In The Field: Pre-season ski tuning 101
In The Field
Back when I was a college racer, I remember a girlfriend finding me in my kitchen with a pair of skis on the table, an iron in my hand and a big red block of Toko wax.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Making my skis go fast,” I replied. “Do you want me to wax your skis, too?”
She said her skis were fast enough. If anything, she wanted them to go slower. I told her it was easier to ski slow on a fast ski. It’s all about performance and control — the right wax gives you the best feeling you can have on snow.
Now that winter has arrived, if you haven’t already, it’s time to look at your skis and boards. You may have purchased new gear at one of the early-season sales or still plan on using your equipment from last season. Now is the time to clean everything up.
Boots and bindings
First, check your boots. Do you still have that good fit? Boots don’t change much, but we do. Losing or gaining weight can make your boots fit differently.
Start by wear your boots around the house for 15 minutes. This is long enough to pinpoint a “hot spot,” where the boot now rubs or pinches your foot.
Next, move through a wide range of motions. Is everything tight and secure?
Now, check your boots and bindings together. Are all attachments and fasteners correctly tightened? If bindings are worn or loose, make the appropriate corrections. If you’re not sure what those are, it never hurts to swing by a local tune shop. Most are still offering pre-season tuning packages.
Skis and boards
Finally, look at your skis, bases and edges. Did you clean and wax your skis at the end of last season? Tell the truth — a coat of storage wax helps protect your base during the hot, dry summer months. If you forgot the storage wax, search closely for dry spots and cracks in older skis.
Now, look closely at the bases and edges for rust or separations. If you have the tools and experience, adjust the fit of your boots, correct binding problems, and repair and tune the skis.
The pro tune
If you’re not sure how to adjust gear, take everything to a professional for fitting of boots, adjustment of bindings and tuning and repairing of skis. A good professional tuning can make more of a difference in your performance than a month of lessons. If you get a top-notch professional tune, you can get an idea of how well you can really ski or ride.
Gear tuning Primer
At the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Bill Johnson won gold in downhill, and Phil and Steve Mahre, respectively, won gold and silver in slalom. Their skis were tuned by Blake Lewis. Later that year, he gave a ski-tuning clinic at the Alpine Coaches Meeting in Denver. I jumped at the chance to participate, and I use the techniques that I leaned at that clinic to this day.
Here is a quick overview:
Start with a perfectly flat ski on a stable workbench or table. Work on the skis with flat files, sandpaper, 3M sanding pads, stone grinding (or the latest sport-specific tools out there), but start flat with the appropriate base structure and a zero to one degree base bevel from tip to tail on the contact portion of the ski.
De-tune (round over the edges on the tip and tail with the flat file) the part that does not ride on the snow. Then, create a progressive bevel of 1.5 to 2 degrees on the six to eight inches of the base at the tip and tail. This allows easy initiation and finish of the turn.
Side bevel (tuning on the contact edges) can be 87 to 90 degrees. Some skis can perform well with even more bevel. This edge should be sharp and kept that way.
Waxing is NOT optional — it is a must. Otherwise, the base dries and literally wears out to the point it will stick to the snow. If you are in a hurry, the bare minimum is paste wax before skiing.
Tuning should be performed regularly every couple of days of riding. The snow wears the wax off and dulls the edges.
Tools needed for basic tuning: ski vises, 8-inche flat mill file, 5-inch panzer body file for edges, iron for waxing, scraper for removing wax, red and blue wax.
Go fast, but stay safe. Enjoy the season.
Dale Fields is a fourth generation Coloradan and full-time resident of Summit County since 1982. He lives with one wife, two dogs and three cats. He has owned and operated a ski shop for 30 years and taught skiing for 25 years.
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