The essential difference between the Standard and the Vector is a layer of vulcanized rubber within the plastic topping—an clement that reduces liveliness, affords the ski a slight degree of twist to control high-speed turns, and allows it to "snake" over bumps without chattering—and an L-shaped steel edge replacing the flat, canted blade on the Standards. Today there are two Vectors: one with aluminum-oxide bottoms for the fast recreational skier and the other with a bright yellow polyethylene base and sharp-edged groove for the racer.
But Head has not stopped there. He has continued to experiment and refine. For specialists he has produced a ski called the Deep Powder. Another, called the Shortski, is "for the 50-year-old doctor who wants to learn how to ski." He makes eight different models in all, each developed with the same meticulous precision and patience that went into the original. "A 10,000th of an inch in the tapering of a ski will change the model," he says. "There are 256 separate steps in the manufacture of Head skis."
Head has also learned to be as meticulous in his merchandising as he is in his engineering. Heads are the hallmark of the specialty ski shop, and their popularity, coupled with stiff fair-trade prices ($98.50 for a pair of Standards), makes them poison to discount houses. Nor is Head impressed by big-name sales. Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, waited nearly eight years before it got its franchise. More than 400 shops carry Heads today, but applications for franchises exceed 2,500.
Dollars in the till
As Head's success has grown so has the number of his imitators and competitors. Today there are more than a dozen manufacturers turning out metal and plastic skis, including world-famous K�stle, Allais and Hart. But they have a lot of catching up to do. This year 56,000 pairs of new skis will move out of the sprawling factory Head has built with his profits, in Timonium, Md., and the company's gross income will be close to $3 million. From the standpoint of prestige skiing, too, Heads are well established. Last year they took first place in four of six races in the newly formed professional racing circuit. Their best performance was at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen when they won the first six places.
Despite his impact on skiing, Head is still not an all-out sportsman, loving chess and bridge, orderly thinking and precise, austere music. He has a massive stone fireplace in his Baltimore living room, and it seems to help keep him earthbound. With a hand upon the stones for balance, he gives the impression of a man who has taken many falls but has finally made a standing run down a long and difficult mountain.