It’s almost March. No matter how well you followed my pre-season tips on prepping your skis and bindings, your equipment has taken a beating. But instead of letting it slide into championship season, you can examine and adjust your gear in just a few minutes — saving you precious seconds on the racecourse.
Here’s where you might be losing speed, and how you can get it back.
1. Skis That Have Simply Lost Their Grip
You know the type. They simply can’t hold in hard or icy conditions. This might be from training or racing too much on challenging snow, or from messing with the skis yourself. Aggressive tools on the base can do as much damage as Mother Nature’s curveballs.
Either way, the base and edge have compromised the grip — and there’s no telling exactly when this might happen. But once you note the change, the quick fix is to get the base and base edge reground at a shop with a high-quality stone grinder and a highly trained tech.
If you’re very skilled with hand tools — sharp metal scrapers, sandpaper, Fibertex — then you can clean up the base and edges on your own, in between stone grinds. Keep in mind that your skis can handle only so many grinds before the base material starts to wear thin, which means less surface area to hold wax and protect the ski.
2. Skis That Need to Be Engaged More
When the bottom shape of skis changes and becomes rounder, you’ll feel you need more edge angle to get engaged. The best fix is to keep your tools away from the base edge, and focus instead on side edge for sharpness. (As you file more side edge throughout the season, you may need to pull away more sidewall material so that your side edge angle also remains true.)
For best in-season tuning results, develop a process that is quick and easy to inspect the ski shape, reset the edge sharpness, and re-wax for longevity and speed of your base. Consistency of the work and the tools that you use are key.
2. Do light maintenance every day. Try to wax every time you ski.
3. Always use ski straps to transport your skis. Use a minimum of two straps, tip and tail, for car and for carrying; and three or four straps when rolling skis in a bag and flying.
4. Keep wax on the skis as often as you can. Any time that you are storing the skis, leave a coat of mid-temp hydrocarbon wax.
5. Try to use the least aggressive tools so that the edges last as long as possible. When it’s time for heavy edge work, move to the quickest and most efficient method to re-sharpen, whether that’s a Trione, a SnowGlide, a file or a diamond stone.
3. Bindings That Haven’t Met Their Match
In other words, your skill level may have changed during the season, along with your weight, speed, technique and tactics. So you may need to change your binding setting accordingly.
Training and freeskiing days are different from race days. In most organized race programs, your coach is adapting the spring tension on your bindings according to snow conditions, the event that you are skiing, the terrain, or the possibility of excessive adrenaline production.
For either scenario, it’s a good practice to make regular checks of your forward pressure and DIN settings.
So, how can you make sure that release and retention remain working right on bindings? First, ensure that the forward pressure on the heelpiece is adjusted properly to the boot. Err on the side of more forward pressure than less. Check for snow or ice stuck on the boot sole that might be preventing the binding from working properly. And if the binding toe piece has either a toe height adjustment or mechanical wing adjustments, those both must be perfectly calibrated, as well.
The secret to success: Always adjust bindings on snow, when the boots and bindings have acclimated to outside temperatures.
Binding adjustments become more complicated when considering ruts in the course that dictate different tactical approaches. Some athletes throw caution to the wind and attempt to run a line counter to the direction of the rut. When you lose pressure on the outside ski and put most of the weight on the inside ski, the loss of pressure allows the ski to flex and counterflex excessively, and sometimes, as soon as that vibrating ski comes back to the snow, the binding releases.
Remember the ski boot, which I’ll address more in detail in my next column. If you see anything that looks suspicious, such as excessive wear of the sole, any cuts or chunks of plastic missing where the boot sole contacts, the binding should be repaired.
If the boots were canted and lifted, make sure that the soles are restored to the proper DIN specs. Boots that have been lifted or plated can always have cracked, worn, or broken pieces replaced. (This is also a good place to remind you protect your boot sole from wear by using Cat Tracks or Ski Skooties.)
Finally, a note on communication and DIN setting at races. I’ve worked closely with my own junior racers and their coaches to make sure everyone’s communicating about bindings being set for racing or training. My son went freeskiing recently with a brand new pair of super G skis, had a binding pre-release, took a bad fall and ended up with a bent ski.
But my son and his coach arrived later that day at the shop to show me what had happened and to make an action plan so it wouldn’t happen again. That plan included bending the ski tip back to workable shape, re-checking the forward pressure on the heel piece, and agreeing among the three of us to increase the DIN setting in the heel piece.
So know your program. Parents and coaches should work together to make sure that they are teaching their young athletes that they ultimately are responsible for their own equipment.
2. Visually inspect the bindings when you put the skis in the vise for prep. Check for any broken or missing parts.
3. Always know what your DIN settings are for all events, and for training versus racing.