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Getting in Tune

Getting gear in shape cures pre-season blues


Are you suffering from PSSAD: pre ski season affective disorder? If you are, you're not alone. Thousands of skiers and snowboarders spend the fall months staring at the hills longingly, visualizing snow-capped peaks and powder-covered runs.

The symptoms of PSSAD are easy to spot. Those afflicted often find themselves sighing as yet another dusting of snow melts to bare ground or absently stroking last season's ski pass. But thanks to advances in technology, there's something you can do: pre-season tuning.

That's right, today, those most affected by PSSAD can take steps to alleviate their suffering, and the results can be both distracting and productive, allowing the PSSAD sufferer to hit the slopes even faster once the snow sticks.

It may be tempting to grab those old skis out of the garage, ignore the rust and jump in the lift line, but the professionals warn that could not only damage your gear, but also increase the potential for injury.

While there are certain repairs that should be done by the experts, some of the basic pre-season tuning can be done in the comfort of your own home, saving not only your equipment but your money.

Tip No. 1: start at the bottom, or rather, the base. Taking care of the base of your skis or board is the cardinal rule for most ski technicians and serious winter athletes. A rough base surface not only slows down a rider on the hill, but can lead to larger problems, which can eventually destroy gear.

First, make sure the base is clean before you do anything else.

"Whatever you're waxing has to be clean; you can't be waxing dirt back in," said Bennett Beaman, sales associate at Newt and Harold's in Boise.

Don't forget to check the overall condition of the base. Nicks and scratches are to be expected, but the trick is knowing which ones can be dealt with at home and which ones need professional help.

If the gouges are particularly deep, or the core material is visible, "it's time to bring it to a professional," Beaman said.

A ski shop can use a base grinder to help in most cases, using something akin to a giant sander to smooth out the base. If deep gouges aren't dealt with, they can allow water to permeate the core and rot the board or skis from the inside out.

Smaller scratches can be taken care of at home with a touch of P-Tex, a base material with a low melting point, allowing it to be dripped into problem areas and scraped level. Beaman said a stick of P-Tex usually costs less than a dollar, so it's an economical way of taking care of gear.

Of course, there are some things that can't be repaired. Cracks in the wood at the core or separation of the layers can sometimes be addressed, but Beaman recommends asking a professional whether it's worth the cost of repair or if replacement is a better option.

For Matt Cantrill, shop manager at McU Sports, skiers and boarders should be paying more attention to one crucial aspect of tuning.

"The No. 1 thing people don't do enough of is wax their skis," he said. "They bring it in once and think they're done for the season. Ideally, it's every three to five times they go up [skiing]."

It's best to apply a general wax at the beginning of the season. Corey Chase, shop manager at Greenwood's Ski Haus recommends a universal wax as a start, with the possible addition of temperature-specific waxes as the season proceeds.

Beaman suggests using a few coats of a cold-weather wax, which tends to get absorbed into the base material better than other waxes and also holds on to other types of waxes.

When applying wax, Cantrill said it's important to use an iron designed specifically for ski wax, not a household iron, which he said can actually damage gear since regular irons do not maintain a constant temperature.

"If a wax is smoking, you're burning all the good qualities out of the wax," he said.

Cantrill said to keep in mind that the wax is not the surface that's being ridden on, but is just conditioning the base. That's why, once wax has been applied and allowed to cool, the excess needs to be scraped off.

Beaman recommends using a plastic brush to scrape off the extra wax, creating a crisscross pattern down the length of the ski or board. This technique creates small channels to push out the water created by the friction of riding over the snow.

Skiers and boarders can also take care of their edges, to a degree. Chase said that true sharpening of edges should be left to the professionals to cut down on the risk of changing the shape through overzealous filing. But basic edge maintenance—smoothing out any burrs or removing rust—can easily be done with a diamond stone, available at most ski shops.

Cantrill said many companies are making their own tools for edge care, which he calls "pretty dummy-proof."

Beaman said to keep in mind location and style when preparing edges. Riders in a terrain park don't necessarily need sharp edges, while those focused on steep and fast need to make sure their edges are ready to bite.

After the bases are clean, smooth and waxed, take a moment to check out the top side of things, the bindings in particular.

"The most important thing is to have [bindings] adjusted and tested," Chase said. "It ensures that everything is working as it should be before they get to the mountain."

Beaman said it's key to make sure bindings haven't worked themselves loose and recommends checking the screws on bindings each time a rider goes out. If they are loose, use caution when tightening them. Don't tighten each screw as much as possible all at once. Instead, slowly adjust them one at a time, working around a pattern to keep pressure as even as possible.

If parts are missing, head to a store that sells that specific brand of binding, since manufacturers don't use universal measurements in their equipment.

Cantrill cautions that beyond basic tightening, binding adjustments should be done by the professionals, who use advanced diagnostic equipment to meet the specific needs of individual riders.

While technology has helped make the sport both safer and easier, it's also made maintenance more complicated.

"Skis have changed in the last 20 years or so," Chase said. "It used to be you could do a lot of home tuning ... Now, [the base material is] so hard, there's not much you can do but polish the edges."

Still not sure what to do? Chase has already been offering a series of free do-it-yourself tuning classes to teach participants the basic techniques. Classes are being scheduled based on public interest. Anyone interested in joining a class should call Greenwood's at 208-342-6808.