Hexcel Skis and Graves Skis

The archives of the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. contain a significant collection of Howard Head’s papers.  Part of that collection is the “Honeycomb Ski” journal which documents Head’s development work from May 1947 to March 1948.  As an aeronautical engineer Head knew that a honeycomb core could provide a weight advantage in a ski just as it had in airplanes.  However test skis with the honeycomb broke too easily and Head ended up substituting a heavier plywood core.

A collection of Hexcel Skis

A collection of Hexcel Skis

Last week’s Ski Bum of the Week was also the first one with the correct answer to last week’s trivia question.  Ken Duclos identified Hexcel as the first ski with an aluminum honeycomb core.

The Hexcel Corporation started in 1946 as a provider of strong lightweight materials primarily to the defense aerospace industry.  The lunar lander for our trips to the moon utilized Hexcel materials.  In 1971 Hexcel began making skis with an aluminum honeycomb core.

Hexcel skis were less than half the weight of comparable other skis.  Bob Burley says that they were “light and quick edge to edge. Very high energy ski for its time period. I raced them very successfully in Slalom for a couple of years.” However Ken and several others commented on how the Hexcels were prone to breaking, bending, or denting.

Will Spalding who used to work in a ski shop commented on what a pain it was to mount bindings on Hexcels. “You had to use a drill bit or a nail to break away the honeycomb inside the skis after drilling them, then inject epoxy in the screw holes, and then after you screwed the bindings down you had to leave the skis upside down overnight to let the epoxy cure.”

Me on Hexcels Chamonix 1973

Me on Hexcels Chamonix 1973

I had a pair of the original Hexcel Comps in a 210cm length and I loved them.  The original model had a cracked edge at the tip which did lead to delamination.  When I obtained a later model of the Comp, Hexcel had done away with the cracked edge and I didn’t like the ski nearly as much.  I don’t think it was just the missing cracked edge, but I believe the design had also been influenced by the “in” technique of that time (see this week’s trivia question.)

Hexcel skis were expensive to manufacture and by the end of the 1970s the Hexcel Corporation was looking to get out of the ski business.  The Hanson Company known for its rear entry ski boots purchased the ski portion of Hexcel and continued to produce the skis under the Hanson name.  Hanson went bankrupt in 1981 which ended the Hexcel ski story.

So let’s move from a ski that had a reputation for breaking to a ski that was unbreakable.  And I don’t mean that they were just guaranteed against breakage.  Several ski companies including Head and hart guaranteed their skis.  If you broke one of their skis, they would replace them.  However Graves skis were really unbreakable!

Ad for Graves Skis

Ad for Graves Skis from the Bend, Oregon Bulletin Jan. 13, 1971

About the same time that Hexcel skis appeared, the Graves Ski Company in Newburyport, Massachusetts, began making skis that were entirely fiberglass with a foam core.  They claimed that you could take the tip of the ski and bend it back to touch the tail of the ski without breaking.

We never figured out how to try that test, but we would suspend the ski with just the tip and tail supported by chairs, and then get the heaviest guy in the room to jump with both feet on the unsupported center of the ski. The ski never broke and always returned to its original shape.  In fact it returned to its shape with a vengeance that usually shot the guy jumping on it across the room!

In ski testing a pair of Graves, I experienced that strong rebound firsthand.  I skied through a small dip at moderate speed and suddenly it seemed like I was 5 feet in the air.  The camber rebound was amazingly powerful.

On the web at least one person nominated the Graves as the worst ski ever.  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it certainly was a strange ski.  If you have any stories about Graves or other strange skis, please post a comment here!

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56 Responses to Hexcel Skis and Graves Skis

  1. Lyndall Heyer says:

    Darn, I missed the Hexcel question in last weeks paper .I would have answered it .I raced on the Womens Pro Tour for 2-3 years on Hexcel skis and won races. I loved my Hexcels and never broke one. They were light, quick responsive and held well. They were hard to mount. I have a pair in the attic and am looking for a pair of Salomon 727 toe pieces to get them back in working order . I enjoy your articles!!

    • Debra Parsons says:

      have a pair of my husbands Hexcel Honeycomb/Prepreg skis in garage with solomen 727 bindings on them….1970s vintage ….

  2. Rick Rowell says:

    I was a nationally ranked junior racer for a few years in the 60′s. I started racing on Hart Jr. Comps. The Harts were good but heavy for young muscles. Great at GS but challenging in slalom. With Look Beconta bindings, the swing weight was quite high. I broke the tip off during a race, received a new pair, and sold them immediately.

    When I outgrew those I raced on K2 Comps with the red, white, blue stripes. HOT skis. They were better as they aged – more supple but with snap when you needed them. The light weight required you to use light weight bindings. Loved my Salomons. Overall, my most successful racing combo. Fisher sponsored our team and we had to ski on them. I was never happy and switched out my skis whenever I could.

    The last comp skis I owned were Hexcel Comps. Unbelievably light with a consistent feel. They could even be skied in deep powder as they floated quickly and were easy to glessande. Won a number of slaloms and giant slaloms in my late teens with these. I did get 2 replacement pairs due to delamination and broken tail. They never tired me out in training.

    I loved them so much that I bought Hexcel Firelights for moguls and tricks. WOW! Fun, super light, with incredible snap. Shattered 3 pair in 2 seasons; always at the binding mounts. I have my last pair in a ski bag in my attic for nostalgia sake.

  3. Richard J Patrick says:

    Wow, I have finally found a something on Graves skis. I sure would like to find a pair. I was with the U.S.Army at Fort Devens in the early 1970s and we had Graves skis! They had a white top sheet with 10th SFGA printed on the tail. Been looking for a pair since . They were beasts, indestructable, and heavy.

    • Casey says:

      Wow you are lucky first time. I used to go to steamboat, never got ot be a rellay good skier, though. They will probably have a school for you there, where they will teach you how to snow plow ski. Even if you have never skied, you will only need two or three hours of instruction to snow plow, stopping and turning is easy, you will be able to handle all the “Green-coded slopes”. Buy ski clothes, Gortex if you can afford it, dont try skiing in your blue jeans cuz ya WILL be falling down, and you dont rellay want to get wet and miserable early in the day. Have fun.

    • Hey Richard

      For the right price; I’d be receptive to parting with my Graves GS (210cm). Regardless of the ribbing a good buddy and I used to get for using them; they served me well. I later mounted Salomon adjustable rental bindings to them so anybody interested could give them a try. Their flexibility is still in them; I wonder if it will ever disappear. I likewise have demonstrated the ice pick trick to friends by driving an ice pick into them, pulling out the ice pick and later looking for the hole.

      Similar to owning Graves; In the mid-90′s I joined the management team at Sunshine Village Ski Resort. When it was learned I used Spademan bindings on my Pre 1200′s, the vice-president of the resort took me aside and offered me a brand new pair of Salomons with bindings on the condition I would never use my Spademans on the hill. I took him up on the offer. This was at the same time as everybody said that snowboarding would never last.

    • Stece says:

      I was the general manager of Graves skis in the late 70s. I still have a few pair of the newer model. New for that time anyway. I know the history of the company better than most. Ask away.

      • Michael says:

        Hi what year did they closed. And do you remember when they made ski’s for the ski patrol, I was looking for a old pair.

  4. Walt MacKenzie says:

    I have Hexcel Touring—no problems.
    I also have a pair of honeycomb skis which to my understanding were tested for the US cross-country team in 1971-72. Hexcel denied they ever made them when I asked.
    BUT they are red and have a Hexcel symbol on the tip, and they have serial number
    and length[I believe 210s as they are stored and not with me. AND they were given to me by one of the Hexcel inventors. 3 1/2 lbs w/rattraps & great racers.

  5. Ed Martin says:

    I use to work at Graves in the early 70′s

  6. Edward Poczatek says:

    I have a “NEW” never mounted pair of 1980 Hexcel Comps. Would like to sell or trade. What do you think value would be ? 210 length

  7. michael toner says:

    I ski raced as a kid, pretty intensely from 1965-1970. Between 1963 and 1968 my Dad was involved twith the ownership and/or design of the Graves skiis. In those days, serios ski were coming out of Eurpoe (France in particular with Rossignol and Dynamic). The Graves ski was almost “unskiable”. It was ridiculously heavy and not responsive. In those days, you went through two pairs of racing skis in a season so durability was not a benefit. You may also be interested to know that my Dad partnered with a a famous Czeck freedom fighter, Joe Hurka, on the ski. Joe was a great skier and skied with his infant son (now a professor at Tufts and author) in a papoose on his back when he visited us at Pleasant Mountain. Shawneee Peak. Incredible history to live through. (PS: I had a pair of Hexcels too.They were a good light weight slalom ski in the day….)

  8. Mike says:

    My buddies and I were in high school in 1974 when we went one night down to the ski shop here in Minneapolis with our hard-earned money and bought brand-new Hexcels. I selected 195cm Comps. One buddy bought Sundances (not great for icy Minnesota skiing, but phenomenal in the mountains). My brother and another friend got Hexcelites. Man, were we cool, riding on the toughest skis on the slopes! I race a bit on my Comps, but mostly just enjoyed the hell out of them. And I’ve still got them, 40 years later. I ski on them every chance I get. Most people don’t have a clue what they are, but every now and then some other skier absolutely flips out over them. One day, a young kid running a trial for some new ski offered to let me try out the latest and greatest: They were no where near as fun, fast, or exciting as my four-decades-old Comps. I told him he should try MY skis, but he seemed very dubious. I recently found a pair of 190cm Sundances and am in the process of remounting the bindings (not an easy task!). And I’m always on the lookout for more Hexcels…

  9. Jim says:

    I owned a pair of Graves back in the 70′s wshen I was on the Mt. Sunapee ski patrol. They were certainly heavy but they tracked well. I liked them, in fact I’m tempted to take them out of the barn, remove the straps, install brakes and try them on today’s mountain. Certainly a conversation starter.

  10. ski9600 says:

    @Mike, I’m sure you might be talking about Hoigaard’s in Minneapolis. That’s where I got my gear when I was an ankle biter.

  11. Jane says:

    I remember a pair of handmade Hexcel skiis built in the basement of the University of Nevadq, Reno, and use at Mammouth Mountain, early 1970′s?? Bob McKee and Hib Zemke?

    • Larry Taylor says:

      I went to UNR around that time and remember several of the professors there always working on Hexels. We used to go talk to them and ask questions.

  12. GREG POLSKI says:

    GRAVES SKIS…………….THERE MOTO WAS I DIG GRAVES………..REALLY !

    ANYWAY , I STILL HAVE A PAIR IN THE 185 CM LENGTH AND THEY ARE FOR SALE (952-435-5856)
    I ALSO HAVE FOR SALE A PAIR . ROSSIGNOL STRATO 102`S IN THE 180 CM , STRATO AR`s IN THE 200 CM , ORANGE AND BLACK ROSSI COMP`s 205CM AND TWO PAIR OF ST COMP`S (ONE PAIR UNMOUNTED 200CM )ONE PAIR OF 185 CM…….ALL MOUNTED SKIS HAVE NEWER BINDINGS AND CAN BE SKIED THE SAME DAY YOU GET THEM .
    I HAVE HART STANDARDS AND A PAIR OF 360`S .
    ONE PAIR OF THE NEW AND THE OLD JAVELIN`S BOTH IN THE 195 AND 200 CM.
    I HAVE ONE PAIR OF VR 17`S
    A COUPLE OF K2
    3`s , 4`s AND 5`s WITH ONE PAIR OF WINTERHEATS

    AS I MENTIONED EARLIER …………..ALL SKI`S ARE IN VERY GOOD TO EXCELLENT CONDITION WITH MODERN BINDINGS……………I SKI THESE SKI`S EVERY YEAR AT THE LOCAL SLIDE AND GLIDE (BUCK HILL).
    LEAVE A MESSAGE IF I DONT ANSWER
    THE RETRO SKIER,
    – POLSKI -

  13. Rick Brown says:

    I bought a pair of Graves in the mid 70′s while on Ski Patrol in Central NY. They were touted as an “Eastern Ski” with very strong edges for the ice and hard pack. I signed up for a trip to Salt Lake City to ski Snowbird, Park City, Park City West and Alta. Everyone around me told me not to take the Graves as they would be too this and too that. Well, having little money to spare, I did take them and they were great in the powder with the very wide shovel. But what was a real surprise, was that Snow Bird Rentals only carried Graves skis – hundreds of them because of their durability and performance in the powder. I left with a higher respect for them and had a bunch of buddies on the trip singing a new song about Graves. Sorry to see them go out of business!

  14. Chuck Felix says:

    I to had a pair of hexcel comps 210cm back in time and carved up the mountains around Banff, great skis wish I kept them to have as a conversation piece.

  15. Bruce Whitney says:

    John Breen I each owned Graves skis while on Dutch Hill Ski Patrol in Vermont in the early 70′s. I cracked them and they were replaced. I recall that they also had a somewhat of a self-healing topskin. Heavy as all get out but on young legs I could make them sing down the Windmill and Christiana, likely still among the steepest trails in Vermont. ON big snowstorm nights (before illuminated night skiing), I skied in the headlights of the groomer that my dad piloted. I may still have an I DIG GRAVES sticker or two in a box somewhere – the stickers were generic looking – as if they were stamped rather tha printed !

  16. eric klein says:

    Does anyone recall a brand of wood ski’s in the late 70′s called A&T (if memory serves me right that was the name). I had them as a little kid but always wanted the Rossi. Smash J’s !

  17. Dawn Sinclair says:

    I have a pair of Hexcel Silver 180s with Geze70 bindings that need a good home. They are in excellent shape – bought them in 1989, loved skiing them for 5 years, have been in their bag in a back bedroom since 1994. Any idea what they might be worth? You can contact me at 602-909-5156 or dawnsinclair@cox.net

  18. Peter Fedders says:

    Hey I have a pair of these Red Graves Skis with the words SKI PATROL on them they say they are graves competion and lifetime molded Glass. Just looking on some more information on them.

  19. Dave R. says:

    I had a pair of the original Comps in 195 length for a few seasons in the late ’70′s. Mounted Tyrolia 350 bindings on them myself. Even with those heavy bindings, they were light and quick, and had a good grip on hardpack and ice. In powder though, they were narrow-waisted and stiff, and sunk to the bottom and stayed there with my limited powder technique. And with the light weight, they did not feel so stable at higher speeds. I made one trip with them to Aspen over Christmas, 1977 or 1978. On Christmas day I stopped at Gretel’s restaurant for lunch, and noticed a pay phone on the wall of the dining room. While at the phone calling my parents to wish them Merry Christmas, I noticed a luscious redhead at a table looking at me more than once. I’m pretty sure it was Jill St. John, the actress. She was a few years older than me, and I didn’t know she was single at the time. I watched her leave and get into a pair of Hexcels like mine, only shorter. Hexcels seemed to be the in ski with her group at the time. If I only knew then what I know now.

  20. Moe Zuk says:

    I owned a pair of Sundance 2 Hexcel that I bought in Colorado in 1974. I loved those skis. I would love to own another pair of Hexcel Sundance 190cm or 195cm. Does anybody have a pair that they would be willing to sell? It would sure make an old man happy… to be flying down the mountain on a pair of Hexcels again…! Can anybody help? contact: morriezuk@sbcglobal.net

  21. Phil Brooks says:

    I am still skiing on my 35 year old hexcel skis. I refuse to give them up. I sure do get a lot of looks on the mountain. My response, would you like to try them? So far no takers. They seem to be afraid of them.

  22. Ron S says:

    I have a pair of lightly used Hexcel Motivators. Doe anyone know what years they were made. I am too old now to use them in case someone wants to buy them.

  23. wayne kay says:

    I enjoyed my green comps. they were fast and light,then I switched to the
    gray-silver split tails,and did I ever get a responce of “do they work”.
    I also own a pair of GOLD GRAFITE 203 gs I ski Killington in vermont.

  24. Donna says:

    I have a pair of Hexcel skis model # 532HS USA – how much are they worth? Thanks.

  25. Mark Guyer says:

    Have a story for you guys (and some skis for somebody):

    In about 1985, I was building a plant in Arizona for Hexcel / B-2 Program. Hub Zemke still had a press and was building a few skis still for Hexcel’s chosen customers. This was play employment for Hub and very low volume.

    I needed his press and took it from him at an agreed time. During the transition, he built 2 sets of 185 Sundance skis for me. They are still new. They are in my sump pump room in Wichita, KS. I just put an ad on Armslist (Other, misc items) to sell these as part of my downstairs clean-up. I did just forward this information to someone on this site also who left an email.

  26. Mark Guyer says:

    guyermg@gmail.com or jbnjbq14@gmail.com if anybody is interested in these. I did just email Moe Zuk above with some pictures to see if there was some interest.

  27. Tim Kelley says:

    I raced on a borrowed pair of Hexcel xc racing skis at the 1974 Jr. Nationals at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Another racer, Mark Wagner, also raced on Hexcels. We were the only two skiers racing on non-wood skis that year.

  28. Jeff A says:

    Not sure of the exact dates but my father was involved with running the Graves ski company in Newburyport. I have one pair of skis left but wish I had saved more. I would really love to have a pair of the 20/20 model which my father helped brand – if anyone has a pair please let me know.

    They were way ahead of their time in one area (at least in the planning stage) which was having custom artwork on the ski. I remember some samples with some pretty wild artwork over a white background. Never went to market but reminiscent of some of the graphics today…

    I remember the I DIG GRAVES stickers and one of their ads featured a tractor or maybe a small bulldozer running over a ski and it returned back to original shape.

    I also believe they were one of the first companies to move into Newburyport as part of its revitalization.

  29. Terry Kirxh says:

    I have a pair of rare Hexcel Blue Ice Skis. Anyone interested in buying them?

  30. Phil Wortz says:

    One of my most prized possessions is a pair of Hexcel “International” skis (191cm) that originally had Look bindings that got swapped out in the mid 1980′s for Solomons. The last time I ski’d them was 2003 and man did I get some looks. A ski patrol even stopped me just to check out my sticks. He was in his early 20′s and couldn’t believe I wasn’t on the shaped ski bandwagon and said he’d never even heard of Hexcel. At the time I got them (1980ish), they had paper “Team USA (Olympics)” stickers just behind the bindings. I have never seen another pair of “Internationals” and can’t even find a picture of them on the net but surely I’m don’t have the only pair ever made? Has anyone else ever seen them? P.S. I’ve since made the switch to shaped skis and doubt I could even ride the old Hexcels…but would never part with them.

  31. Jim Goza says:

    Nostalgia overload! Classic contrast! I owned a pair of 200-205 cm. black-colored Graves in 1975-76 and they were indeed indestructible. And that was by far their distinguishing characteristic. They were leaden. What a different direction with Hexcel at that same time! Impossibly light – you could feel underfoot how fragile they were. And so they were exhilarating and almost air-like to move around on. Similarly, around that same time, I had a pair of orange colored 205 cm. Head racing skis that were a honeycomb composition. Head XRTs or something like that. Best ski I EVER owned. Does anyone out there remember those? Kind of dreamsicle orange with yellow letters and logo? Super cool skis.

  32. My dad bought a pair of Graves GR Model (200 length?) for me in 1971. Last time I skied on them was 1992. They are in my basement. Still in perfect shape, original camber, etc. They are really heavy, like slate, but they held an edge on ice and were incredibly stable for a teenager who liked to ski fast and didn’t care much about quick little slalom turns. Didn’t ski for 10 years after I started a family. Then, took them to Okemo to learn. I rented pair of shaped Salomon “X-Scream” skis for myself. They were so easy to turn, I joked that the 10 year layoff made me a better skier! It was near the end of the season, so I got the rental people to sell them to me (with bindings) for $50. I’m still skiing on them! I am tempted to get bindings put on the Graves, though, and just see what I can/can’t do…

  33. mtngravy says:

    Wow, kind of shocked there’s actually an active discussion board on Hexcels. I owned a used gear shop in Montana for most of the nineties when Hexcels we still being regularly reborn as tele skis. Their weight made them an obvious choice for a tele ski as the boots were still mainly leather and the heavier (normal) DH skis tended to rip the pin holes out. Must have mounted at least 100 pair with tele bindings, and it was definitely a bit of a pain in the kazoo, but well worth it. Fantastic float in the powder (sundance) and plenty stiff (comp) for tele racing, yet light enough to skate on. Didn’t realize people actually wanted these again. I’ve got dozens of pairs. Sundances, comps, splitails, Hansens….
    If you’re serious drop me and email and we’ll talk. mtngravy@gmail.com

  34. Don A Lichtblau says:

    Is this site still active ?

  35. Tim Linerud says:

    I loved my Comps in 195cm I got in 1976. I also used work as a ski tech @ Oshmans in the late 70′s, and had to build the curing rack for these skis. The factory kit included the epoxy and the instructions in the article was spot on. Loved those skis and how light, and quick edge to edge they were.

  36. Jimmy the Kidd says:

    I can’t believe there is an active discussion about Hexcel Skis! I got a pair of navy Hexcel comps as my first ski around 75 or 76. Way fast, light, quick to edge and very predictable. Tore them up getting started in racing. Later got a pair of split tails and they were faster, quicker and lighter. Almost scary fast. I liked the way they would carve on hard pack courses and smooth out the chop. Nothing like it at the time. My 200 cm spit tails never had much camber but cruised smooth and fast. Still have them in excellent shape with Tyrolia 490′s on them. Only used them for racing. Also got a pair of Hexcel/Hansen Graphite’s 195cm that I had my old Tyrolia 360′s mounted on. Hind sight not being 20-20, should have bought new bindings (I was a kid?). The Hanson Graphite’s were the first skis I could make it to the bottom of Pallavacini at A Basin on in one stand. Best all around ski I ever rode. Still have good camber. The thing that got me hooked is the fact that the Hexcel company got a start making parts for the lunar lander and rover on the NASA moon shots. Guess I was an early geek? Real space age skis man. Nice to know the company went on to continue to make aerospace composites. My beautiful wife wants me to toss them. I think I might hang on to them a little longer for a man cave. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  38. Robert MacAlpine says:

    I
    have Hexcel Primer Cord 190 with Tyrolia 490 bindings. Very little use (3-5 times). Purchased in early 80′s. Interested in selling.

  39. We are compiling a library of retro ski information and images. We are based in Reno and are planning on doing an article on Hexcel since they were based here. If anyone has first hand information on thecompany or worked for them please contact me. In the meantime, feel free to look at our “All things” retrospect on pugski.com.

  40. Jeff A says:

    Wasn’t there Hexcel Skunk Works with a v-tail in the early eighties? I skied Hexcel Sundance, Burt retractable bindings and Scott boots. That was about fifty pounds ago.

    • Kevin Liimatta says:

      Yes. Hexcel spilt tails or swallow tails. I just bought two pair (190 and 195s). I always wanted a pair when I raced in high school. I put a crazy pair of yellow Look bindings on them. They have very little camber, and it seems like you have to really work to turn them. They do get looks on the hill.

  41. jerry davis says:

    looking for a pair of Navy/Green Hexcell skis for a friend. Any size will do…he is working on a ski equipment room in his basement and wants them for decorative purposes…

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