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New to the Outdoors: Renoun Skis adapt with hyper-damping material

In this reoccurring series, SNEWS identifies and highlights industry start-up brands vying for a place on outdoor specialty retail shelves.

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This ski-season, imagine taking giant S-turns on a pair of skis that physically adapts, second-to-second. Essentially, having a set of planks that becomes more rigid or soft depending on the conditions of the terrain. The concept is somewhat surreal — but it’s not exactly a pipe dream. Close to two years ago, adaptable skis became reality with the launch of Renoun Skis.

Owned and founded by Cyrus Schenck — a passionate skier with an engineering background from Clarkson University and General Electric — the Vermont-based company manufactures its skis locally, in North America. Incorporated into each ski that Renoun makes is a special ingredient, known as hyper-damping material —which, for engineers, isn’t exactly unique. The technology is produced and utilized around the world to help relieve vibration, shock, and noise in items such as vehicles, aircraft, structures and machinery.

Schenck was introduced to the not-so-secret, yet fairly new to snow sports, substance at a lecture he attended while studying aeronautical engineering. The discussion outlined a variety of construction materials — like concrete, steel, wood and glass — which all contain properties that reflect Newtonian law. Basically, as pressure is applied to those basic building blocks the molecular relationship is linear, Schenck explained, and the stress output correlates with the stress input. In some cases, it’s even a one-to-one ratio. Meaning, in an average pair of skis (which follow that rule of thumb) the faster and harder a skier is going, the more the skis will shake. On the other hand, materials that follow non-Newtonian laws display a different kind of relationship. The graph is curved: As the energy input increases, the material becomes more rigid. For Renoun, its skis’ dampness goes up, becoming more stable and controllable in unsteady conditions like speeding across choppy snow or ice chunks.

RENOUN HDT™ Full from RENOUN on Vimeo.

It’s a “polymer that cheats physics,” described Schenck—and after his personal discovery it didn’t take long to nail down prototypes using the non-Newtonian trick. Schenck partnered with Tyler Arsenault — who is a Ph.D. candidate for vibration mechanics — at a Clarkson University research lab and attached various skis to a shaker cable that would measure output. In tests that compared a normal ski to those with Renoun’s technology — Hyper Damping Technology (HDT) — the results showed a 300 percent increase in damping ability. At that point, the testing apparatus maxed out and couldn’t shake the skis at a higher rate.

“Tyler tests wind turbines for corporations…he measures the internal stresses and strains that are a result of flex. Blades that are 60- or 70-feet long shake quite a bit, and if you don’t mitigate it, they will shake themselves apart,” said Schenck. “He got us to be in-dubious…and after running our tests he emailed me in all caps, ‘THIS DATA IS INSANE,’ with seven exclamation points. He’s not even a huge skier and he asked if he could keep some skis.”

Within two months of Renoun’s official launch the company was awarded the 2015 ISPO Gold Award in the All-Mountain ski category for game-changing design and technology. Following, Renoun accepted a $30,000 cash-prize—plus $45,000 of supplemental support—first-place win in the 2015 LaunchVT business-pitch competition, which awards Vermont entrepreneurs with funding and mentorship. Patent-pending, HDT is featured in Renoun’s entire lineup, which includes an On-Piste Carving ski, the Z-90 (MSRP $1,295), and the all-mountain freeride Endurance (MSRP $1,095) ski for the 2015/2016 season.

A breakthrough, Renoun skis are the first hardgoods in the snow sports industry to incorporate the vibration control material, which is created by D30, a UK-based company that specializes in impact protection solutions and technology. A range of goods incorporates D30’s shock-absorbing technology from motorcycle and footwear products to electronics, military and workwear tools. In an earlier brush with snow sports, D30 technology was used in the 2006 Winter Olympics to create protective lightweight outerwear for the U.S. and Canadian ski teams. And, at the moment, Rome Snowboards incorporates D30 technology in the baseplate of the Katana snowboard binding, and in the outsole of its snowboard boot liners for cushioning. Snow sports apparel from Scott Sports and Burton both feature D30, too. On another front, the U.S. Army is testing the technology in helmet liners for shock absorption to reduce the risk of head injuries caused by Improvised Explosive Devices. It’s no wonder that the material is hitting gold marks with skis.

In addition to its ski designs, Renoun takes an alternative route on the business end. The company sells direct-to-consumer online and does overnight drop shipping with select partners, which keeps the manufacturing lean and relieves the risk of inventory loss for retailers due to unsold products. Retailers opt into the partnership then receive a display unit and one pair of skis. When a customer purchases a pair, Renoun receives the payment and order immediately, then ships the skis. Currently, Renoun’s retail partners are in North America, but the system is just as applicable to Japan or Germany — really, anywhere in the world.

“It’s a clean paying structure that cuts out invoicing and the split happens at the transaction,” said Schenck. “From the backend, retailers have a code that identifies the shop. So, when an order goes through, we fire off their portion of the payment to them and we keep the other bit,” he explained. Each cost deviation is negotiated — so, clearly, if all sales were direct-to-consumer, Renoun’s profit margins would be higher. But that fact overlooks the influence of in-person sales.

“Partnering with the right shop is incredibly powerful. This industry is touchy feely and will always be that way. To have a physical location where people can walk in, and pick up and feel a ski is huge,” said Schenck.

Furthermore, the drop shipping allows Renoun to track sales as “instantaneous data points,” so that the company can see what products are selling or not. Rather than creating a plethora of inventory in advance, they can manufacture skis in real time.

“For every ski that’s not sold it’s a negative impact, not zero,” said Schenck about the current state of the overall industry. “Some of the largest ski companies in the world sit on one-quarter of their inventory every year. Because [Renoun] knows what products are selling, we can tweak and build more of one ski or less of another in order to pinpoint the exact demand,” he said, then pointed out that Apple checks in with its inventory around the world every four minutes to adjust what’s being made.

If this year’s trend is blue top sheets, Renoun simply revs up those orders and decreases the number of pink pairs. With this lean model, “We can beat some of the large scale manufacturing margins by 15 percent — 15 points in our third year — which, the fact that we’re even close to the margins of large manufacturing is insane. And quite honestly, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We could double it at some point, no problem,” said Schenck.

–Morgan Tilton