Is Your Gear Ready for the Season?

Braden Anderson | - January 11, 2013

Everything you need to know about proper board and ski care...

If you caught my blog entitled "Getting In Shape For the Ski Season" then you're probably feeling pretty in shape and ready for the season.  Problem is, with the exception of a few early storms, there hasn't been a lot of fresh powder to show off your new and improved physical condition.  In a season that is shaping up to be yet another record for dry climate and low snowfall averages, having something to do until the snow arrives is a good way to keep the insanity at bay.  Well, now that your body is in shape and ready for the season, might I suggest we give that board or pair of skis a little attention?  Burning your old boots as a sacrifice to the snow gods may or may not work, and may or may not be harmful to your health,  so instead, let's show a little love to that old steed.  In this installment, we will be talking about proper board and ski care so that when that storm does finally hit, your board or skis will be as ready to hit the snow as you are.

Assuming you use your equipment to ride snow, and not rocks or scree piles (I know, sometimes there isn't a huge difference here in NM in late spring) then the part of your board or skis that will need the most attention is your base.  That's right, the bottom.  As the portion of the equipment that actually makes the most contact with the snow, it's a pivotal part of how your setup is going to perform on said snow.  So there are a few basic things you may want to know about getting it into tip top shape:

1) Check your base for large scratches. Anything that exposes a drastically different color than the color of the  top layer or reveals wood grain  is a “core-shot”and will need to be taken to a professional for repair.  Don't worry, these are few and far between, and if your riding hard enough to get many, my guess would be that you are probably experienced with repairs enough to handle it, or at least to take it in to a professional.

2) Other than the cataclysmic core shot, anything that catches easily as you run a fingernail across it could use a little attention.  Here is where a little bit of time, and this useful information, can make that base as good as new again. Before beginning any base repair procedure, you will want to clean the base.  Specified cleaners can be found at ski shops. Simply apply the cleaner to the base and let dry. You can use a metal scraper or razor blade to remove any plastic strands or burrs, that could create problems during the repair.  Most bases are made from what is affectionately known as P-tex (a polyethylene plastic). 

There are two different types of bases made from p-tex, and the distinction will be very important regarding what your next step is. The first of the two is the most common and easiest to fix.  Called an “extruded” base, in which the p-tex is heated and shaped to form the bottom of the board or skis, meaning that a fix to most scratches, even larger  gouges, is as simple as melting more p-tex into the damaged area. Most ski and board shops will have p-tex sticks or “candles” that works exactly as they sound. Light it up, and drip the melting plastic into the scratch.  Be careful!  Burning p-tex is VERY hot and can cause serious burns if it drips on you. 

After filling in any affected areas and letting the p-tex cool to a solid (this doesn't take long) you will want to scrape the new plastic down with a metal scraper, to even it with the base.  If your base happens to be what is called a “sintered” base, the process is much easier.  Simply take any damage to a shop to be repaired. The reason for this is that a sintered base is made by the compression of p-tex powder into the desired base shape.  While sintered bases are considered higher performance due to their unique construction,  they are also much more difficult to repair, or to keep repaired anyway.  Using a p-tex candle to fix scratches on a sintered base may work for a while,but chances are that the p-tex repair will eventually fall off.  Heat processed p-tex doesn't stick to compressed p-tex, certainly not as well as it does to other heat processed p-tex as with an extruded base.  It is important to mention here that p-tex will not stick to other surfaces on your gear either, such as fiberglass or metal, so if you need to fix one of those components, don't use p-tex, just read on...

3) As long as you're giving some love to that base, might want to check out the hardware that surrounds it.  Edges.  That tiny strip of metal that lines the sides, and in some cases the nose and tail, of the base. Your edges are what control your movement on the snow, and keeping them in good condition is paramount to having control over your ride.  Dull and barbed edges will not only slow you down but will render the the edges much less effective.  While edge grinders and bevel guides aren't common tools for the even the most avid skiers and boarders to include in their kits, they are available for nominal prices from a number of different companies.  The main idea here is to get the edges as sharp and burr-free as possible.  While the actual angle of the edges in relation to the base and sidewalls (bevel angle) is an option to change at this point, the bevel angle is something that is very precise and is completely up to the riders discretion.  A much lengthier conversation could be had (and will be, in the future) regarding setting the bevel angle, but for now, the goal is simply to sharpen and smooth the edges back out.  Normal wear on a board will create places on the edge where pieces of the metal begin to spur off, significantly decreasing the effectiveness of the edge.  Remedying this is as simple as rubbing a grinder (I prefer “green stones” or an equivalent ceramic grinding stone) along the length of the metal edge a few times with slight pressure.

4) So, your edges are sharp and your base is smooth, what more could you ask for?  Ah yes, a good wax of course.  Think of this step as the paint job after the body work on a car.  The final touch.  In some cases, waxing can even be used to fill some of the lesser base scratches as well as provide a temporary escape from the no-snow-blues in the off season.  So to start your wax job, the first thing you will want to do is find a suitable area.  Waxing can be especially messy, and board wax, as with most waxes, tends to be tough to get out of clothes and carpet. 

Next, there are a couple pieces of equipment you will need (these can be found at most ski or board shops).  A wax iron is the most important piece of equipment for this process.  While you could just use mom's clothes iron, there are two disadvantages to this; first, you'll never be able to use the iron on clothes again (or rather, mom won't), as you will never be able to rid it of all the wax it will pick up.  Secondly, the steam vents in the bottom of a clothes iron will make the waxing process harder, and the results less desirable. Waxing irons are a bit smaller and have smooth, flat bases.  Look for one at a board shop, or second-hand shop (I have found a number of very cheap used irons at second hand shops and online that work just the same as a brand new one). Before starting your wax job you will want to clean the base.  Do this either by using a specified base cleaner, or if you don't have cleaner at your disposal, by dripping a thin layer of wax across the base and scrapping it off before it cools.  Base cleaning before a wax job is always a good idea, but necessary during the spring and early season months, as dirt and particulates are more common on the top layer of snow and will accumulate more on your base. 

Ok, now your base is clean, you have your iron heated up and ready to go, but, where's the wax?  I would love to plug some of my favorite wax companies here, but half the fun of tuning your board is choosing which wax suites your personal taste.  Aside from having fun names and interesting colors (and in some cases, manufactured scents), base wax also has different temperature ratings.  Here is where you will want to take a moment to think about the type of riding you do. Are you going to be riding deep back-country powder or are you more of a “stick to the park” kind of person?  Waxes are classified by temperature ratings.  Temperature-rated waxes can be mixed, although unless you know exactly what the weather is going to be like the next time you ride, you may want to use an “all-temperature” wax or at least a season specific wax (I have found that a warmer temp wax works fine for all but the coldest days here in New Mexico).

Once you have picked a wax, cleaned your base and removed your bindings (the metal screws that hold the bindings on will transfer heat and give odd anomalies to the wax on the base) it's time to start your wax.  With the board or ski upside down (base up) at your workstation (again, not over mom's $2,000 Navajo rug) begin to press the wax bar to the heated iron and while holding it over the board or ski, let the wax drip onto the base.  Have fun with it,make designs, spell your name in wax droplets.  Just try to make the application of wax as consistent and uniform as possible.  It doesn't have to be perfect, but the next step will be easier if you don't have dry valleys and little wax hills. 

After your wax is applied, lay the iron on the base and start smoothing out and melting down the wax that is there.  The opaque, milky color of the wax droplets should all begin to turn transparent as they melt down and fill in all the imperfections on your base.  Check the top layer of your board or skis, from the bottom, with your hand from time to time to make sure the board isn't getting to hot. If it gets warmer than is comfortable to the touch, stop waxing and let the board cool off a bit.  DO NOT OVERHEAT YOUR BOARD OR SKIS!  The one thing that will render a board useless and is nearly impossible for the average rider to fix is a delaminated base.  If you let your gear get too hot, delamination is a definite possibility.  Once your wax is applied, you will want to let it cool off a bit, down to room temperature.  If you intend to apply more than one layer of wax, there is no need to let the wax cool before scraping, simply scrape the warm wax until the majority is gone and start your next layer immediately.  If just one layer will suffice, it's time to take a break (now is good time to try to get some of that wax out of your clothes, or your mom's rug, which isn't going to happen, so get back to waxing). 

Now that your board has an even layer of wax, let's take it off.  Use that metal scraper that we used for the p-tex and scrape the entire board with slight pressure.  Scrape from tip to tail.  This is important.  You want the grain of the resulting wax to mimic the grain of the board, and run in straight lines from nose to tail.  Start scraping on one side of the base and with slight pressure scrape the excess wax off in a line, all the way to the tail.  Move over slightly and repeat the process until the whole base is free of bumps and feels smooth.  Once the base is de-waxed, you will want to polish it up. Use a green scotchbrite pad, cork or cloth to polish, again from tip to tail as polishing in circles will slow the base significantly.  You want the grain of the final wax to line up in the same direction you are riding.  Your wax is done!  A final polish, known as buffing, using a less abrasive material (I've heard ladies hose works excellently) is recommended at this point.  If you have the urge, some companies make finishing products, such as Dakine's afterburner speed paste wax that will add a nice glossy touch to the new wax job.

5) Now you’re ready to ride!  Assuming you have put your bindings back on, that is.  While you're at it, check all the screws and hardware on those bindings, as they tend to come loose slightly from season to season.  Tighten everything back up and check the weather! It's time to ride, now go enjoy your new tuning job (don't you feel better?) and make sure to …THINK SNOW!

Feel free to leave me any questions you might have, as there are a lot of different options in this whole process, most of which relate directly to what kind of riding you will doing.  I'd love to help, so ask away!

-The Snowman