By Tony Crespi
“You can maximize performance by skiing a tuned ski,” noted PSIA examiner and Bromley Pro Charlie Rockwell. “Skiing a tuned ski means you are better able to perform at your highest level.”
This year tuning may never have been more critical.
Have you ever sliced bread or cut a piece of fruit with a dull knife? Just as a sharp knife can slice food quickly and easily so a tuned ski can slice hard snow with ease while an un-tuned ski makes skiing less than ideal. Still, sharp edges tell only part of the tale. A waxed ski turns more easily, pivots more easily and glides more easily.
“The results of a fresh, quality, tune are clearly evident,” noted Mike DeSantis, a former World Cup Tuner who operates SkiMD outside Boston. He is an industry leader who tuned skis for many top U.S. racers. “If you ski on a ski that is untuned, it’s like a carpenter with dull tools. A dull knife doesn’t cut meat like a sharp knife and a dull ski doesn’t cut ice like a sharp ski!”
Increasingly a 1-degree base angle and 2- or 3-degree side edge angle depending on preference creates a powerful tune. Truly, the set up can make the performance.
So, know that tuning is critical. This year the hardpack has dulled many edges. In fact, a hard day or two of skiing can dull most edges. Still, what should you know to effectively tune your skis? What can you do daily to maintain a well-tuned ski? The good news is that a select number of shops offer outstanding factory tunes. Moreover, with a few home tuning tools, skis can readily be maintained. Welcome to our “tuning clinic.”
The skier’s guide to edge care
Wipe your skis after use. Elite skaters wipe edges regularly. Similarly, wiping your skis minimizes corrosion and helps remove chemicals and pollutants which can damage edges and base. Keep a small hand towel in your boot bag and wipe the skis at the end of the day. Wipe your expensive skis.
Inspect the bases. Ski bases perform best when free of major gouges. Check the bases. Either fill or have the shop fill any notable gouges.
Use a file holder to keep side edges smooth and sharp. To start, purchase a “file holder” and diamond stone. Ask the shop for the side edge “setting” on your ski. If unsure of factory specifications many shops recommend a 2- or 3-degree side bevel to maximize edge hold and grip.
To start focus solely on side edges. Base edges are filed and polished much less frequently and can typically be addressed by a shop annually.
Use a diamond stone—a blue stone is nice medium grit—to eliminate the dings and marks on the side edge. Use a file holder to keep the stone “square, flat, and even” against the ski. Gently move the stone on the side edge until burrs are removed, and the edge smooth. Use “ski brake holders” to keep the brakes out of the way. (Thick rubber bands can work nicely).
If the edges are dull you may need to use a file. Mark the edges with black or blue magic marker and work tip to tail. Gradually remove the magic marker! Purchase a file from a ski tuning supplier as ski edges are harder than most hardware files. A small ski shop file can quickly restore sharpness. Following filing use a diamond stone to polish.
Wax. Waxing protects the base and allows a ski to glide and turn more easily. Many racers and pros hot wax skis. But, an improper iron can damage a base. The Pro Glide from SkiMD can safely and quickly “melt” wax into the base using friction. The skier simply rubs buffs wax from a bar onto the base and polishes the base with the PPro Glide. The friction melts the wax into the base without an iron. Waxing protects the base and maintains easy gliding and turning qualities.
Ski tuning sharpening tools
For those interested in tuning and general maintenance the good news is that a variety of tools are readily available through “mountain shops” or on-line distributors.
Fundamentally, those interested in tuning will benefit from a file and diamond stone “holder.” These can vary from a basic plastic holder with a variable side edge setting such as the FK Variable Sharpener which sells with a file for approximately $30, to the SKS Racing Combo for approximately $120 which includes a carbide steel bit for highly precise side-edge tuning and which includes small wheels to avoid filings from impacting the base. Finally, several manufacturers, including FK/SKS Tools and Sun Valley Tools sell metal side edge holders. All vary slightly in accuracy but can serve as invaluable tools for tuning.
Just a little maintenance, consistently, can provide a great, well, edge. Literally a rag, a diamond stone, a plastic side edge guide, and paste wax can serve as foundation tools.
If you are new to tuning, consider a tuning video or tuning lesson. Maximize your investment.
Tony Crespi has served as both a ski school supervisor and development team coach. A frequent contributor to publications throughout snow country, his column and instructional pointers are published throughout the season.