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What Ski Designers Mean by “Metal” and Why It Matters

Adding Titanal to a ski's construction can greatly affect how that ski performs on the hill. Here is what it is and what it does.

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Q: What is Titanal and how does it affect a ski’s performance? —Stephen S., Durango, Colo.

I’ve always just assumed most of SKI’s readers know what we’re talking about when we mention Titanal. My mistake. In short: Titanal is a type of metal.

The majority of skis entered into this year’s SKI Test at Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah have Titanal. Many have two layers of the stuff sandwiching a wood core, and quite a few have modified upper layers that put more (or less) Titanal in key locations. These are factors that SKI references frequently in ski reviews, and we usually note whether or not a ski has Titanal plus how much it has because it’s such an important component that influences how a ski behaves.

Now that you know the basics, let’s get specific. We reached out to a few experts who design skis for further explanation about what Titanal is and how it affects a ski. Some of them got pretty scientific.

“Titanal is an aluminum alloy with titanium, vanadium, and several other alloying elements that give it exceptionally high yield strength,” says K2’s lead ski engineer Jed Yeiser. “It is used extensively in skis (and aircraft, for that matter) due to its high bulk modulus and extremely high yield strength compared to other aluminum alloys. The material has better inherent damping properties than many composites, especially carbon fiber, Kevlar, and, to a lesser extent, fiberglass.”

Carbon fiber and fiberglass, the two materials that Yeiser compares Titanal to, are also common elements of skis and usually weigh a lot less than Titanal. This weight factor is important.

Dear Gear Nerd: What Type of Wood is Best for Skis?

2020-21 Salomon Stance 88 W
An illustration of the Salomon Stance ski, which has Titanal above and below the wood core. Photo: Courtesy of Salomon

“Using Titanal in skis tends to increase a ski’s dampness primarily due to increasing mass, but also due to the material’s ability to absorb energy,” continues Yeiser. “Depending on the shape of the reinforcement, adding Titanal can also improve power transmission throughout the ski, and significantly contribute to both longitudinal and torsional stiffness due to the isotropic nature of the material and relatively high modulus.”

In other words, skis with Titanal tend to be heavier, damper, and stiffer than skis without. And adding too much of this metal will “turn a ski into a planky, dead fish,” notes Ethan Korpi, North American Product Director for Nordica.

More Gear Nerd: Do I Really Need Ski Crampons in the Backcountry?

The way in which Titanal is built into a ski requires modification based on the thickness of the layer—which ranges from 0.3 to 1.2mm—and the amount of Titanal used. Some ski manufacturers only put Titanal under the binding, as that area sometimes needs to be reinforced, while other skis put in two full sheets at 1.2mm thickness. Unless you’re a professional ski racer, you will probably never ski with metal that thick. There are also numerous skis that only have Titanal over the edges (the Völkl Mantra M5), a strip down the middle (the J skis Masterblaster), and a combination of both (K2 Mindbender 108Ti).

Stefan Hausl on Nordica's Enforcer 110.
Stefan Hausl on Nordica’s Titanal-laden Enforcer 110. Photo: Simon Rainer/Courtesy of Nordica

“It is one of the signature components found in almost all high-performance skis that are focused in the Race, Frontside, or All-Mountain categories,” says Jed Duke, Director of Product Marketing at Blizzard/Tecnica, a company that is known for making all of these types of skis with plenty of metal. “[It’s also] sometimes found in the softer snow-oriented Powder categories.”

Speaking of powder skiing, if you’ve ever been on a fat ski with lots of metal—like the Nordica Enforcer 110 or the Völkl Katana—you probably noticed a very stable performance that cuts through soft snow rather than bouncing around.

Related: How Wide is Too Wide For Resort Skis?

“Skis with Titanal are very good at powerfully plowing through all types of terrain, whereas skis with lighter and more energetic layups tend to ‘play’ better,” says Yeiser. Because of this, brands usually add different elements to the construction to add some playfulness to all the damp power that Titanal provides to any ski.

The current “cool kid” in the ski technology is carbon fiber, which we’ll cover in the next Gear Nerd column. Join Outside+ today to make sure you don’t miss it.

Editor’s Note: It’s pronounced “TEET-a-nal.”