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Ski tuning 1-2-3: get the most out of your skis or snowboard

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As ski season kicks into gear, lots of people eagerly grab their boards and race up to the slopes. They're leaving performance behind.

Before heading to the hills, consider taking your boards in for a tune to get them into skiable shape. In addition to big stores like REI and Colorado Ski and Golf, several smaller stores do ski tuning and offer excellent service. Boulder's Colorado Ski Tunes brings the shop to you by arranging a pickup location for your skis and then delivering them back to you when they're finished. Edgeworks, on Broadway and Ninth, offers a discounted season tune package that consists of four full tunes.

Ski tunes can be as simple as doing a wax and an edge, or involve a full tune with a base repair, a stone grind, sharpening and beveling the edges, detuning the edges at the tip and tail, and a wax job.

The base repair involves filling in holes and core shots, like the one in the photo at the top of this story. As that photo shows, skiing in Colorado can be pretty rough on your bases, especially in early and late season, when the snow may not completely cover the rocks underneath, and one errant rock can shred your ski bases. On the slopes, there's little you can do but cut away any P-tex that has curled up on the base so it will at least ski flat.

Some people like to use a P-tex candle to fill in core shots and holes in the ski bases, but usually when you take your skis in for a professional tune, they have access to better materials that can give you a longer lasting P-tex repair.

"When we do P-tex repair, we use extruded material," explains Edgeworks' Matt Hupperts. "There are two kinds of bases: a sintered base, which is actually cold compressed, cut, and sandwich laminated into the ski, and extruded base material, which is a lot softer, so it goes through a heated process and is extruded out, which is similar to what we do with our guns. Extruded base material will bond really well and hold wax, whereas candles and things like that, they're made of wax, and that's what allows them to burn, so when someone does a lot of repair on their skis with those, we have to dig all that out before we can even do any work, because ours is much higher temperature and will just melt all that out."

In a full tune, the bases are then prepped by stone grinding them flat, using a stone usually tipped with a ceramic bit or diamond, which structures the base and makes it receptive for wax.

After grinding and prepping the bases, the edges need to be sharpened, which is critical for turns. Look at a picture of a racer and you will see that very little of the base of the ski is in contact with the snow; it's mostly the edges.

"Typically, on most skis today you will have a one degree base edge bevel and a two degree side edge bevel, which gives you a true one degree when the ski goes on edge," says Hupperts.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but after sharpening the edges, you detune, or de-sharpen, the edges at the tips and tails of the skis, which makes turn initiation easier.

"You don't want a really sharp edge up near the tip; you want it detuned enough so that right at surface contact, it's sharp," says Hupperts. "That way it eases into the turn and releases out of the turn at the tail."

Finally, your skis are ready for waxing. To understand how a wax is chosen, you need to understand the physics of skiing. When you pressure your skis, you actually melt a very thin layer of water, and it is this water that you slide on while skiing, much the same way an ice skater glides on water melted by the pressure of the skate blade against the ice.

Waxes are chosen to reduce friction, and are designed for certain temperatures. Racers typically choose fluorocarbon waxes, which bead up the water and push it out of the way quickly. Fluorocarbon waxes are also good for spring.

"As long as you wax to the colder side, you'll be fine," explains Hupperts. "If you go up and you've waxed with a warm temperature wax and it's cold, it's like Velcro, whereas if you've always waxed to the colder side of that temperature side, you'll be spot on."

What most skiers don't realize is that the wax job is only good for a couple of times out on the snow. To really maintain your skis, you should also apply wax yourself in between ski tunes. There are several types of rub-on waxes that you can purchase that can be rubbed onto your ski bases, extending the life of your ski tune and giving you better ski performance. The kits are typically sold with the wax and a buff brush, and are crayoned onto the ski base and buffed out. Maintaining your wax might mean reduced need for tuning.

"Maybe you ski 35-50 days, I might see you twice throughout the season, versus that guy who skis 35-50 days and doesn't do anything (to his skis), I'll see him more often," says Hupperts.

For those who want to take more responsibility for their ski maintenance, a set of tools including ski vise grips, work benches, waxing irons, diamond stones, waxes, and scrapers is the way to go. You can get the whole shebang for a few hundred dollars, and the added bonus is you can really get your wax matched to the temperatures you will be skiing in, upping your performance level.

A photo of my shredded base after a tune from Edgeworks:

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