NewsWHY CARBON? A guide for those of us who did not pay attention in school

FasterSkierDecember 12, 2006

Carbon technology is far from new. Ancient cavemen used amorphous Carbon in the form of charcoal to make spears and other weapons. This was the first example of sporting goods that used Carbon technology. Amorphous Carbon is one of the three primary allotropes of Carbon. Diamonds are the most glamorous of the Carbon allotropes but not necessarily the most expensive. Graphite is the third and perhaps most widely used allotrope of Carbon. It’s from Graphite that we get Carbon Fiber for modern sporting goods. Carbon has dozens of lesser used allotropes including nanotubes and nanofoam.


Carbon Fiber is made by weaving together threads of Carbon filament. These filaments are created by a heating process that is void of oxygen. Sheets of woven graphite are formed that incorporate various polymers. A high grade Carbon sheet will be close to 95% Carbon, a low grade sheet is closer to 80%. Manufacturers can give their Carbon sheets specific characteristics in flex or strength through post production heating. Subject the sheets to a low temperature heating process and the Carbon will be extremely strong and rigid. This is ideal for Nordic poles. Put the sheets through a high temperature process and you have very flexible Carbon. This flexibility is the choice for the soles in Nordic boots. What is considered low and high temperatures are relative to Carbon production, the low temperatures do not go below 1500 degrees C. and the high temperatures are around 3000 degrees C.

Claudia Kuenzel competing on Atomic’s Carbon boot. Even though Claudia was an art student, she provides the input of a trained engineer.

Nordic racing first incorporated Carbon technology in the mid 1970’s with very light, very stiff and very fragile racing poles. That was the curse of all Carbon Fiber sporting goods in the 1970’s. Fly rods, golf clubs and Nordic poles made of Carbon were brittle and prone to breakage. It was difficult to ski more than 500 meters of the Birkie trail without seeing the remains of a broken Carbon pole. Refinements in the weaving process, better polymers and reinforced filaments have made modern Carbon Fiber every bit as rugged as fiberglass or polyurethane. Landsem was the first ski company to introduce Carbon Fiber technology in 1980 with a core made primarily of high grade Carbon Fiber. Atomic followed suit in 1985 with the Atomic Turbo series of race skis. Atomic had way cooler names for skis back then. Look followed suit by incorporating Carbon in the Contact System binding in 1986. The virtue and popularity of Carbon Fiber in sporting goods comes from the unequaled lightness and rigidity of Graphite. A sheet of Carbon Fiber can be 80% lighter than a same size sheet of lightweight plastic. The rigidity of Carbon is exceptional, it can be every bit as strong as tempered steel at just a fraction of the weight.

America’s Dave Chamberlain testing the classic flex of Atomic’s Carbon sole. Atomic values international input. (photo by Pete Vordenberg)

In summary, the challenge of a good Carbon race boot is to be soft where it needs to be soft, rigid where it needs to be rigid while remaining light and comfortable. Atomic is refining Carbon Technology for Nordic boots. Irina Malgina of Russia and Andrea Henkel of Germany have already taken Worldcup victories on Atomic’s Carbon boots. Our goal is to have 60% off the Nordic athletes at the 2010 Olympics on Atomic boots.

Source: Atomic

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