What is a Ski Tune?

by Greg Whitehouse of California Ski Company, over 10 years in the business; Contributing Industry Expert Columnist.

Published on November 9, 2010

The Ski Tune Process
I often get the feeling that the majority of people who own and maintain skis across this great land of ours have a yearly tune up performed. They do this seemingly without any idea what it means to tune a ski. The skier drops off their skis at the local shop and returns a few days later to pick them up after shelling out a few bucks for the work. What has been done? They have been tuned and now they (should) ski better. Hmmm…wish you knew more about what you are getting in return for your hard earned money? What is this mysterious tuning process? Did you just shell out fifty bucks to have your ski well cleaned and given back? Did they tune it like a piano? What’s up?

It is important to know that shops will vary greatly in what they consider a tune up. Factors such as the equipment that they use will also affect the tune process and quality. Not to be overlooked of is the training and ability of the ski tech that actually works on your precious sticks.  I am pointing out that not all tunes are created equal! At California Ski Company we evaluate every ski that comes in for service and make our honest recommendations on what specific service we should provide on a case by case basis. With that said here is a very basic description of what we do here between the time you drop off your skis to get the standard “ski tune up” and the time you pick them up.

Step One- Analysis
You bring your skis in and say something about getting work done. Our sales staff will listen to what you think you need and then evaluate the skis. We are trained to check the base for flatness, look at your top sheet for delaminating, check the skis camber, look at the base texture (structure) and generally evaluate the condition of the current tune. We will then let you know what we think you should have done, or what your options are. The salesperson will then write up a work order and cart your skis away into the back room with an agreed upon pick up date.

Step Two- The Tech’s appraisal
The technician looks over the work order and reads what work is to be performed. A complete visual inspection of the skis and bindings will (hopefully) unmask any issues that the sales clerk missed. Unless we need to speak further to you at this time, work commences.

Step Three- Flatten the ski
This is done because your skis have worn or warped and the bottoms are not flat anymore. A ski needs to be flat to work well. This work is done on our Wintersteiger tuning machine. The ski is fed through what is basically a giant belt sander. We use a very fine grit belt and run it multiple times checking the progress each time. As soon as it is flat we move on.

Step Four- Fix up the base
A typical reason many customers feel they need service is because their bases get scratched up. This seems to be some sort of visual message that inspires both guilt and the need to get a tune. Here is where we take care of that part. All the scratches, gouges, and tears on your base are repaired. New base material is added to fill any scars still showing after the base is flattened. Hand finish work with a metal scraper to smooth out the added base material completes this step.

Step Five- Set the base edge angle
We use the big tuning machine for this step. The metal edge on the bottom portion of your ski is machined so it is not quite flat against the snow. It is offset 1 degree so it doesn’t catch when you don’t want it to while you ski. We grind this base edge of the ski to a precise angle.

Step Six- Set the side edge angle
Another part of the Wintersteiger tuning machine is used for side edge work. We set the machine up to grind only the side part of the ski where the metal edge is. The angle is set and the ski is run through at that angle until it is uniform and it has a smooth and sharp corner where it runs into the freshly made base edge (see step three above).

Step Seven- New Structure on the base
Much like a car tire, your ski has a tread pattern we call the “structure”. What type of structure works best depends on what kind of snow you typically ski in. Utah shops will run a different pattern on their skis than we do here in California. In any case this is the part that puts the pattern into the base. A very big stone is actually used for this process. This is the stone that makes us call the machine a “stone grinder”. We use a diamond to score a pattern into the stone. The stone is then used to cut this pattern into the ski. In addition, the stone is very precise and ensures that the ski base is perfectly flat and even.

Step Eight- Penetrate the base with wax
Your ski base is not solid. It is made so that wax can be driven deep into it. We heat up a special iron and melt wax onto the base and then “iron it in”. After about ten minutes of ironing, the skis are set aside to cool. After cooling, a scraper is used to remove any surface wax leaving only the wax inside the base material and a very thin layer on the ski itself. This wax is then polished using a high speed rotational brush to clear out the structure on the base and give a smooth and consistent texture to the wax finish.

Step Nine- Clean and store
Now the basic tune work is done, but we want you to be impressed with us (and we treat all skis like they were our own!). Therefore the technician will clean up the top sheet, dust off any wax dust and put a ski tie on the skis before hanging them to await delivery.

Step Ten- Delivery
When you come to pick up your skis a sales person will retrieve them, take off the ski tie, and show you the work we have done. Tech notes and tune details will be pointed out. Unless you have questions you are on your way.
There you have it. A very basic description of what happens during a ski tune process. I realize you knew steps One and Ten already. Hopefully an account of steps Two through Nine gave you some insight into the actual process you pay for. If you have questions about any part of this process, feel free to stop by our store at 843 Gilman Street Berkeley, CA 94710, call us at 510-527-6411, or email us. View our operating hours. We are always happy to talk tech!

About CalSkiCo

Califronia Ski Company is the go to expert for all things skiing, earning a stellar reputation for excellence from over 10 years in the business. It’s revealing to learn that many top Tahoe resorts’ ski instructors and ski patrollers make the long drive back down the mountain to have CalSkiCo service their skis and gear. When you visit CalSkiCo, remember to say you read Greg’s column on SnowPals; that will get a smile out of him and extra VIP treatment for you. 🙂

“We are the East Bay’s only specialty ski shop. We have been selling ski equipment – and ski equipment only – for the past 10 years. We are dedicated to assisting your purchasing decisions with the most highly trained, knowledgeable staff in the San Francisco Bay Area; our mission is to ensure your skiing satisfaction!” ~ Greg

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