Snow Trax Video 1 | Top tips for getting your ski equipment in condition

| By Snowsports Journalist Daniel Gibson |

If your ski and snowboard equipment is letting you down, here are some tips to get them in top condition for your snowsport adventures!

But as we ease into the season, the proverbial question arises: did you get your skis or snowboard tuned up, and perhaps even more importantly, your bindings checked?

Alpine’s owner Jeremy Cole outside his domain in this COVID era. Photo by D. Gibson.

Bindings should be tested at least annually, but Jeremy Cole, the owner and top dog at Alpine Sports in Santa Fe, says many people go years and years without having their bindings professionally looked over. And he reports there’s a major fallacy regarding binding DIN settings (the universal industry code of rating binding release levels from easy to impossible — i.e., for racers).

Their in-house Wintersteiger Speedtronic Pro calibration machine is a wizard at figuring out exactly how much force is required to release the toe piece (in both lateral and vertical planes) and the heel piece of one’s binding. Into that machine one’s weight, height, and ability level is input, plus the binding being tested. The machine’s metallic arms then embrace the boot, and with the ski fixed, begins to torque the boot. At some point it pops free and that number is recorded. Here’s the interesting part.

Most people believe all four binding components should have the same DIN setting, say 7.5. “That is 100 percent wrong,” says Cole. The release levels (the DIN setting) for each heel and toe piece, because every spring is slightly different, varies somewhat from the manufacturer’s suggested value. Alpine’s machine precisely reveals the actual release value of that component and allows them to then set the binding at the right value. “We very rarely find a binding that is correctly releasing on all four piece at its suggested number” and that these numbers match, he explains. “Almost all the bindings have correction factors” that the shop personnel then apply. But due to liability issues, shop personnel are not allowed to adjust up or down by more than a point and half from the suggested values. When that is required, he notes, “There is nothing we can do, short of providing new bindings.”

Binding function is also related to your boot sole condition. Cole estimates that one-third of all the boot soles they look at show excessive wear and tear from slogging across parking lots or backcountry hiking. Worn toes and heels do not provide the correct contact pressure and affect binding releases, so even with the “proper” DIN settings according to your weight, height, and ability, your state-of-the-art bindings might not function properly.

Proper care of skis and snowboards

More commonly people bring in skis or snowboards to have their bases touched up, edges sharpened and bases waxed.

In general, most skis and boards they see are “rougher than they should be,” says Cole. “The vast majority of skiers do not wax their skis as frequently as they should, or repair them as they should. We also see that a large percentage of repairs have not been made with proper materials. For instance, most shops around here use P-tex and epoxy for base repairs and neither of those are grindable or waxable. P-tex is meant for superficial scratches only and epoxy is not meant to be a filler. Technically, you should be waxing your skis every time you go out but realistically, every three to five outings. If you have a lot of scratches and gouges, you are not longer gliding and turning as you should. And you want to be sure you are not skiing with serrated edges.”

When a pair of skis or a snowboard comes in for work, the Alpine techs first do a thorough evaluation of the overall condition of the ski, from tip to tail. They look for damage to the base but also the sidewall conditions, the topsheet, and the bindings. They provide an on-the-spot assessment and agree on the work to be done.

Other shops in town also provide full tunes, where the ski’s base is ground away to reveal a fresh layer of base material, but Cole cautions that only REI, Ski Santa Fe, and Alpine employ top-of-the-line machinery to do so. He estimates Alpine has $500,000 invested in their tools, including the Wintersteiger Omega base grinder, the Wintersteiger Trimjet for edging, the Wintersteiger Baseman for high temperature base repairs, and the Wintersteiger Waxjet. Some shops use belt sanders for base grinding, and while they have their place, says Cole, even with frequent changes in the belts often the underlying rubber wheels the belts rest on get severely worn and dished, and don’t provide a consistent finish. Belt sanders also, in general, leave bases with a fuzzy finish that acts as drag on snow.

Jeremy Cole of Alpine Sport in front of work bench and tools.
Jeremy Cole, owner and head tech at Santa Fe’s Alpine Sports, in his element. Photo by D. Gibson.

One can do a lot at home to help extend the life of a tune, says Cole. Gummie stones can easily remove edge burrs, and it’s hard to ruin an edge with one. Light use of a gummie rated soft or medium held flat against the edge won’t alter edge angles or round them off. With the hardest of gummies, and a lot of pressure, you can alter these key edge angles, but they see more of these issues, which they have to then correct, with people using file guides improperly. Use of an iron at home for applying waxes is another relatively easy way to cut costs and improve performance.

The shop sells a full range of these home tools, from gummies and various brushes to base cleaners, edge files and the file guides previously mentioned.

Another fallacy Cole identifies regards so-called hand tunes. “People come in and demand hand tunes but World Cup racers don’t even use hand tunes! Their techs use a machine like ours, or even better, to do the bases and edging, then perhaps do some light hand filing of the edges.”

But he also cautions one can “over tune” a ski or snowboard. Putting them through a stone-grinding machine frequently will reduce the life of the ski by shaving one’s base away. And he notes there is no set maximum number of full tunes for skis or boards, as base and edge thicknesses vary from brand to brand. In general, AT equipment have thinner edges and bases, to reduce weight, and so cannot withstand frequent full tunes.

Most scratches can be fixed with an easy application of new base material and then a light grind and waxing. But deeper gouges and pits require so-called “base welds” employing high heat and a special base material that is harder than P-tex. When the damage is larger than a thumbprint, new base material is cut from a sheet of the material and careful set in place with epoxy and sanded smooth.

Alpine does full tunes to its rental “fleet” of 500 pairs of skis and snowboards anywhere from three to five times a season, plus some 1200 to 2000 tunes for walk-in customers. That’s a lot of tunes! While major ski shops have fully automated systems that can crank out 40 to 60 pairs of skis an hour, Alpine’s manually run machines require staff to oversee each tune.

Lilly Bain of Alpine Sports
Tuning shop director Lilly Bain runs a ski through the Wintersteiger base grinder at Alpine.

Directing Alpine’s three or so full-time techs and a couple of part-timers is Lilly Bain, the rare woman found in such work. Originally from Illinois, she is also an anomaly in that she was trained as a tech before ever planting her feet on a snowboard. “I figured after my first season I should give it a try,” she explains, “and I absolutely fell in love with it! It’s taken over my life. It’s awesome to work in an industry that you are really passionate about.”

So why bother? “For me, it’s all about having the best possible time out there. If my board is well tuned, the transitions are smoother and easier, and I’m less likely to catch an edge. I’m more fluid on the snow, and a little faster. The overall performance is significantly improved.”

Another little-understood facet of tuning is the process of adding “structure” to the base. Skis and snowboards actually slide about on a thin film of water created by the friction of the base on the snow. This can create a suction or adherence issue, which is resolved by cutting microscopic grooves into the ski base. The wetter the snow — think spring skiing — the deeper the grooves need to be to channel off the moisture. “Shops that pay attention to these finer points,” says Cole, generally use one of three patterns: one for early season manmade snow, one for mid-season drier snow, and one for late season wet snow. Racers fine-tune structure even further, he notes, and likewise, wax types should shift over the course of the season as they are generally designed to match particular types of snow — another good reason to have your ride worked on as the season progresses.

Downhill racers sometimes will have up to three different waxes applied in layers, one for the top of the course with its hard and cold conditions, another for the mid-section, and a third for the bottom of the run where it might be warmer and wetter. The waxes are progressively worn away.

“You can get pretty ‘mad scientist’ with it,” notes Cole. While the average Joe doesn’t need to take it to this extreme, we could all probably up our game significantly when it comes to tuning our skis or snowboard, and ensuring our bindings work as intended.

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead
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