Zen and the Art of Ski (or Snowboard) Maintenance

Ask any die hard skier or rider; a well maintained and tuned set of skis or snowboard can be the difference between an epic day and a mediocre day on the slopes. Whether you prefer riding the park, cruising the groomers or slaying big-mountain lines, properly tuned and waxed equipment is essential to achieve enlightenment on the slopes.

While many of us are not professional alpine racers, we all have the ability to appreciate the performance of freshly minted snowsports gear. In order to keep your skis or board in like new shape and performing as designed, simple maintenance and tuning is all that is generally required. Consider these six tips for keeping your equipment in top shape and while tuning your own planks is not guaranteed to bring a moment of clarity, it will sure give you a feeling of self-satisfaction.

Consider these six tips for keeping your equipment in top shape and while tuning your own planks is not guaranteed to bring a moment of clarity, it will sure give you a feeling of self-satisfaction.

Step 1: Assessment of your gear

When assessing the condition of your equipment, make sure to note the age. If your gear is greater than 5 to 6 years old or it has seen over 100 days of hard use, it may be time to consider replacing it. Most modern equipment contains significant amounts of plastic, which is attacked and weakened by the sun’s UV rays. So old boots, bindings, and other plastic parts exponentially weaken through use and age. Plus, snowsport technology has greatly advanced over the past few years and hitting the slopes with new gear may be like trading up a Datsun for a Cadillac.

Things to note in the initial equipment assessment:

• condition of the base (bottom) material – check for significant damage and “core” shots

• condition of the edges – check for burrs, rust, cracks, and kinks • condition of the bindings – check for rust, cracks, ladder damage, and loose or missing parts

• condition of the boots – check for cracks, tears, and excessive shell wear; liners should be snug

Cracks indicate material failure and cracked equipment should be immediately discarded. This includes boots, bindings, ski/board edges (steel), and skis/boards themselves.

Step 2: If the assessment is grim, take it to the professionals

If your gear has substantial base damage (including core shots and edge damage) and it’s affecting your slope mojo, it is highly recommended that the equipment be repaired by a professional ski technician. Proper base repair is difficult and not only do the pros have access to the most modern tools and repair materials, they also have years of experience under their belts.

If you do decide to repair your own bases using P-Tex candles, be sure to wear a high-quality respirator mask in order to limit the inhalation of combustion related hydrocarbons. For complete instructions and tips on base repair, consult one of the ski tuning books listed below.

Step 3: If the initial assessment is good, tune the edges

The steel edges of skis and snowboards are what gives the equipment its grip, or purchase, on the underlying snow. If the edges are worn dull or are damaged through use and abuse, the control of the skis or board is greatly compromised. No one wants their zen-on-the-slopes moment to be interrupted by sliding out on a patch of firm snow.

In order to tune your edges, head out to one of the many snowsports retailers in Mammoth Lakes and purchase a pocket edge filer. These greatly range in price and options, but even the lower cost edgers can make a noticeable difference in the performance of your gear. Edge sharpening is an art and if in need of advice, stop by and visit a local ski technician for tips, suggestions, and demonstrations on proper edge tuning.

Check out one of Swix’s tuning kits for everything you may need for a quality edge tune and sharpening. With any edge tuner, be sure to completely read the instructions and for further explanation and advice on edge tuning, pick up one the many fine ski tuning books available locally.

Step 4: Wax it up

Waxing not only gives glide, it also acts as a protective barrier. With a protective layer of wax, dirt, small stones, grit, and salts are unable to make direct contact and adhere to the base material. The base material of most modern skis and boards is often comprised of soft plastics, making the material prone to damage from contact with dirt, dust, and rocks. The porous nature of sintered plastic base material also relies on wax to prevent oxidation and degradation of the plastics. If you need encouragement for waxing your gear, think of it as a light barrier of protective insurance that ensures the maximum longevity of your favorite pair of skis or board.

There are hundreds of different waxes to choose from, ranging from hard, iron-applied hot waxes to simple, “in the parking lot” paste waxes. Hot waxing requires an electric wax iron and the wax is often sold in temperature specific bars or cubes. There is no doubt that hot waxing is superior to rub on waxing, although any wax is better than no wax at all.

It is up to you to decide what style of waxing you prefer and if hot waxing, make sure to read all of the instructions included with your wax iron prior to use. The key with hot waxing is to adequately melt the wax into the base without causing the wax to steam or “smoke” due to excessive heat. Hot waxing offers two major advantages over rub on or paste waxes; 1) it binds to the base and fills the porous base material, creating a tough layer of protection, and 2) the heat draws out accumulated dirt and grime trapped within the base material.

Depending on how hard you ski or ride and the type of wax used, it is recommended that downhill equipment be waxed at least once for every 2 to 5 days spent on the slopes. Waxing is one of the easiest ways to maintain and protect your equipment and having a good layer of wax on your planks makes skiing and riding that much better! Give it a try, you’ll never go an entire season without waxing again!

Step 5: Rip it up!

It is guaranteed that you will notice a major difference in the performance of those long neglected skis or boards after a proper tune and wax. Skiing and riding is not free, so you might as well maximize your enjoyment with tuned equipment.

Step 6: Take care of your gear

After every day on the slopes, bring your gear inside to dry out. If left outside, water may work itself into tight spaces around screws, bolts, and seals and if it is allowed to freeze, the ice can cause cracking or failure. It is recommended that all bolts and screws be checked daily for proper tightness. These have a tendency to work themselves loose in the worst of weather conditions and at points on the mountain farthest away from a screwdriver or allen wrench, so check everything while you are warm and toasty indoors.

Keeping your equipment clean is paramount to ensuring the continued perfomance of your skis or board. If using an exposed roof rack, make sure to wipe off any accumulated road grime or salt that can lead to rapid corrosion and subsequent degradation of steel parts (edges, bolts, screws, and binding parts). To prevent equipment damage when traveling by auto, consider a rooftop bag or fully enclosed ski and board carrier.

Skis and boards are not cheap and through proper care and maintenance, modern planks should provide multiple seasons of use and pleasure. A little effort is all it takes to ensure mountain zen.

Ski tuning is a true art that takes 100’s of hours of devotion to reach perfection, so do not be ashamed to take your gear to a trained professional. Mammoth Lakes has some of the best ski technicians in the nation and it’s easy to find a tech in town that is able to tune your skis to absolute perfection.    

Jason Abplanalp

Jason Abplanalp first discovered the Eastern Sierra lifestyle six years ago and after brief tenures in Colorado and Idaho, Jason returned to the mountain town he truly loves, Mammoth Lakes, CA. As an avid skier, mountain biker, hiker, and fisherman, Jason believes there is no better place for his family to call home. Jason has…

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