How to Tune Your Skis at Home
Ski expert Aidan Anderson shares a DIY guide to keeping your skis in top shape.
We all love our skis. The feeling of getting new skis and having them be pristine and perfect without a scratch or core shot in sight is amazing. For the first few times you ski them, you’re conscious not to hit rocks and not to knock your edges together, and you put them away carefully at the end of the day. However, as the season goes on, they start to get a little more wear and tear. They start getting thrown in the back of the truck at the end of the day, banged together to get snow off, and rocky landings are sent anyway. By the next season, they get pulled out of the closet with rusty edges, chunks of base material missing, and not a drop of wax in sight. It’s a sad sight to see, but it’s not too late!
While some things might require a trip to your local ski shop to fix, there’s a lot you can do at home for pretty cheap and without much equipment. Let’s break down what can be done in your garage, and what you should seek expert help with.
What You'll Need
First off, let’s start with some tools that you can get for your home tuning setup. On average, a full tune from a ski shop will run you between $60 and $100, and if you’re skiing a fair amount you’d be best off getting it done at least twice per season (not counting waxing and other minor things). So, based on that estimate, here’s a few things you can get for less than that and get a lot more out of.
Take the Dakine Deluxe Tuning Kit for example. The kit comes with all the basics for most home tuning all bundled together. Some wax, a file, and edge tool, some P-Tex, a couple of scrapers, and various other goodies. The price is reasonable, and everything is simple and easy to use. Wax and other materials like P-Tex are cheap and easy to come by at your local shop or online, but it’s the tools like the scrapers and the file that are the key investment. Additionally, maybe the most important piece of gear for home tuning is a waxing iron. I’ll dive more into what a waxing iron is for and how it’s used, but something like the Swix North Premium Iron is a must have for your toolkit.
Another good piece to your home tuning setup is a place to put your skis where they can sit flat and give you a surface to work on. Something like this Swix vise will clamp on any bench or counter top surface and give you a spot to lay your skis or board flat to work on. Once you’ve got a solid work surface, and some tools to get you going, here are a few of the key things your skis or board will need to stay in tip top shape.
Waxing Your Skis
Why Wax Your Skis?
Waxing your skis is the number one thing you need to be mindful of throughout the winter season. We all know this, but why is it that you actually need to do it? There’s a few key things to know about why skis need wax. The material that your ski bases are made of can vary between manufacturers, but the one commonality is that bases are porous. This means that just like your skin, the base of your skis have pores that are able to absorb and retain material that you add to them. Think of wax to your skis being like lotion to your skin. Or don’t, because it’s kind of strange. Either way, your skis are able to absorb wax into the base, and retain that waxy material for a certain amount of time after that.
Now, why wax of all things? Ski wax is a bit different from candle wax, or ear wax, or any other kind of wax. It’s made in different levels of hardness, for different snow temperatures, and it’s meant to make your skis slide on snow with less resistance. Less resistance means more speed, and we all like more speed. The way it does this is by preventing the snow from sticking to the base of your ski. Wax is hydrophobic, meaning it will repel water, and essentially can’t get wet. The more the water in the snow is repelled from your skis, the easier it is for your skis to carry speed and not stick. However, the more you use your skis, the faster the wax will wear out. Depending on the skier and the conditions, a fresh wax should last about five to seven days on the snow, though you can get away with a bit longer.
How to Wax Your Skis
Now, how do you apply wax to your skis? You may have heard the term “hot wax” relating to skis. It is so named because you have to heat the wax up and melt it onto the ski in order for the base to absorb the wax. Using a waxing iron, which is nearly identical to an iron you’d use on your clothes, wax is dripped onto the ski, and then melted under the iron into a smooth layer that can be left to cool. Once the wax has cooled and solidified, a plastic scraper is used to scrape the top layer of leftover wax off the base of the ski. Once the excess has been scraped away, a brush or felt pad is used to buff out the base and make it nice and smooth. For a great example and tutorial, check out this video from Outside Magazine.
Edging Your Skis
In addition to waxing your skis, the next most important piece of upkeep is making sure your edges are in good shape. Sharp edges are what give you control and responsiveness on snow, and a good edge will keep you stuck to the mountain in technical situations. Lots of things will dull your edges, so it's good to always keep an eye on them.
When using something like a pocket edging tool that you’ll find in a tuning kit, you’re looking out for rust spots and burrs on your edge that could grab at the snow. Using your edge tool, you’re removing material from both the base edge and side edge of the ski to bring it back to a sharp corner. This involves using the file in the edge tool to work from tip to tail on the ski and making sure you have a consistent edge the whole way down. Once you’ve sharpened your edges, you can also use something called a gummy stone, which is included in most tuning kits, to de-tune the contact points of your edge on the tip and tail. The reason for de-tuning part of your edge once you’ve just sharpened it is to ensure the tip and tail or your ski aren’t grabbing at the snow when you go to initiate a turn. You want your edge really sharp underfoot, but slightly duller on either end. For a great tutorial and some tips, check out this video from Swix.
P-Tex is something you may have heard of but not quite understood its use. Though it comes in different forms, most commonly used are P-Tex candles. These look like long sticks of plastic, that are lit from one end using a flame, and dripped onto scratches or gouges in the base of your ski as the candle melts. P-Tex is similar to the base material of your ski, and is meant to fill in the base where it’s been hit by rocks or other obstacles. When the P-Tex hardens on the base, the excess is scraped off using a metal scraper, leaving the base flat and smooth once again. For a great resource on using P-Tex, check out this video from Swix.
The breadth of different tuning methods may seem a bit confusing at first, but as the ski season goes on it’s easy to get a feel for what your skis or board need, and how to address it. There’s too many different tuning styles to count, and it’s up to you to find what works.
For tips and tricks on tuning, it’s also great to utilize your local resources in the form of ski shops. Talk to the ski techs, who will be happy to share with you their thoughts on tuning, and some shops even offer tuning clinics for in-depth looks at different techniques and equipment.
If you’re in the market for home tuning equipment, reach out to the Curated Experts! We have access to tons of tuning gear to set you up with, and a huge amount of knowledge to share.