I usually get a celestial gift on or around my birthday in the form of snow flurries or snow showers. They look after me up there and remind me that I am on their radar screen. 🙂 But it is also a trigger to get some things organized so that when the first turns are made on the slopes, I am ready to go. I usually put the ski magazines that come trickling into my mailbox in August, September, and October in a rack so that I don’t get too excited too early. My mountain bike friends always joke about how long it will be before I will mention skiing on a ride. They set their watches and look for new records in the discussions. But when those flakes start to fall, the precipitation reminds this big flake to get organized for the season ahead.
My friend Eric Durfee taught me the fine art of sharpening and waxing skis many years ago. He is a native Vermonter now living in Tahoe and his son Travis was top ten in Downhill and Super G west of the Mississippi for many years . He and his dad know a thing or two about tuning skis. Back in the day, Eric got me a pair of these tuning vices which are now too narrow for the bottom work because of the width of skis these days. I have to Magiver a little bit to do any work on the bottoms but mostly when needed, I take them to the local shop and use their Wintersteiger machine to get the bottoms flat. http://www.wintersteiger.com In the old days, we used a 10″ mill bastard file to try to flatten the bottoms but ski bottoms are so hard these days that only a machine will get them flat. The modern tuning machines can also provide a beveled edge and Eric and Travis can also do that manually with file devices with specific bevel adjustments. I am not that sophisticated. I get the bottoms flat and then side file with an 8″ mill bastard file and can feel the sharpness measured on my fingernails- old school. The Durfees chuckle at this because it is so old school and how I cannot utilize the technology of bevel file tools. But I prefer to have the edge sharp to my own liking. There is something also therapeutic and comforting knowing that you are working on your own skis.
Waxing is another requirement. I use Swix all purpose wax that I buy cheap through PSIA. When I go to Tahoe, the boys grab my bar and throw it violently into the wastebasket. But I use it here at home mostly because it works and it is cheap. Nothing like a freshly waxed pair of skis. I have a bit of nostalgia when I go to my garage on tuning days, especially in the beginning of the new ski season. My dad made my bench out of a door that he bought at the hardware store many years ago. He mounted it in his house when I was younger and then he helped me mount it in later years in my garage in my townhouse and then in my first house in West View, Pa. I had it mounted in my current garage and every time I work on my skis, I think of my dad who helped me with many things. He was the first guy who got me skiing 53 years ago and he didn’t even ski. He loved the fact that I took to the sport when I was young and then when I asked him to help me design a bench, he was more than happy to help. His mechanical engineering and general carpentry skills came into play. I wish I had more of his talent, but it lies elsewhere. I am a klutz mechanically. But I can sharpen and wax a pair of skis.
I like to stay after tuning all winter because it really makes a difference in the way a ski performs. Mentally it is an edge when the conditions get icy because you can feel confident that you have a pair of skis that will hold when you put pressure on a ski in the initiation of a turn. The Durfees are way ahead of me when it comes to modern tuning technique but for the most part, my way has served me well over all the years. When I go out west to visit though, I have to be at the top of my game because the Durfee boys will be inspecting and criticizing my work. I am a tuning guru locally, but I am behind the times in the Sierras. But it is all good and it works for the most part.
Funny how things like tuning can be passed down generations or even among friends. My pal Art Bonavoglia and I used to ski in Vermont when the Durfees lived there and Art got his first taste of Durfee Tuning 101 in the basement of the Durfee home in Bethel, Vermont. Art can really put a sharp edge on a pair of skis but these days he is spoiled because the local shops in Vail tune his skis. He is on the ski school staff there. But his input goes into the shop as he drops them off and no doubt a lot of his requirements came from those Vermont days and also from days in the McCloskey garage where we worked together on the boards back in the day.
A lot of folks take their skis to a shop in the beginning of the season and then don’t touch them until the following season. Not much tuning is required if you don’t ski in icy conditions but waxing is always a must for all skiers. I am constantly preaching the value of sharpening and waxing on a more regular basis to local skiers. But whether they take my advice or not, I know that I will continue to tune my skis and my wife’s skis and that the benefits are not only in performance of the equipment, but also in the memories of seasons gone by with my old bench and my 30 year old Geze vices that have withstood the test of time. Thanks to Eric and thanks to his son Travis who keep us all in line. Think snow and thanks for reading.