Dean Maurice is skinny. But his skis are fat, and he loves them for it. Maurice, ski tuning “scientist” for the White Room Mountain Shop in Whitefish, spends his days admiring, caressing, repairing, tuning, tweaking and mounting skis on the workbench at the back of the store. And the work orders are beginning to pile up, even if the sky above Whitefish Mountain Resort has yet to yield much in the way of snow. Dozens of skis hang behind him, demanding service, and he works steadily through them, surrounded by drills, P-Tex, mounting plates, steel brushes and other ski-specific implements.
With years of experience working on skis, Maurice has refined ski tuning into a science. He is particular about how he does it, but preaches that a ski tune-up at the beginning of the season and frequent waxing are essential to wringing every ounce of pleasure out of a ski day. And, he notes, keeping skis waxed is particularly necessary at Whitefish Resort, where many runs end in a traverse to get back to the lift.
“Personally, I wax my skis every time I go out,” Maurice says. “I always have good wax on my skis and I very rarely get passed going back to the lift.”
The dozens of techniques and theories on ski-tuning differ, but here Maurice offers up some of the basics of ski and snowboard tuning for those with the space, inclination and equipment to do it themselves – while also pointing out common mistakes.
The first step of ski tuning – edge and base prep – primarily involves filling in gouges and removing burrs, to create a flat, uniform surface to do more delicate work later. “When a rock gauges a base, it will leave a hanging piece of base,” Maurice says. “I use a razor blade and I trim all that flat to the base.” He then melts P-tex, a kind of polyethylene plastic that composes the base of the skis, into those gouges to fill them in. Then he removes the excess P-Tex with a metal scraper.
“As for the edges, when they hit rocks, they’ll burr,” Maurice says, taking out a piece of stone, similar to what you might sharpen a kitchen knife against. “I use a hardstone to knock down all the burrs.” He doesn’t recommend using a file to take off burrs; the file will get ruined and won’t do much good.
With burrs removed and gouges filled in, Maurice begins to file the edges using a specialized ski file guide, to ensure he gets the right angle on the base edge and side edge. “Never push a file, always pull it,” he says. “It’s much less accurate to push it than to pull it.” He uses deft, short strokes along the length of the ski, “so you can give extreme attention to sections that need it.” The edges of skis have less than a 90-degree angle between base edge and side edge, so the ski will “catch” better in the snow during turns. Shaped skis typically have a one-degree bevel on side edges and a half-to-one degree bevel on base edges.
Once the edges are tuned, it’s time to undo some of your hard work, by detuning. “If you don’t detune a ski, they feel really grabby and don’t want to make a turn,” Maurice says. He uses a stone to detune edges a few inches from the tip and tail, with a motion that “goes the direction your ski travels, or both directions if you’re on a twin tip ski.”
Next step: waxing. Melt the wax against an iron – free of holes – and drip it onto the base, then spread the wax evenly over the surface with circular strokes. “Don’t overuse wax,” Maurice says. “Most people that wax put too much wax on their skis.” Novice tuners also run the risk of heating the skis up too much. “Keep the iron moving,” he adds. “If your wax is taking more than two or three seconds to go from liquid to cool, you’re getting your bases too hot.”
Once the wax has cooled, start removing excess with a plastic scraper. “You should scrape in the direction the ski travels, in long strokes,” Maurice says. “You can walk from one end to the other.” Then he uses a metal brush to knock off the excess wax and create a directional pattern in the base. “Make sure your side edges and base edges are free of wax,” he adds. “A chunk of wax on a side edge will slow you down.”
With the extra wax removed, you’re ready to go, though Maurice does offer one final ski tuning tip, regarding location: “Don’t wax inside; your mom won’t be happy with you because you’ll get wax all over her carpet.”
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