Ski Systems Design – Build Fjell skis as part of a broader mountain tourism system.

Learning about Systemic Design is a challenging endeavour. At The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), the study direction “Systems Oriented Design” (SOD) of the Master program in Design provides students with the option to learn about complexity the designerly way.

Photos by Emilie Langolf and Tobias Luthe.

Autumn term 2019, by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tobias Luthe ETH and AHO.

Introductory systems overview sketch of the design challenge “skis”, embedded into the broader mountain tourism system.

Building Fjell skis

For the autumn semester 2019, SOD students were offered a new course module entitled “ski systems design”. The design brief was to design, engineer and build Fjell skis, traditional Norwegian Nordic skis for use in tracked or untracked snowy terrain, from the flats to medium steep mountains. It involved to partly quantifying the material and primary energy footprint of the used materials and processes during the building process. By doing so, students would learn about supply chain mapping, carbon footprint assessment and basic life cycle analysis. The design brief included eco-optimizing the ski design and reducing their material footprint on the environment. The students were then asked to plan a ski testing trip to a nearby mountain destination to test their skis in the real world, and as well to link and position Fjell skiing within the greater and rapidly changing mountain tourism economy. This should involve a discussion meeting with the local destination manager.

The course setup

Students designed and built composite ski constructions from Paulownia wood, hemp fibers and (partly) bio-based epoxy resin, currently being state of the art in environmentally friendly, light and rigid ski construction. The semi-transparent PE base is from recycled Polyethylene, the edges are made from steel with a European recycling rate of about 85%. Students could create their individual top sheet design and documented each step on film and photo, both for their report and future courses, and for a course movie production.


How it worked out – and lessons learned

Overall, three pairs of skis were finished with the regular finish of the course, while the others were ready to be finished in the new year. One pair of skis was exhibited at the AHO Works Exhibition, taking place at the end of each semester, and it was nominated for a design price in the category sustainability. The exhibition of these skis as part of the SOD outcome received a lot of attention, since it marks the re-inclusion of different design fields into SOD teaching beyond service design, in this case primarily industrial/product design, embedded in land use and regional economics.


picture 2

Explosion photo of the layer materials in one of the students’ designed hemp-Paulownia composite skis

Graphical sketch of the ski core production, spontaneously contributed by Oda Heier.



Luthe, T., Lumpe, T., Schwarz, J., Schuetz, M. and K. Shea. 2017. Teaching Systemic Design For Sustainability In Engineering By Building Eco-Skis. Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 9: Design Education, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25.08.2017.ISBN: 978-1-904670-97-1, ISSN: 2220-4342.

Luthe, T. 2017. The Resilience of Snow Sports: From Vision to Transformation. FdSnow 51 2.2017. Fachzeitschrift des Skisports. Planegg, Germany. Deutscher Skiverband, Freunde des Skisports, Stiftung Sicherheit im Skisport (HrsG). ISSN 1864-5593.

Luthe, T., Kaegi, T. and J. Reger. 2013. A Systems Approach to Sustainable Technical Product Design. Combining life cycle assessment and virtual development in the case of skis. Journal of Industrial Ecology 17(4), 605-617. DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12000