Leo Mussi knows ski tech. The 45-year-old is Fischer Sports’ go-to tuner for its alpine ski team. Based in San Candido, Italy, he took some time leading up to the Olympics to chat about what makes skis fast.
Pro skiers get all the fame, but it's often the techs that can make or break a race for the pros. What goes into making sure skis are always ready?
Techs have to always be very organized. We receive our new equipment and supplies in the spring and prep them all summer. Once we get closer to fall we begin to select equipment and are focused on certain skis. We have to always think and work ahead, so we have gear ready for every condition.
Are you sponsored by certain wax brands, and therefore have to use them, or do you have freedom to pick and choose from any brand you like? What do you prefer?
I´m not sponsored by a wax brand. I choose what I want, but I have my preferred wax brand. Because of my style, I choose Holmenkol for base preparation and Swix for race wax. I guess every technician has his preferences. Wax brands are very close in performance and all are good. There’s not much of a difference between them.
How have fluorinated waxes changed the tuning game? And when did they appear on the scene?
Fluorinated waxes are good in very wet or humid conditions. In all other conditions, it’s better to stay away from them. Fluorinated overlay helps you gain speed at the start.
(photos by Matt Berkowitz)
Are high-fluoros worth the money for, say, a masters racer who wants to go fast? Are there times or conditions when using them is wasteful and ineffective?
In my opinion, those waxes are usually a waste of money, and people tend to use them in the wrong conditions. Conditions are limited for it to work correctly. Many times a normal base wax or low flour is faster.
There are so many different brands and types of ski wax on the market. What should all wax have or not have, and how do people choose what's best for them?
Brands are very similar in performance, but they are all different to work with. It’s up to the individual. Some of them feel denser when you wax with them, which is what I like. Choose a brand with a small assortment, but wide range of temperatures. The more temperature options you have, the more likely you are to fail.
Are there any new wax technologies that are making an impact? Or tuning technologies?
There are some new wax products with nano technologies coming in the near future. I haven’t figured out what their advantages will be. Some of the new liquid-based overlay products are doing well. They are very simple to apply on skis and that´s why they work well.
What are the toughest conditions to wax for? And how do you cope with it?
Extreme warm and extreme cold conditions are the toughest to wax. In warm conditions I go with fluorinated waxes and during the colder conditions I stay away from them.
What's the most important aspect of tuning, other than waxing, for making skis fast?
It´s how the work gets done on the edges, how much they are skied in before, and how often they get waxed during the training period. All this together adds up to make the ski faster.
From a tuning and waxing standpoint, what do you do on the pro level that recreational skiers could apply?
Make sure you clean your skis after you use them (brushing), wax them and then tune the edges a few times. Especially when the skis are new, they need to be filed a few times. Some skis will start to get smother after that. Once they have been on the snow about 10 times, they should be ready to use in a race. Keep it simple with race wax—don´t make it complicated. Brushing well after scraping is more important than a good wax. Also having a clean edge is important. A clean edge means having the right angle, you don´t need to have too sharp of edges.
You must have tradecraft tricks and secrets that you want to keep secret. How do you do that when you're working in a crowded wax room with other technicians nearby?
The main work is already done when I show up for the races. I do all the secret things at home in my own ski room. I´m just changing wax, but we all use the same waxes, so there’s no secrets about that.
Are some pairs of skis just inherently faster than other skis of the same exact design? If so, what could explain that?
Skis are made of wood and wood is always alive. So that’s why some skis are better or faster than others. There’s no real explanation—we can´t look inside to figure out why. It´s kind of a mystery, but that’s what makes this work so exiting.