On February 10, 2021

Maintaining a performance edge

By Victoria Gaither

By Tony Crespi, The Mountain Journal

“A good tune can drive high performance skiing,” emphasized Jed Duke, director of product development at Blizzard Skis.

“More than ever tuning is the link between a successful or hateful experience,” added former World Cup tuner Mike DeSantis, owner and tuner of Ski MD, a Boston area shop dedicated to performance tuning.

Unfortunately, many skiers rarely enjoy a precision tune.

As I tested a carving ski on frozen hardpack late last season, days before Covid-19 closed resorts, a husband and wife complimented my turns. While flattered, I explained my skiing was more a product of the tune than my skill.

In fact, a fabulous tune can make a mediocre ski perform far better than many might imagine while even an elite carver with dull ragged edges will not ski as designed. At various annual trade shows where new skis are unveiled to the industry, manufacturers often polish edges and wax bases several times to maximize performance. In contrast, many recreational skiers will tune or have skis tuned erratically.

That morning my edges were sharp and smooth. The base was glossy with polished wax. And the combination was dynamite!

Fortunately, with a few tuning tools it is not difficult to maintain that performance edge. Still, many skiers don’t realize modern skis come with base and side edges “beveled” to specific angles: side bevels impact edge hold and base bevels maximize turn entry and exit. While angles vary between manufacturers and across models, many skis come with a 1 degree base bevel and a 2 or 3 degree side bevel.

Critically, though, after day or two skiing on hard, icy conditions, edge performance can erode, and wax degrade as decreases occur in glide, ease of turning, and edge “grip.” When I touched my edges that afternoon the edges now were marked by rough burrs. Fortunately, with a few tools, you can generally restore that sharp edge as one might resharpen a kitchen knife. Welcome to our tuner’s clinic.

The basic guide to edge maintenance

1) Wipe your skis after use.

Wiping skis minimizes corrosion and helps remove harmful pollutants. Ideally, wipe edges to avoid rust at the end of the day. Following your ride home after skiing try wiping each ski to minimize corrosion.

2) Maintain a smooth and sharp edge.

To start, purchase a “file holder” which can hold a file and diamond stone. There are multiple holders ranging from highly precise aluminum fixed holders from Swix or Sun Valley Ski Tools as example, to more modest plastic “guides.” The idea behind a holder is that the device holds a diamond stone, file, or polishing stone at a set angle providing a consistent and rapid tune.

With the guide set to either the manufacturer’s edge angle or the angle set by your shop, the guide moves along the side edge of the ski removing burrs and creating a smooth feel. (A medium grit blue stone is an excellent tool to maintain smoothness or prepare an edge for rough filing).

“You need a guide,” emphasized DeSantis. “Look for something with a plastic body and a dial which says 1, 2, or 3 degrees. Choosing one is that simple.”

Mark your edges with a felt-tip marker pen. This helps provide a visual guide. The black should disappear evenly as you file and polish the edge.

Start with a diamond stone to remove burrs.
(Blue DMT)

Use a file to tune dull skis.

Polish with a diamond stone. We suggest a red diamond stone for polishing. A hand can waver. A tool is key.

3) Wax. Waxing protects the base, maximizes glide and turning capabilities. While many shops and racers hot-wax skis a “home iron” with excessive heat or poor technique can pose risk. A favorite alternative is the Pro-Glide. After rubbing wax onto the base, this round cylinder effectively uses “line pressure” to safely melt rubbed wax into the base.


A wiping cloth

A side edge file/diamond stone holder. A good buy is the FK/SKS Variable Sharpener with file.

A diamond stone to smooth burrs and maintain sharpness. DMT Diamond stones are popular and relatively inexpensive.


The advanced guide to edge maintenance

This is the professional tune.

1) Start by having your base restored.

Base filing and stone grinding help keep the base smooth and flush with the edges. Understand, if the base is either convex or concave the ski will not turn as designed. If the bases are worn it may be necessary to have the skis stone ground but don’t confuse a tune with a stone grind. If you have a complete tune after a base grind, base edges need to be reset.

Sometimes skiers over-file the base edge. Once it’s set gently maintain it with a diamond stone. The side edge is where you do most sharpening.

2) Remove excess sidewall.

Racers and top tuners typically use a skyver to remove excess sidewall material. It makes tunes last longer and tuning is faster.

3) Prepare side edges.

For the average skier diamond stones are great and can maintain sharpness. Whenever you feel burrs, pull that diamond stone down the edge.

“If I am going to file I always diamond stone first,” explains Desantis. “And I finish with a red diamond stone.”

4) Apply a clean coat of wax.

Waxing protects the base and helps ensure a smooth, easy turning, gliding ski. From liquid waxes which can be wiped onto the base and buffed to the Pro-Glide, waxing can be rapidly accomplished without risk. If you use an electric iron purchase one specific for skis.

The takeaway is that after a few days even a top racing ski will begin to lose performance. Testing a new ski last season I felt performance erode as I skied multiple runs on the ice. Tuning, though, could easily have restored grip. Fortunately, tuning need not take excessive time. With a side file holder, two diamond stones of different grits, a file, and wax, most skiers can maintain maximum performance with minimal effort.

Maximize your performance. Maintain your edge!

Tony Crespi has served as both a ski school supervisor and development team coach. He’s a frequent contributor to publications throughout snow country.

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