Armenian doctor/scientist develops new technology to advance ski performance

By Asbarez | Tuesday, 07 November 2017

Dr. Ara Nazarian helped develop the technology for making skis faster

Dr. Ara Nazarian helped develop the technology for making skis faster

BOSTON – Ski technology has changed very little over the past few decades. Recently, two Boston area medical professionals joined forces to create Verispellis Skis and Snowboards and pioneered the application of shape memory alloys (a cutting-edge material used in medical devices) to ski and snowboard technology.

This alloy is unique because of its properties (e.g. flexibility) and basic structure on a molecular level that allows it to respond dramatically to changes in temperature. Verispellis may be the most innovative concept since shaped skis were developed in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

Nitinol is a shape-memory alloy, one that remembers its original shape and stiffness and when deformed returns to its pre-deformed shape or stiffness with the application of some heat. The alloy exhibits a wide range of physical properties with changes in temperature as well as fast transitions between these different states. Nitinol is a remarkable material with many existing medical and biomedical applications, one example being cardiac stents. Nitinol is the basis of advanced 3D meshes that allow neatly-folded cardiac stents to travel through arteries safely until the desired location is reached. At that point, exposure to body temperature makes the stent unfold and restore blood flow to an occluded vessel. This type of deployment is not possible using traditional materials.

Using this shape memory alloy the inventors developed a revolutionary recreational technology, one that will allow the skier or boarder to adjust the stiffness of his/her ski or snowboard based on changes in the snow condition or type. By inserting Nitinol in key locations of the ski or snowboard and modulating the stiffness of the Nitinol sheets via a Bluetooth connection and mobile application, the entire performance of the ski/snowboard can be changed in a few seconds. These are the most versatile skis or snowboards that any winter sports enthusiast will ever be offered.

It took two Boston area medical professionals, however, to realize the potential of Nitinol to revolutionize snow sports technology. They developed a novel method that allows this shape-memory alloy to be placed between layers of wood or fiberglass (aka. more traditional ski materials), resulting in a ski or snowboard whose stiffness may be manipulated via digital technology. A wireless Bluetooth transmitter communicates with an electric heating element powered by a small lithium-ion battery embedded within the ski. This mechanism allows users to control the properties of their ski/snowboard via any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.

Verispellis Skis

Verispellis Skis

Ara Nazarian is an Orthopedic Scientist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, one of the Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals. His training is in mechanical and biomedical engineering. Ken Rodriguez is an Orthopedic surgeon and engineer who specializes in trauma at the same institution in Boston. Both passionate skiers came up with an idea to utilize Nitinol to create a pair of “shape-shifting” skis or snowboard. Their final design keeps the same shape of the ski but changes the material properties and stiffness to go from a standard ski/snowboard configuration to a “stiffer one” as needed. As it turned out, they used their experience with Nitinol from their medical research projects to create this new advanced snow sports technology and build a prototype.

“Ken and I had thought about Nitinol for some of our biomedical projects, and one day we asked ourselves, why can’t we use it in skis to allow us to control the stiffness of our skis? Being east coast skiers, where we can ski on ice and mashed potato snow all in one day and on the same mountain, we figured we’d consolidate a quiver into a single pair of skis that could handle different conditions by making the skis softer or stiffer as dictated by the conditions. And as they say, the rest is history, and Verispellis was born. The idea was conceived on Mount Sunapee in NH, where many bouts of ambient, snow and ski temperatures were recorded over different weather conditions. Verispellis was born in Boston, first in our computers, where we designed and simulated skiing on different types of snow at different skiing conditions (carving at different angles) using finite element (FE) modeling, followed by building our first fully skiable prototype,” said Nazarian and Rodriguez.

This technology is innovative in many ways. The design was optimized via advanced FEM modeling and simulation, allowing these developers to predict how their skis would react to any possible combination of skier position and behavior as well as weather and snow conditions. The initial (patent pending) prototype was created by a Boston area custom ski manufacturer, employing thin sheets of Nitinol imported from Germany. Every aspect of this ski has been precisely engineered with performance, safety, and durability in mind.

“The new technology introduced by Verispellis has the potential to change the entire ski industry. The ability to effectively change the stiffness of one’s skis or board in a few seconds will allow skiers or boarders to adapt better to changing snow surface conditions, and will improve performance immediately. The ability to do it on-demand through a smartphone app makes it simple, reliable, and effective for users of all ages and ability levels. It truly is a game changer. I’ve been skiing my entire life and have always thought about how we could improve ski technology so that little changes in snow conditions didn’t require a different pair of skis. Verispellis offers that solution!” said Arman Serebrakian, a Harvard Plastic Surgery Resident, and an alpine ski racer who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi on Armenia’s National Team.