability, the forgiveness. Freeride and touring might be different; someone that is really uphill driven might go for the very expensive, ultra-light gear and shorter lengths. That enables faster movement uphill, but compromises the downhill mostly due to short length and thinner profile of the skis.

How do you balance lightweight, feel and durability?
We do this through the selection and placement of material, putting the strong material in key location where it matters the most for the feel and performance.

What are some misconceptions about ultra-lightweight skis?
They don’t need to be expensive, but nevertheless, the finer selection of material, placing small parts of strong material where is needed, take some additional work which is then the result of the price. Our lightest ski in the women’s category, the Delight Prime, is breaking traditional rules in the women’s market. Also with other light weight products we strive to deliver the best value.

 

What products outside of skiing inspire you in regard to design?
Architecture—from the point that in order to work well, we must understand the living purposes. In particular, I like a perfect cohesion of architecture and outdoors.

Who is one of your favourite product designers (outside of snow sports) and why?
Robert Lešnik, a car designer from Slovenia who is shaping the future of Mercedes Benz. What I like is his ability to add his personal note to the design while maintaining key characteristics of the brand and brings the value to the next level. He is extremely talented designer who is shaping the car industry. Also, he comes from my same hometown.

Any secret projects you’re working on in the Elan lab you can tease us with?
A big innovation just saw the light of the world: Elan Ibex Tactix is really setting a milestone in skiing. Having the first fully functional ski that folds in half, opens the door to new opportunities, not only from skiing, but also from the ease of use and travel.

 

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