The Mountain Times

°F Wed, April 23, 2014

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The Mountain Journal: Ski tuning for the performance edge - Inside tips for a world class tune

"Skis are expensive but a badly tuned skis can make the experience disastrous," notes former World Cup Ski Tuner, Mike DeSantis. One of a handful of individuals on the East Coast who tuned skis for some of our finest racers on the World Cup Circuit, DeSantis brings an impeccable breadth of skill and knowledge to his work. Understand, while many skiers have had their skis tuned, very few skiers have skied on a ski tuned - prepared - by a World Cup Tuner.

"Everyone can benefit from a fresh, quality, tuned ski," noted Desantis as he recently finished tuning a snowboard for a top racer. Looking at skis from a range of racers - and companies - who had shipped skis to his workshop - Ski MD - at Summit Ski & Snowboard in Framingham, Massachusetts, I leaned back as Mike carefully "dressed" the stone on his machine.

"I've tuned a number of U.S. Ski Team Racers," explains DeSantis. "But I also know anyone can benefit from skiing on a freshly tuned ski!" In this case, from working on the World Cup to his work as Product Manager and World Cup Race Director for Volkl Skis, DeSantis understands that even an elite race ski will not perform maximally if poorly tuned. In contrast, even a more modest ski may ski surprisingly well if properly tuned!

"Even for a beginner tuning is really important. As soon as snow gets firmer, the tune is critical," echoes Jed Duke, currently the Division Manager for Blizzard Skis and a former racer. "You just lose control without a proper tune."

Put in perspective, when the snow is soft and beautifully lining the slopes sharp edges may seem less critical. On the other hand, most weekend afternoons, when the slopes are hard packed, sharp clean edges can maximize grip and a polished base with a glassy wax coating allows a skier to maximally enjoy the mountain experience. 

Here's the take home: The ski is a tool, and 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! On the other hand, many skiers simply do not realize that even after a day of skiing on hard snow a skis edge and performance will slowly degrade.   

Recently, looking over my skis, in anticipation of the start of the season, it was evident that after a long hard season last year, my personal skis were less then ideal. The base bevel had slowly eroded, the base material had experienced "freezer burn" near the edge, and I knew the skis were no longer near factory performance standards. I knew they needed work.

But today they look and ski like new!

Inside The World Cup Tuning Center

My skis needed a major restoration. Interested? Basically the process included four steps: 1) Cutting, 2) Finishing, 3) Structuring, and 4) Finishing.

For Mike, he talk about a Factory Fresh Tune, Hyper Glide Tune, or World Cup or Race Pre Tune. In all cases, he finishes the process with a ½ degree base bevel and 3 degree side bevel.

Here's a short tour on the process.

Restoration: To start Mike removed my bindings. That right! While not all shops take this step it means the tolerances on the machines are tighter! Then, he carefully inspected my bases and measured the base bevel.
Mike reconditioned the base using a stone grinder. After multiple swipes on a carefully cleaned stone - called redressing  - my bases were clean, and base edges flat. Ultimately he "set" a half-degree base "bevel" into my skis to maximize turn entry.

Structuring: While the base looked like new following that base grind, ultimately Mike added a "structure" into the base which maximizes glide! Structuring is key on the world cup but is also key for any skier as it helps the ski better glide on the snow. We chose a structure ideal for all-mountain cruising. 

Mike began by cutting the sidewall back to reveal my side edge. This is critical to maximize performance.

Sharpening: Using another stone grinder Mike began the side edge reconditioning process. The side edge was reconditioned through another series of stone grinds. Think of this as a shaping process! He carefully measured my edges and only took back as much as necessary! This is critical as an overly aggressive approach might eliminate too much edge! Ultimately, my side edge was set at a 3 degree edge angle.

Polishing: Diamond Polish, is when both the base edge and side edge were polished using a diamond stone to eliminate any small burrs. 

Final Polish, is when, using a special cloth, you remove any final microscopic burrs and carefully inspected my edges.

Wax: a. Ski wax both protects a ski base, and maximizes glide. A waxed ski turns more easily! Mike carefully waxed and polished my skis.

The result? This may be the best tune in my career!

To start focus solely on side edges.

"Don't mess with the base edge," suggests Duke. "You might use a fine stone to smooth burrs but do not a coarse stone as you do not want to change that bevel." Base edges are filed and polished much less frequently and can typically be addressed by a shop annually. Know that overly filing base edges can change performance dramatically.

Use a diamond stone - a blue stone is nice medium grit - to eliminate the initial dings and marks on the side edge. Use a file guide 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. To make this easiest use "ski break guides" 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 to restore sharpness. Mark the edges with black magic marker and work tip to tail.

"This makes sense," notes Duke. "This is especially good if filing!" 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 that diamond stone to polish the edge.

4) Wax.

Waxing protects the base and allows a ski to glide and turn more easily. Unfortunately, hot waxing CAN damage a ski. "If you use an iron keep that iron moving all the time!" says Duke. But, if the use of a hot iron seems worrisome consider "rub on" paste waxes. In fact, some waxes can be applied with an applicator in a liquid state. The Wax Wizard from inventor Ray Yusi safely and quickly "melts" a wax into the base using friction. The skier simply buffs a paste wax onto the base and polishes the base with the Wax Wizard. The friction melts the wax into the base without an iron. Waxing protects the base and maintains easy gliding and turning qualities.

"This a step forward," notes DeSantis. This can really protect a ski."

Summary For General Maintenance
    1) Wipe your skis daily.
    2) Prepare side edges with a diamond in side edge guide.
        Use a diamond stone to remove burrs.
        Use a file to resharpen the edge.
        Use the diamond stone to polish.
    3) Wax.

"I would say that once that base edge is set do not file that base edge," emphasizes Duke. "The side edge you can file or stone daily as long as you keep the guide to maintain that angle. If you touch that base use a green stone." 

Tuning Tools
For those interested in tuning and general maintenance the good news is that a variety of effective tools are readily available through several "mountain shops" or through on-line distributors. In fact, with a few basic tools it is relatively simply to maintain a well-tuned ski.    

Fundamentally, those interested in tuning will benefit from a file and diamond stone "guide." These can vary from a basic plastic guide with a variable side edge setting such as the FK Variable Sharpener from Reliable Racing ( HYPERLINK "http://www.reliable/" www.reliable racing.com), which sells with a file for approximately $30.00, to the SKS Racing Combo II from FK Tools ( HYPERLINK "http://www.fktools-us.com/" www.fktools-us.com) for approximately $90.00 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 guides. All vary slightly in accuracy but can serve as invaluable tools for tuning. Web sites include the following:
    Reliable Racing: www.reliableracing.com
    FK Tools: wwwfktools-us.com
    Sun Valley Ski Tools: www.svst.com
    The Race Place: www.The-raceplace.com
    Tognar Tool Works: www.tognar.com
    Ski Sharp Products (Wax Wizard): www.alpineskituning.com

Truly, with a few simple tools, and with a small kit including basic tools a skier can maximize performance. Consider creating a small tuning kit for your needs.

Closing Thoughts
Just a little maintenance, consistently, goes a long way. 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 both  HYPERLINK "http://www.alpineskituning.com/" www.alpineskituning.com and  HYPERLINK "http://www.precisiontuningcenter.com/" www.precisiontuningcenter.com offer general information on tuning which can be of educational value to skiers of all abilities.

Maximize your investment. Be Aware - Ski With Care.


Contributing Writer 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.

Tagged: The Mountain Journal, Ski Tuning