The Ultimate Guide to Ski Servicing, Tips and Tricks.

Introduction

We know it’s not always high on the agenda when going out for a ski season, but being able to service your skis can save you a lot of money and dramatically improve your skiing.

“A poor craftsman always blames his tools” is a famous saying and is true in many cases, but not when it comes to your ski equipment.

My name is Harry Drain; I’m a CSIA Level 3 ski instructor and a certified advanced ski technician and boot fitter. Between 2017 and 2019, I worked at Panorama Mountain Resort for two Winter seasons. Since then, I’ve worked as a ski tech and boot fitter for Ellis Brigham mountain sports in the UK.

At this time, most of us are getting all of our equipment sorted ready to go away. This blog is for instructors or those heading out on a season; I’ll try to impart some knowledge both as an instructor and a ski tech. This blog will focus on servicing but for more information on the right skis to choose, go to our FAQs.

Don’t underestimate the importance of tuning your skis. Not just for performance, but as an instructor, you don’t want to be the person that can’t look after their kit. You don’t want to rock up to a lesson or morning session with blunt, rusty edges and more dehydrated bases than you’ll likely be after a night out. A well-tuned pair of skis can make all the difference to your skiing. And as your skis are your tools for the job, they should be appropriately maintained.

Maybe you’re aware that your skis require servicing. But handing your skis into a shop every week to hot wax and edge can set you back $45. Doing that every week soon adds up through the season. I’ll tell you what to get and where to get it from. You’ll have everything you need to give your skis a high-quality standard service. Perhaps I’m biased as a ski tech, but I think ski servicing is one of the most therapeutic things to do. So it would be a shame to let someone else do it.

Anything I don’t include on this list is either not necessary for a standard service or is shared between instructors. There are also times when taking your skis to a professional is a good idea. Sometimes for significant repair work, or perhaps at the start of the season, to set up everything as you want it. Everything I give you in this blog will allow you to keep your skis maintained throughout the season.

What you’ll need

  • Waxing iron – approximately £50. Optional. A waxing iron is not absolutely necessary if you’re going out on a season. When I was at Panorama, the instructors pitched in about $5 and bought one we all shared. It is required for waxing, so I have included it in my list. For anyone not on season or for someone who doesn’t fancy sharing, it’s an important piece of kit.
  • Base cleaner – used to prepare your bases for waxing. Pretty self-explanatory and doesn’t require much skill to use. It’s essential to do this before you wax, as it’s surprising how much dirt is left on your bases—approximately £8. 
  • Wax – My best recommendation would be an all-temperature wax. You can always buy colder or hotter temp wax when required, but for now, an all temp wax will do the job fine. You can get a big bar of wax for £10 -£15. For those skiing in North America, I’d actually recommend a cold temperature wax, as it’s a little more suited to the conditions you’ll get over there. The smell of wax is unreal, by the way.
  • Plastic scraper – a super essential piece of equipment used to scrape the excess wax from your bases once you’ve finished servicing. It also comes with a notched corner to remove wax from the edges. You can get one of these for about £5
  • Nylon brush – there are many brushes you can get, but if you can only afford one, get this one. It is used to remove excess wax that the plastic scraper left behind and restore the structure to the base. This gives the bases a neat finish, and improves the ski’s ability to slide without friction. You can always add a couple of extra brushes at a later date, but for now, this brush is multi-purpose and will do a great job. You can get a perfectly fine brush for £8-£10
  • Soft gummy stone – Everyone should own one of these. A soft gummy stone is used for deburring edges. This is important as you can keep your edges smooth without taking off any metal. You could use a soft gummy stone after each day on the mountain just to keep the edges running smooth. This tool is also helpful in detuning your edges slightly after filing to remove any rough spots. This only costs £5 – £10. 
  • Diamond file medium – one of the most versatile pieces of equipment. It is used to polish and sharpen your edges without removing too much material. You should only have to sharpen your edges with a file every few weeks. Doing it too often will remove too much metal from the edge and reduce its lifespan. A diamond file will remove burs, polish your edges and keep them sharp. Set your edges with a file, then maintain them with a diamond file. It’s also best to use your diamond files with water or rubbing alcohol to improve their longevity. Similar to the brushes, there are multiple diamond files you can buy. There are fine and coarse diamonds, but the medium file is the best all-rounder and is the best option if you can only buy one. It’s worth buying a decent diamond file, and these cost about £30.
  • Sharpening file – This is used to remove edge material, set edge angles and sharpen the edges. Like I said before, you won’t need to do this that often so long as you maintain your edges effectively with a gummy and diamond stone. You can get a file starting from £10; it’s worth spending a little more. You can get hold of a professional chrome file for £20.
  • File guide – knowing which guide to buy can be tricky if you’re not clued up on edge angles. You also need to make sure you have a guide for the base edge. Most people new to ski servicing will sharpen and clean the side edge but won’t touch the base edge. It’s just as important to do the base edge. I set my edge angle at 2 degrees on the side and 0.5 degrees on the base. Price will vary depending on whether you buy adjustable or non-adjustable. You can expect to pay about £20-£40 for each. There is a guide below on edge angles and what to buy!
  • Clamp – a simple piece of equipment used to hold the files on the guide. You can probably find one of these knocking around your house or in the garage. If you don’t have one, you can pick one up from a DIY store for a few quid.

Choosing your edge angles

  • Once you’ve had a look at the guide below for edge angles, you can then decide on the best guide for you. For example, if you want an 89-degree angle on your skis, you would buy an 88-degree side edge guide and a 1-degree base edge guide. This is the best way to guarantee you have the best results. Ideally, you’d have your edge angles set when the ski is brand new and then maintain the angle, or if the skis are older, take them into a shop and have a professional set the edge angles for you. You can n maintain these angles with the tools you have from this list.
  • 90-degree angle (1-degree base edge and 89-degree side edge) – is probably the most durable edge and will last the longest before resharpening. This is ideal for beginners or intermediates and in powder; however, it’s not so suitable for really firm hardpack conditions.
  • 89-degree angle (1-degree base edge and 88-degree side edge) – is the best all-around edge profile that provides the best balance between grip, performance and forgiveness. It performs well in demanding conditions and is excellent for carving. It is the best all-mountain edge profile and probably the angle I’d recommend for those instructing or out on a season.
  • 88-degree angle (1-degree base edge and 87-degree side edge) is a far more aggressive edge angle, and I’d only recommend it for skis explicitly used for high-performance carving at high speeds. It is not one for everyday use, in my opinion.

Tips and Tricks

  • When servicing your skis, always start with the edges. Trying to sharpen and polish your edges after you’ve already waxed the bases is a nightmare, as no matter how hard you try, there will always be some leftover wax on the edges. You’ll get a much more precise finish by doing your edges first and waxing after. Any excess wax left on the edges after waxing will come off after one or two turns on the slope.
  • Buy some masking tape – place masking tape along the edges and sidewalls of the skis. This links into my last point nicely – the tape reduces the amount of wax that will sit on the edges and helps prevent wax from dripping onto your bindings and brakes.
  • An old tea towel is helpful for the cleanup job and for drying your skis after each day. Don’t leave your skis wet overnight, as you’ll wake up to rusty edges.
  • If you’re unsure how to perform the service of your skis, YouTube has lots of easy to follow videos. Once you’ve done it once, it’s a pretty easy job. Otherwise, ask someone who knows what they’re doing to show you. Try and ask a professional if you can. I’ll be happy to show anyone out in Panorama this year, and you can always borrow some of my kit.
  • Get hold of a strong rubber band – you’ll need these to pull the brakes back when waxing.
  • DataWax.com is a great place to get your kit. They stock everything you’d need, and their prices are reasonable. They also have a HOWTO guide on the website, which tells you how to use all of the equipment. Amazon is an excellent place to get some simple tools and is often super cheap.
  •  This post covers you so that you’re able to give your skis the standard hot wax and edge. For any significant work or repairs, I’d suggest seeking the help of a professional at your local ski shop. They’ll have the right tools and skills to give you the best results. If you can get pally with the guy in the shop, that always helps! It’s also worth sending your skis into the shop once a year for a proper stone grind, usually at the start of a season or right at the end.

One important element missing from this post is a set of ski vises. The vises hold your skis in place whilst you go about servicing them. If you can afford to get them, they’re a great investment. However, they are pretty expensive. Most resorts will have benches already set up for you to use, and if you’re an instructor, most pro rooms will have vises you can use. Alternatively, you can always ask kindly and borrow someone else’s.

Thank you for reading this blog. Hopefully, it’s been worth your time, and you’ve taken something valuable from it.