Ara Nazarian and Ken Rodriguez met in the early 1990s in a lab on Brookline Avenue in Boston. Ara, a biomedical engineer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was working there, and Ken, a orthopedic surgeon, was a medical student.
Over the years, they’ve collaborated on various projects. They’ve also shared an interest in skiing.
Rodriguez skis conservatively: “I’m a trauma surgeon. I know how badly you can get hurt,” he said.
Nazarian is “quite the opposite” type of skier, Rodriguez said.
One of their medical projects involved the shape-memory alloy Nitinol, which has a variety of medical uses, such as cardiac stents, because it can return to its original shape when heated. They don’t recall when they started connecting Nitinol with skiing, but somewhere along the line their professional experiences and personal interests came together and they decided to launch Verispellis Skis.
“We started fooling around with the idea of skiing, and how we could make skiing better,” Rodriguez said.
As they thought about how skis were made, they realized many had a metal core.
“There’s no reason why you couldn’t just change that and put in some of the fancier metals that are out there, particularly Nitinol, and [we thought] what would happen if we did that?” Rodriguez said. “Then we came up with all these crazy ideas, like you could potentially have a shape-shifting ski.”
This wasn’t like making skis for the Terminator or something even wilder. Instead, they went to Boston-based Parlor Skis to build a prototype that contained a layer of Nitinol and had a small battery attached behind the bindings.
The concept sounds high-tech but actually is simple. One constant in skiing is the snow, which is always at or below freezing temperature. So the Nitinol in Verispellis skis, which is rigid at normal temperatures, softens and transforms into a forgiving ski that is helpful in navigating certain conditions and makes them more enjoyable. But if a stiffer ski is desired for going fast, carving big turns, or other situations, activating the battery pack heats the Nitinol and it returns to its rigid original state even though it is on the cold snow.
While it sounds like the kind of high-tech feature that might only appeal to advanced gear wonks who are really into their setups, there’s another way to look at it.
“When I heard this idea, I thought it could appeal to a pretty broad base,” said Arman Serebrakian, a Harvard plastic surgery resident and an Olympic ski racer who is helping Nazarian and Rodriguez with the development and testing of the skis. “Even people who are just past the beginner stage … Their skill level is changing, so their level of aggression is changing and different skis are useful.”
Verispellis is still in its infancy, however. The plan is to test the prototypes this season, then invite a group of associates to be the first to have pairs of skis custom made before fully going to market with them.
“For us, and the East Coast specifically, you get all kind of temperature changes in a day. You come in on hardpack in the morning, and then lunchtime it’s like mashed potatoes and gravy,” Nazarian said. “It helps when you have a stiff ski that is great in the morning, but it’s not so forgiving when you’re on slush. To me, I’ve always thought catching an edge becomes much easier when you’re on the wrong ski on the wrong environment.”
Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.