Getting Tuned Up for Ski Season

Ski conditions tend to appear overnight, so when the time comes to hit the slopes each winter, even the people who are the most devoted to sliding on snow find themselves woefully underprepared. To make sure everyone is good to go from the start, I spent an afternoon in Peterborough, New Hampshire, with EMS ski guru James McDonough. For nearly a decade, James has been behind the Peterborough shop’s ski bench, and he’s the company’s go-to guy for everything from the skinniest cross-country skis to today’s widest powder planks. In fact, he’s even got snowboards dialed in.

You did a summer tune, right?

In the Northeast, it feels like the ski season ends almost as quickly as it begins, and with the arrival of good weather, guys like James are psyched to get on their bikes and into their kayaks. But, savvy skiers know that, before retiring your sticks for the season, you should give them a good cleaning and a thick coat of wax to keep the bases from drying out over the summer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Ehhhh…The day the snow melted, my skis got buried behind my mountain bike

If you’re one of the few ski bums who did a summer tune, congratulations! All you need to do now is scrape the wax from your skis, buff, and polish them, and you’re good to go! If you didn’t, no worries—James has a five-step plan:

  1. Clean the bases: Think of this as a doctor washing his or her hands before surgery. Everything you do from here on happens on a clean slate.
  2. Base Repair: Did you hit a rock in the spring? Get a little too aggressive on a day that wasn’t quite deep enough? Now is the time to patch those holes!
  3. Sharpen your edges: James suggests buying a sharpener with angles for simple home tunes.
  4. Clean the bases again: As you sharpened your edges, you left tiny metal shavings on each base. Cleaning the base again removes those sinister shavings before the next step.
  5. Wax on, wax off: Iron a coat of wax onto your skis, wait for them to cool to room temperature, scrape the wax off, brush the base from tip to tail, and, finally, polish it off with a fiber pad.

Behind James’s ski bench, you’ll find a full set of SWIX ski tuning supplies—and, luckily for the home tuners out there, EMS.com and our ski stores carry a full assortment. Of course, if this sounds like a fair amount of work, you can always drop your skis off to James or any of our other great ski techs.

Now that your skis are all set, it’s time to check your boots and bindings

Since you have your skis out, it’s a good idea to give your bindings a once-over before you head to the mountains. Check them to make sure the mounting screws are tight, and click your boots into them to see that everything fits and is aligned correctly. As James pointed out to me, there is nothing worse than showing up for your first day, only to discover that something simple is wrong.

While your boots are out, put them on your feet, and see how they feel. If they’re not just right, it might be time to remold them. Over the years, James has breathed new life into old boots by simply “cooking” them more times than he can remember. If you’re doing this at home, don’t just toss your liners into the oven—make sure you follow the directions that come with your boots.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Now for everything else?

According to James, going through all of your ski stuff is an easy way to ensure the best opening day possible. Dig out your helmet and goggles to give them an inspection. Does your helmet look worse for wear? Are your goggles scratched? It might be worth replacing them now. Also, do you know where your balaclava and gloves are? Do you have a supply of hand warmers? If you use adjustable poles, are they bent, or do they still adjust?

James is an old-school telemark skier and is the type of guy who brown-bags it to the mountain. He warns, “Don’t get stuck paying extra cash on the mountain for stuff you can buy beforehand. Go through everything you used last season, make sure it’s functional, and take care of any problems you find at home, where it’s easy and cheap.”

James reminds us that, “Although the temptation is to just dump all ski stuff into the back of the Subie and head for the mountains, spending a little time getting yourself ready can save you big dollars, lots of aggravation, and ensure your first day is a good day.” Because even though James has never had a bad day skiing, he’s pretty sure he has seen a few people who have.

Do you have any other tips to get ready for the season?