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Tuning up your skis and snowboards

Written by Leon Butler

In this picture: The proper gear for the job.
-7°C
200cm snow
Zermatt, Switzerland

The season is about to start. Is your gear ready? What are you getting when you take your favourite ski or snowboard to your local tuning shop?

You may not know what goes on when your gear gets taken into that dark room in the back of a ski shop, but I’m going to explain why you need to get your gear professionally tuned. Looking after your skis and boards is the same as anything else, be it your car or bike; the more you look after it the longer it will last and the better it will perform.

Skis and boards are designed to have a flat base with bevelled edges allowing for turning initiation. Over time hard pack snow and ice will wear down the edges causing the base to no longer be flat which will have an effect on its performance. You will inevitably hit rocks and take chunks out of the base and again these will cause drag, slow you down and will have an effect on the way you ride.

A good ski tuning workshop will be able to get your skis looking like they are fresh out of the box, starting by repairing the scratches in your ski base with PTEX. It’s possible to do this at home with ‘drip candles’ but they are more of a quick fix, a professional workshop uses high-temperature PTEX guns resulting in a better finish and a more durable repair.

In this picture: A ski that needs PTEX

Next up is to flatten the base on a machine using a mix of different grit belts and a stone grinder. A flat base is important as it means the angle of your edges are true. It’s down to the knowledge of the ski technician as the process involves a certain level of skill and an eye for detail. A good technician will know how much to grind off depending on the brand of ski or how old it is.

The most important part of a tune is the structure of the base, this is the pattern that you can see when you turn the ski over. Without a structure, the ski/board will run slow and not as responsive as it should.

A structure is a very light pattern that is etched into the ski/board by using a stone grinding machine. In essence, the structure allows water to channel out of the base allowing for a smoother glide in snow by working with the wax that has been applied. Ski workshops will create their own structure to suit the conditions of local mountains, but here is a rough explanation of how it works.

“ "The more you look after them, the longer they will last and perform" ”

“ The most important part of a tune is the structure of the base... ”

Imagine two pieces of glass put together with a blob of water between them, if you try to slide the pieces around they won’t as the water has nowhere to go. Now try the same experiment again but first scratch one of the pieces of glass, the water now has channels to flow through which means the two pieces of glass can slide apart.

The exact same principle applies to a ski or snowboard, and the pattern will be changed when the snow temperature changes, the slushier the snow then the more aggressive the pattern needs to be to cope with more water content.

Next up is to tune the edges, the most effective way of doing this is with a ceramic disc but there are various other belts and files that can do a good job too.

In this picture: The result

Angles will vary but for the average skier a 1-degree base bevel with an 89 or 88-degree side edge. The more aggressive skiers will have a steeper angle giving them a more responsive turn.

Detuning is the last step before waxing. Edges need to be slightly detuned in the tips and tails to remove some of the sharpness from a fresh new edge. Most people will have a horrible day if this step is missed, the edges will be too sharp and the ski can hook when turning. Edges want to be sharp but they need to hold well in a turn, this is what ‘detuning’ will help with.

The final step is wax. Wax is often overlooked but it is an important step that works with the structure. Wax works by melting the snow under the ski/board by friction resulting in a glide. If snow is very cold then a harder wax is needed due to the more abrasive colder snow. Spring snow typically requires a warmer/softer wax.

A workshop should adapt their waxing to the current conditions, but this is a part of ski tuning that can be done at home pretty easily.

In this picture: The main reason to tune

Here are a few steps on the proper way to wax your ski or snowboard.

1. Clean base

Use a wax remover to remove any dirt and old wax. A clean base will absorb more wax and give a better result.

2. Application of wax

There are many ways of doing this. My preferred method is to drip a thin line of wax down the ski or board in an ‘S’ shape.

3. Iron

I’m very particular when it comes to ‘ironing’ the wax into the ski. Use an iron where you can easily control the temperature, most waxes are comfortable at around 120 degrees C. Any more than this and you can burn the wax and the iron will smoke too much. When ironing the wax onto the ski, move slowly but consistently along the ski, not in circular motions. Try to create a nice smooth layer of wax, this will make it easier to scrape and will prevent scratching of the ski base. Leave until cool to the touch.

4. Scrape

Always use a plastic scraper and try to keep the edges flat and sharp, this is key to getting a nice finish. The wax that has hardened and cooled down is dead wax, all the goodness has been absorbed into the base so all of its wax needs to be scraped away. Don’t be tempted to re-melt the scrapings as the used wax is no good.

5. Buff

The best way to get a nice finish is to use two brushes and a scotch pad. The first step is to use a brush with a hard bristle and brush from tip to tail, this get rid of any leftover wax. Next, do the same with a soft bristle brush to achieve a nice shine.

Lastly, run a green scotch pad from tip to tail, this lightly breaks up the base’s surface wax and creates a mini structure. Waxing is an art but done properly it will last a week of usual riding depending on snow conditions.

So get down to your local ski shop, you won’t regret it.

Raphael

The part with “A structure is a very light...” is twice in this text.

Martijn

Thanks! We've just adjusted it :)
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