You’ve chosen your skis for the season. Now what?
Be careful. Be very careful. The actions you’re about to take could land you at the top of the podium, or leave you whimpering at its flanks, wondering how you could have been faster.
Yep, your ski prep is that important. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, initial setup should be as simple as possible. You’ve already got guidelines from FIS and USSA. You’ve already got good role models — the standards of precision and consistency practiced at the World Cup level. And chances are, you’ve got exactly the tools you need at your disposal.
But for some reason, many juniors and masters alike spend more time primping their skis than it takes to truss, stuff and cook a 29-pound turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Or, parents are clueless about files and waxes, and trust that their gut will guide them to smooth skis. Not happening.
The bottom line is that there are five simple guidelines that, followed by consistent maintenance this season (which you’ll read about in a future Backshop), will guarantee a good performance. Read, watch and take notes. Just don’t take it to the extreme.
1. Inspect the Skis
Forget what the ski company rep or your coach has told you — every new ski from the factory needs to be prepared, even with some suppliers delivering to market closer than others. New or old, the bottom of the ski requires a quick eyeball, and then a quick inspection with a true bar or angle gauges to determine the next steps. Is the ski truly flat on the base side? Move on to the base bevel angle. Does it have a bevel greater than the desired amount? Get the ski ground flat, and prepare to pony up, as that expense falls on your shoulders. Don’t worry too much about side-edge angles or sidewall shapes, because regardless of how the skis come out of the wrapper, you’ll be shaping the sidewall and side edge.
2. Shape the Base Edges
If you blow this step, you might as well skip the season ahead. It’s the most important part of the process, because the base edge angle determines the behavior of the ski on snow. What’s the best bevel? That depends on your strength and skill set. Typically, the stronger and more skilled you are, the lower the base edge bevel you need. (As juniors get more proficient, they’ll need less help getting the turn started.) If you’re not sure, start with a lower angle — you can always increase the base bevel as you go.
3. Shape the Sidewalls
Time to get dirty. When the base edge is set, the next move is to shape the sidewall material so that you’re able to sharpen the side edge while keeping the phenolic or ABS material intact. But first, protect the base material with tape. Then use either a sharp panzer file or sidewall tool with a square or round blade. For the final finish, I like to use 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper and Scotchbrite. Be sure to draw down the material evenly so the strength and integrity of the sidewall remains high. (See “Why’d You Mess Up Your Sidewalls?” below.) If you don’t want to invest in a proper sidewall tool, or don’t feel comfortable hacking away at your sidewall, bring your ski into a trusted race shop.
4. Set the Side Edge Angle
This will give your ski a control switch of grip and power, provided the edge is clean and smooth. So make sure that your file is clean, straight, and sharp, and that your edge guide is clean and polished. Aim to get the entire edge, from tip to tail, at the same angle. I like to begin the work in small sections and increase the length of my pull to longer strokes as my bevel starts to take shape. Don’t forget to knock down and hanging burr, which will impede the ski’s performance.
5. Brush, Wax, Scrape, Repeat.
Get ready to give your skis some love. This cycle will give the ski gliding capabilities and durability, and should be repeated a few times before you hit the snow. The brushing cleans and knocks down any “hairs” from the base. Waxing helps to further pull dirt and impurities from deep inside the base material, and scraping further helps to smooth out and round off the sharp peaks of the stone grind pattern.