In order to keep your skis performing like they’re designed to, it’s important to tune them regularly. Sharp edges, a flat base, and a good wax job can make all the difference between an epic and terrible day. If you decide to do this at home, you'll need some special tools and some knowledge to use it.
Depending on how often you go to the mountain, you may only need to get your skis or snowboard tuned once per year; if you ride a lot you may need work done weekly. Whether you go to a professional or do it yourself, there is always some tuning you can easily perform at home with the right tools. Skis and snowboards normally come from the factory with a finished tune that includes a flat base and smooth, sharp edges. Some manufacturers are better at this than others, so it’s wise to take a careful look at new skis or boards before using them.
Edges – when and how do I need to sharpen them
The perfect edge is a sharp, clean, and smooth edge. New edges usually come close to this ideal, but they can quickly be damaged and dulled by routine use, rocks, park riding, oxidation, and road chemicals. If your edges are visibly damaged or rusted, have burrs from hitting rocks or park features, or won’t hold on hard snow, it’s time to take care of them.
One way to maintain your edges is a qualified shop, where they have the tools and knowledge to do this. If you decide to work on your edges by yourself, you’ll need some specific gear and desire to master the skills.
Tools needed to perform the work include a flat-file, file guide(s), diamond file, and gummy stone for removing rust and burr. Another tool without which we can’t work is a vise. Make sure you get a vise that will accommodate the width of your skis.
The best way to check the edge sharpness is by dragging a fingernail across your edges. If the ski edge scrapes away some fingernail it's probably sharp enough. If you see/feel that the edges are dull, grab your tools and start tuning. Always go from tip to tail. When tuning, hold the file guide in the right position.
Waxing your skis is kind of like riding powder – it’s impossible to do it too much. Waxing on a regular basis not only makes you go faster, but it also makes turning and handling smoother and more predictable and protects your bases from abrasion. With a little practice, you can master the art of waxing and consistently outrun your partners on the flats or that high traverse to get to the goods. Interested?
Different types of wax are applied using different methods. Paste waxes are rubbed on with an applicator and polished with a cork. And it can be applied on the hill. It takes less than 5 minutes for a pair.
For alpine skiing and snowboarding, we also use “glide” waxes – to make your bases faster. Glide waxes work by momentarily creating a very thin layer of water between the ski base and snow surface, and their formula varies according to snow temperature and texture. When we talk about waxing skis, we usually are referring to hot applications of glide wax with an iron.
In an emergency, hard alpine waxes can be applied cold by rubbing on, but for the best performance and longest-lasting results, they should be melted on using an iron, then scraped and brushed.
Step 1: Cleaning the base
First, we have to clean the base. Make sure the base is flat and without any big edges and holes. Nothing rises above the base. Once you’ve done that make sure that the base is not dirty. With a base cleaner remove any oil and grime. If the base looks clean skip this step. The base cleaner also removes wax any you’d like to keep some in the base.
Step 2: Choosing the wax
Once the base is clean of any dirt, oil, and old wax it’s ready to apply a new layer of fresh wax. Here a new question arises. Which wax to use?
Wax is either “all-temperature” or “temperature specific."
All-temperature wax or universal wax is the most commonly used wax. It’s designed to work well in any temperature and snow conditions. It is a good choice if the temperature varies a lot where you ride. From top of the mountain to the base, sometimes the difference in temperature is quite noticeable. And the second option, if you can’t predict the weather.
Temperature specific waxes require that you follow the weather and temperature. They work best within a certain range of temperatures, providing increased performance. Temperature specific waxes will still work better than no wax in temperatures outside of their “ideal” range, and it’s possible to combine two temperature specific waxes if you anticipate borderline temperatures.
Fluorocarbons Alpine waxes are available in Hydrocarbon (basic), Low-Fluorocarbon (faster), and High-Fluorocarbon (fastest) versions. The increase in glide from adding fluorocarbons to wax can be dramatic, especially in high water content snow, but the price increases are pretty significant, too – users of high-fluoro waxes tend to be competition-oriented and willing to pay to gain a slight advantage in speed. For most recreational use, hydrocarbon or low-fluoro waxes are a good choice.
Alpine hard waxes are applied with a hot iron. If you plan to wax your skis regularly a wax iron may be a good investment. Otherwise, an old clothes iron will do. But be careful. Regular irons can quickly be set at too high temperature, causing you to damage your bases. Be careful not to overheat the wax - find a temperature that melts the wax easily but doesn't smoke when the wax contacts the iron. Since every iron is different the best option to find the ideal temperature is experimenting.
Step 3: Applying the wax
Now that we finally have all we can start applying the wax.
Press the wax against the iron and hold it above the ski. Let the drops fall on the base. Move along the ski length so you create a track. For a narrow ski usually, one pass is enough, while a wider ski usually requires a second go. It’s easy to apply more wax than necessary, so move fairly quickly during this step – you can add more wax later if needed.
Applying the right amount of wax to completely cover the base will come with practice, but you’ll always have some waste. Next put the iron flat on the base and move it down the ski to melt the wax you’ve applied. Spread it evenly so it penetrates the entire base surface. Remember that your goal is to get melted wax into the small pores in the base structure. Keep the iron moving at all times; usually, a speed of about 1 - 2 inches per second will prevent damage to the base by overheating.
After the wax is applied, take a break and let the wax cool thoroughly. It’s best to leave your skis or snowboard at room temperature until the bases feel completely cool to the touch, usually about 30 minutes. If in doubt, wait a little longer; don’t rush the cooling process by taking the skis or board outside. If you scrape before the wax is completely cool, you’ll actually be pulling wax out of the small pores in your base, which is counterproductive.
Step 4: Scraping
A common misconception is that wax needs to be thick to be effective. Actually the opposite is the case; the best wax job is visible only as an oily sheen on the base, and little or no wax should come off if you scrape the base with a fingernail. As many pro tuners say, the wax should be “in the base” not “on it.”
To get the wax layer that thin, you need to scrape off the excess. Both polycarbonate (plastic) scrapers and steel scrapers can be used for wax removal, but steel scrapers require a more skilled hand. If you’re just starting out, we recommend a plastic scraper, which should be sharpened regularly with a file or sharpener.
Angle the scraper in the direction of travel and push from tip to tail to remove the wax. Under-scraping is probably one of the most common errors that beginner tuners make - the edges should be completely free of wax and just the tiniest amount should be visible on the base. Remember to scrape the side of your edges as well with the end of the scraper (or the edge notch if your scraper has one).
Step 5: Brushing
Once the wax is removed it’s time for brushing. here are many types of brushes, and a complete waxing setup usually includes two or three different ones. A typical quiver of wax brushes usually includes a brass brush (for base structuring and prep), a stiff nylon brush, a softer nylon brush with shorter, finer bristles, and a very fine horsehair brush. You start with the stiffer, coarse nylon brush, and progress to finer, softer brushes as you work.
The idea is to leave only the thinnest layer of wax on the surface of the base and allow the structure of the base to show through. If you don’t want to go so deep into details, you can easily use just a fine nylon brush. It will do a good job with much less effort. Brush from tip to tail in short to medium strokes, and keep at it until the base is uniformly oily and glossy looking.
As you work you’ll notice tiny white flecks of wax being deposited at the end of each stroke, even when it appears all the surface wax is gone – that’s the wax being pulled out of the structure to make you fast-fast-fast. It’s pretty hard to over-brush but keep at it for five to ten minutes or so or until you get tired. Finish off with several full-length tip-to-tail strokes, and you’re ready to ride.
Remember, you can’t wax too often and you can always do it over if you make a mistake (except if you burn your base). Some waxing is almost always better than none.
I hope this article helped you. But if the procedure is still unclear visit YouTube. There you’ll find a lot of how-to-do clips.
Written by: Jan Palovsnik, freeride skier