The quick answer? Yes. And, no. Part of it depends upon you and your family. How well do you ski? How often do you ski? Where do you ski? What is the snow like? Do you like doing things yourself? Do you have a teen or tween that you can enlist as your home ski tech?
Skis need to be maintained throughout the ski season. A basic rule of thumb is that you need to tune your skis after 8-10 days on snow. As you ski, ski edges dull and the wax on the ski the bases scrapes off. Some of this depends upon snow conditions. If you’re only skiing powder (lucky you), your edges and base are going to last longer. If you’re skiing hard pack snow (or ice), your edges will wear down quicker and you’ll miss their sharpness more. Waxed base wears down at different rates, as well, with hard pack and ice taking the base off more quickly.
You can tell if your edges need sharpening by lightly sliding your finger along the edges of the skis. If they feel rough, or “burred”, it’s time for a tune. Well-waxed bases should shine. If they look dry, it’s time for a tune. Even if they don’t look dry, you can wax them. When my boys were racing, they had a coach who suggested they wax their skis after each outing. “Keep waxing ’em and they’ll just go faster and faster,” he told them.
If you ski a lot in one season, tuning your own skis may save you a lot of money. Sure you have the initial investment in tools and wax, but after that first layout, you’ll be saving money and have more control over the condition of your skis.
Here’s what you need:
Three Brushes — Stiff brass, horsehair, nylon
A file and edge tool
An Arkansas stone
Giant rubber bands
A bench of some sort to hold your skis in place while you work on them.
As with any D.I.Y. project, you can spend as much as you want on tools. We use Holmenkol ski wax and tools, and on their website you can find everything from tools and wax suitable for weekend skiers, to tools and wax suitable for World Cup racers. My best advice would be to visit your ski shop and see what they sell. Talk to them and if they can’t help you out, contact a Holmenkol or Swix rep.
Ski Tuning 101
Once you’ve got the tools, the fun begins. Seriously, it is fun.
1. Set up your table or bench. Retract the ski bindings out of the way. Secure ski to the table or bench.
3. Brush the bases in one direction. Start with the stiff brass brush. Repeat 5-10 times. Next use the horsehair brush for 5-10 times. Finally, use the nylon brush, again repeating 5-10 times.
4. Sharpen the edges with the file and edge tool. Repeat until the edge is sharp enough to lightly cut your fingernail (the big flat part) as you run it along the edge. Only do the top edge. Don’t mess with the base edge. In fact, aside from waxing, all base work needs to be done by a pro.
6. Wax your skis. While you may want to vary the type of wax you use with temperature and condition, we generally stick to an all-purpose wax, like Holmenkol Beta. With an iron, drip wax along the base of your skis. Smooth out the wax with the iron. When you’ve got a nice even coating of wax, let the skis sit. Usually we try to let them rest about 2 hours so the bases can absorb the wax, but you can go shorter or longer.
7. Scrape off the wax. Again you’ll use the scraper, the stiff brass brush, the horsehair brush and the nylon brush, in that order. Repeat 5-10 times with each tool until you aren’t brushing up any colored wax.
8. Wipe your skis off with a soft cloth.
Don’t Mess with Your Bases
As I wrote above, you can wax your bases, but don’t do anything else to them. Skis have structure built into their bases. While it can be hard to notice, there are thousands of tiny ridges ground into ski bases that increase the surface area of the ski. When the ski meets the snow, the snow melts. These ridges break up any suction that develops, allowing the water to funnel out from under the ski, so that you can move along the snow.
The ridge structure varies according to the type of ski. Racing skis have a more straight line pattern of ridges, while non-racing skis have ridges in a crosshatch pattern. This crosshatch pattern makes it easier to slide the tails of the skis in a turn and allows water to funnel out from under the ski at more points.
Snow conditions also play a part. According to Davis Findlay of the Board and Buckle Shop in Grand Junction, Colorado, western skiers (and their skis) don’t need as aggressive a structure ground into their bases as eastern skiers do. Why? Less water content in western snow means less suction.
Although you can’t do this at home, your ski bases need to be stone-ground after each 20 days of skiing. What we do is maintain our skis at home until it’s time for a full-tune and then let the shop take over and do a professional job on everything.
They’re Pros For A Reason
Ski shops, frankly, will do a better job than most of us at home. In addition to grinding the bases, they will sharpen the base edges. The ski shop tech will also know what wax to use when, varying it for the season, for the temperature and for the snow conditions.
But if you are a Do-It-Yourself minded person, if you like fooling around with tools and your gear, ski tuning can be quite gratifying. Especially if it means you’ll take better care of your family’s skis.
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