Some folks are do-it-yourselfers, people who take a sense of pride in changing their car's motor oil, making bicycle repairs or doing their own carpentry work.
The same goes for ski tuning. A few souls like to sharpen their own edges, scrape and wax their skis. After all, there's something about the smell of melting wax that is a bit intoxicating.
When properly done, taking care of your own skis can provide advantages, too — it increases the performance of your skis, and better ski performance equals more fun. You also can, over time, save money. Of course, there is an initial investment in tools, so it will take some time to recoup that cost. And while tuning is a fairly simple task to master, more serious repairs are often better left to the pros.
So if you've got wax in the blood, or are looking for tips on getting started on tuning your own skis, the following information is provided as a starting point. Just like fly fishing, you can make it as simple or as intricate as you wish. Here are the basics.
Tools of the trade
A bench to work on can be as simple as two saw horses or a homemade bench from designs scavenged online. The advantage of a serviceable bench is that it holds your skis securely while you're scraping and filing.
Other tools include a plastic scraper, metal scraper, 8-inch chrome mill file for edge work, brass brush for clearing the structure on your ski bases (this applies only to newer skis built with structure in the base), diamond stone for edge touch-ups and for dulling the ski tip edges, iron for waxing (you can use one of your mom's castoffs with her approval), waxes for different types of snow, horse-hair brush for finishing work on structured bases and cork or fine to medium ScotchBrite or Fibertex pads for removing any fine p-tex hairs from your ski bases as a final step.
If you plan to bevel the edges, which can enhance performance for different styles of skiing, a bevel guide is necessary. To repair any gouges, p-tex repair candles are necessary; they come in clear and black. Brake retainers also come in handy to lift the brakes out of the way as you work on the ski base.
Tune-up kits can be purchased that contain some or all of the necessary gear and start at about $50 and climb to $140. You can also buy guides to help with step-by-step instructions. One source for tools is Southern Oregon's Tognar Toolworks (www.tognar.com).
To get started, scrape the old wax off the skis with the plastic scraper. Make sure to get any wax off the edges, as well. Start at the tip of the ski and apply downward pressure while pulling the scraper toward you in about 1-foot scrapes. Keep the edge of the scraper sharp to make the job easier.
Next, take the brass brush and remove any of the wax that has worked its way into the ski base's structure. This only applies to newer skis that have structure, grooves that run from the tip of the skis to the tails help prevent suction that will slow your skis.
To repair any gouges, light a p-tex candle and drip the wax into the hole. Allow the p-tex to cure, then scrape off excess with a sharp metal scraper.
Sharp edges are a blessing, especially on hard snow. Using a chrome mill file, place it flat on the ski at about a 45-degree angle to the tail. With your thumbs over the ski edges, make arm-length strokes working from the tip to the tail.
If you'd like to bevel the edges, use a guide. Different bevel degrees accommodate different skiing styles — such as slalom versus giant slalom. It also lifts the edge of the ski off the snow to reduce drag and keep it from catching. We're talking .5 to 3 degrees here, so it's not a huge angle.
One trick to make sure you get the entire edge sharpened is to use a black marker and mark the edge. When the black disappears, you've filed the edge adequately.
Throughout the season, after about every other trip, use a diamond stone to touch up the edges and keep them sharp.
To keep your tips from crossing, use a diamond stone to dull the tips of the skis about 30 centimeters back.
Before waxing, make sure the skis are at room temperature.
If you're using your mom's old iron to melt and smooth the wax on your skis, put the setting between the wool and cotton marks. If the wax starts to smoke as you melt it, turn the iron down.
Wax comes in different colors rated for different snow temperatures. Try to match the wax to the current snow conditions or your skis will drag. Once you've chosen the correct wax, press it to the bottom of the iron to melt it, dripping from side to side as you work your way down the ski.
Then press the iron on the ski starting at the tip and gliding to the base without picking the iron up. Continue until the wax is evenly spread across the ski. The idea is to impregnate the wax into the ski's base.
Give the skis about 15 minutes to cool off so the wax sets and soaks into the ski base. Then take the plastic scraper and remove any excess wax.
You shouldn't be skiing on a layer of wax. You want to ski on the base material, and wax acts as a lubricant for the base.
For the final touches, use a horse hair brush to remove wax from the ski's structure. Then rub the ski base with a ScotchBrite or Fibertex pad or cork to give it a glossy smooth finish. Use a soft cloth to remove any residue.
Voila! Now you're primed for carving and sliding down the slopes. Just try to avoid any rocks that may annihilate your hard work. If you do run into one, ride it out. It's better to have a gouge along the length of the base where it's repairable than to turn and tear out an edge. That's a repair that may best be left to a professional, unless you're a serious do-it-yourselfer.
Brett French is Outdoors Editor at The Billings Gazette.