An expert for the boards that mean the world

Thomas Maier tests ski and snowboard equipment at TÜV SÜD

Brake test: TÜV SÜD expert Thomas Maier tests whether the brake on the ski binding stops the ski within the prescribed distance.
Photo: TÜV SÜD

The play of physical forces in the snow: The ski expert can read the release torque for the ski binding on the measuring device´s display.
Photo: TÜV SÜD

With heavy equipment: Material tester Maier measures whether any undesirable changes in release torque emerge on the ski binding through intensive use.
Photo: TÜV SÜD

A new lightness in winter: Ski expert Maier weighs the tested ski, including binding and brake, with a spring scale.
Photo: TÜV SÜD

Working on top of the Hintertux glacier? What may be every skier’s dream is routine for Thomas Maier. The TÜV SÜD expert for sports and leisure equipment regularly tests skis and snowboards out on the slopes.

Thomas Maier watches the cloud of snow the ski stirred up when it started to glide downhill. In the radiant winter sun, the snow crystals turn into a million tiny shining stars. The weather on the Hintertux glacier in the Tux Valley is fantastic. But Maier has no eyes for it. All he´s interested in is whether the ski brake will cause the ski to stop within the prescribed distance. 

Maier is an expert for sports and leisure equipment. His department tests fitness trainers, mountain bikes, electric scooters, climbing harnesses, and sports textiles, among other items. New products are added almost every day.

But today on the glacier, all that matters are skis and bindings. Maier tests the new models. All of them want to get the “Holy Grail”, as Maier calls it: the TÜV SÜD certification mark. Thomas Maier has been with TÜV SÜD since 1990. “If you don't have an affinity for skiing, you shouldn’t even start working here,” he says. Luckily, that’s something the avid winter-sports enthusiast Maier doesn’t need to worry about.

His first day out in the field is something he will always remember. It was also a field test of ski bindings, conducted on the Zugspitze plateau. Ski bindings have always fascinated Maier. “Right now, tech bindings are the latest thing – that’s the mounting system with the steel ‘pins’ which are so important for ski tourers,” Maier explains. Then he adds: “When it comes to the testing procedure, not much has changed in the last few years since there are factors that always stay the same, such as releasing and closing the binding and testing how the binding performs in an emergency. But of course adjustments have to be made sometimes to align new developments and standards with reality.“

“To test according to the standards but not in the field is quite impossible.”

How many products has Maier tested already? The long-time product expert cannot remember. What he knows is that not every product he tested actually passed the test. “Occasionally it happens that someone has a really good idea and builds bindings but is completely unaware of the testing standards. They don´t know what challenges the bindings have to meet and withstand in our testing apparatuses. And as a result, the bindings don´t work.” This doesn´t happen to well known manufacturers – they have numerous test procedures and apparatuses that they employ themselves. But it certainly happens to smaller companies – simply because they don´t have the necessary testing equipment. “When these people end up experiencing our standardized testing procedure, their eyes light up. That´s when they realize the extent of what their invention has to be able to do,” Maier relates. “But we must not forget that we are a testing center. We don´t advise, and we don'´t give recommendations on how to improve anything. But if someone is on site while their product is being tested, it certainly can happen that they have a sudden flash of insight.”

Maier devotes himself to other projects as well such as developing a successful test procedure for adjustable trekking poles, which has since been adopted by almost all testing centers in Germany. 

Meanwhile, the sun is low in the sky above the Hintertux glacier. Yet Thomas Maier still has plenty to do. He repeatedly steps into one of the bindings that lie on the ground in front of him. He critically examines the amount of force that is necessary to lock and release the mechanism. 

For skiers it is absolutely essential that a binding release correctly: “To test according to the standards but not in the field is quite impossible.” And that´s especially true if the tests take place in a landscape as stunning as this.