Preseason Ski Tuning: Getting Your Skis Ready for Snow // Helpful Ski Hints
Fall is in the air, which means it’s the time of the year when skiers start salivating over their gear, and significant others try to squeeze the most out of the last snowless weekends before they lose their partner to the call of the mountains. It also means that it’s time to take out your skis and make sure they’re freshly tuned and ready to go for the winter. While you could always take the “just fix them and tell me what it costs” approach, there’s undoubtedly some of you out there who want to know what things like “stone grind”, and “edge bevels” mean and what it means to your ski. For those of you in the second group, we put together this tuning guide to break down the vernacular and make sure you’re getting exactly what you need when you visit your local shop for your next tune.
After digging your skis out of the garage, basement, attic, barn or wherever you store them, look them over. If the skis are covered in grime or dirt from last season, take them outside and hose them down. It will give you a better look at the bases and edges without the grime, and the techs at the shop will thank you for saving them some time. Have your edges rusted since last season? Chances are you didn’t wipe them down after your last run or your storage area is moist. Both are bad for edges and binding springs. With the skis cleaned, take a look at the bases. As you examine the base material, take note of any gouges you see or feel. Anything deeper than approximately 1mm should be filled with P-tex. This will help reduce the drag on the ski after the base grind and prevent further damage. Larger gouges that penetrate to the core, or “core shots,” should be base welded with a co-polymer or epoxy infused rod to help seal out moisture and help bond P-tex to the surrounding base material. Improperly sealed core shots can allow water in the core, adversely affecting the quality of your skis and possibly causing permanent damage.
With the P-tex in place and just small minor scratches remaining, it’s time for your skis to get a stone grind. This process removes the top layer of base material, grinding away worn out areas while also removing small scratches, excess P-tex, and reminants of the old base structure. The result is fresh layer of base material, and a new base structure that’s ready for waxing. If you’re a frequent skier, particularly one who likes to ski off piste, then you’ll want to keep and eye on your bases. Every 10 days on snow is a good interval for tunes for this type of skier. Snow conditions can also effects the “lasting time” of a good tune. Waxing between grinds helps keep the base material saturated and can extend the amount of time between grinds. Weekend warriors and on piste skiers can usually go longer between grinds.
Alright, now that the bases have been smoothed and ground its time for edges. When it comes to tuning edges there’s only one term to know: “edge bevel.” Believe it or not the edges of your skis don’t come to a full 90 degree angle. If they did, you’d find them unintentionally digging into the snow, even when you don’t want them to. Instead skis come with between a 1 and 3 degree bevel on the side edge, and a 1 degree or less base bevel. With side bevel, the higher the degree, the more grippy the ski will be as moving the “point” of the edge closer underfoot makes it easier to get the ski tipped onto its edge. Conversely, the more base bevel there is, the less grippy the ski will be as a larger bevel moves the base away from the snow, making it more difficult to put on edge. It is important to note that all the different manufacturers have specified edge bevels for their brands and models and your local tuners should have that knowledge to get yours skis back to factory performance. Example: a race may want a 3 degree side and .5 degree base bevel for a “tip and rip” type of carve and ultimate response. If you’re a freestyle skier who’s expecting to hit rails or boxes, a 1 and 1 bevel with heavy de-tuning underfoot will help avoid catching while grinding. A fresh edge grind will remove any built up rust or corrosion from the summer and help you cut through early season man made snow.
Now its time for the last piece of the tuning puzzle, wax. With freshly ground bases and sharp edges its time to make those skis glide! For most recreational skiers there’s no reason to get crazy about the different types of waxes. Typically your basic hydrocarbon wax will do a more than sufficient job of reducing friction and letting your skis glide freely. At most shops, this is what you will get if your tune includes a wax or you ask for a hot wax. These are available in several temperature ranges, and you can bet your local tuner will be using the optimum temp for local conditions. Of course if you are interested in specialty waxes or upgrades there are several additives or options to help further reduce friction on different types of snow.
For high end ski waxes, there are essentially three additives that are mixed into waxes for extra performance. Molybdenum is added for slushy, dirty spring snow, and graphite is for mid winter “hard” snow. These are considered mid-grade additives and are designed to reduce electrostatic friction. At the high end there are fluorocarbon waxes which use fluorine as an additive. These are the high end waxes that racers use. These waxes use fluorine and its naturally hydrophobic qualities to reflect water at a molecular level. Fluorocarbon waxes are very temperature specific and perform best in specified temperature ranges. For most recreational skiers, the performance boost from fluorocarbon waxes isn’t worth the trouble of needing to strip and re-wax the skis depending on temperature and conditions. It should also be noted that the high end waxes mentioned are toxic and should only be applied in well ventilated areas with respirators worn.
And that’s really it! To sum it up, getting your skis tuned is really a simple three step process: smooth bases with P-tex and a base grind, sharpen edges and set bevels, and wax the bases! If you take your skis to the shop and ask for these three things, you’ll end up with a set of skis that feels like new! Don’t forget a binding check while you’re there!