The overlooked area of ski equipment
‘A poor craftsman always blames his tools’ is a popular saying and is true in many cases, but not when it comes to your ski equipment.
I hope you’re all looking forward to Winter, after a difficult last two years it’s exciting to be looking forward to what we hope will be a more normal ski season. On a personal note, it’s been two seasons since I’ve been on season in Panorama, so I’m counting down the days until everything kicks off properly in December.
My name is Harry Drain, I’m 22 years old from the United Kingdom. I’m a CSIA Level 3 ski instructor and a certified advanced ski technician and boot fitter qualified under the surefit training scheme. Between 2017 and 2019 I worked at Panorama Mountain resort for two Winter seasons and since then have been working as a ski tech and boot fitter for Ellis Brigham mountain sports in the UK. It’s at this time most of us are getting all of our equipment sorted ready to go away, and as this is a blog for instructors or those heading out on season, I’ll try to impart some knowledge both as an instructor and as a ski tech that you may have overlooked or may have not even considered that I hope you’ll find useful and informative.
I will start by saying that your ski boots are the most important part of your ski setup. I think most skiing professionals would agree with me on that. I’m going to assume everyone has done their research on ski boots and knows that the best way to ensure they have got it right is to go and see an expert and let them give you what you need. One thing I would say about boots, don’t do shortcuts. It’s worth spending the money and having your boots fitted properly than to try and buy online or go for something not as suitable for the sake of a few quid. Spend the money now, thank yourself later.
I’m also going to skip the part where I bore you with advice on what skis to buy and what to look for. I’m sure you’ve already read and browsed through hundreds of websites on what skis to buy, I’m sure many of you already have your own skis too. So Instead I’ll talk you through an often overlooked area of ski equipment. I’ll aim to give you insight, tips and a buying guide that will help you maintain your skis through the season and save you some money on the way.
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 own kit and rocks up to a lesson or morning session with blunt, rusty edges and bases that are more dehydrated than you’ll likely be after a night out. A well tuned pair of skis can make all the difference to your skis and as these are your tools for the job, they should be maintained properly.
Maybe you’re well aware that your skis require servicing, but handing your skis into a shop every week to hot wax and edge can set you back $20, not ideal if you’re doing that every week. I’ll tell you what to get and where to get it from, so that 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 servicing your skis 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 often shared between instructors. There are also times when taking your skis to a professional is a good idea; Sometimes for major 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 and give you a better understanding of looking after your skis. You can also get everything you need for about £100 -£150. It might seem expensive, but when you’re spending $20 each time at a shop, it pays for itself very quickly. Plus it’s pretty cool to be able to service your own stuff.
What you’ll need
- Waxing iron – approximately £50. Optional. This is not absolutely necessary if you’re going out on season. The last time I was at Panorama the instructors all pitched in about $5 and bought one we all shared. I’ve included it in this list though as they’re required for waxing and for anyone not on season or for someone that 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 important to do this before you wax as it’s surprising how much dirt is left on your bases. Approximately £8
- Wax – 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 between £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 – super basic piece of equipment used to scrape the excess wax from your bases once you’ve finished. 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. Used to remove excess wax that the plastic scraper left behind and restore the structure to the base. This gives the bases a really neat finish and improves the skis ability to slide without friction. You can always add a couple 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 useful for detuning your edges slightly after filing to remove any rough spots. These only cost £5 – £10
- Diamond file medium – one of the most versatile pieces of equipment. 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 a then maintain them with a diamond file. It’s also best to use your diamond files with water or some rubbing alcohol to improve its 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, I’d say 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 a little 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 – 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 couple of quid
Choosing your edge angles 📐
- Once you’ve had a look at the guide below for edge angles you can then decide which guide is going to be best for you. For example, if you want a 89 degree angle on your skis you would buy a 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 simply 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 them maintain these angles with the tools you have from this list.
- 90 degree angle ( 1 degree base edge and 89 degree side edge) this is probably the most durable edge and will last the longest before needing to be sharpened. Ideal for beginners or intermediates and in powder, however it’s not so good for really firm hardpack conditions.
- 89 degree angle ( 1 degree base edge and 88 degree side edge) best all round edge profile that provides the best balance between grip, performance and forgiveness. Performs well on hard conditions and great for carving. The best all mountain edge profile and probably the angle I’d recommend for those instructing or out on season.
- 88 degree angle (1 degree base edge and 87 side edge) this is a far more aggressive edge angle and is one I’d only recommend for skis used specifically for high performance carving at high speeds. Definitely 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 left over 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 also helps prevent wax dripping onto your bindings and brakes.
- An old tea towel is useful 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 on 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 just ask someone who knows what they’re doing to show you. Try and ask a professional if you can. For anyone out in Panorama this year, I’ll be happy to show you 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 you’re waxing
- DataWax.com is a great place to get your kit from. They stock everything you’d need and their prices are reasonable. They also have a HOW TO guide on the website which tells you how to use all of the equipment. Amazon is a good place to get some of the simple tools from 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 major work or repairs, I’d suggest seeking the help of a professional at your local ski shop. They’ll have the right tools and skill required to give you the best results. If you can get pally with the guy in the shop that always helps too!! 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 that is missing from this post is a set of ski vises. The vises are what 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’re quite expensive. Most resorts will have benches already set up for you to use and if you’re 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 useful from it. At time of writing it is only 44 days until I ski for the first time this winter. For those of you heading out on season I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. For those that will be at Panorama this year I look forward to meeting you and sharing the winter with you. See you out there!!