We see it all the time: readers spending weeks agonizing over which ski to buy, paying top dollar for it, then never bothering to tune its edges. After two or three outings, a ski no longer performs as well as it did initially. After six, it's seriously compromised.
Your options: Go to a shop and drop $30 every time your edges get a couple of dings. (Many shops offer tuning "season passes," which are a nice option.) Or you can invest in a sharpening tool and keep your edges smooth and sharp between once- or twice-yearly shop tunes. Knowing how to bring edges back to life after the normal abuse of Eastern skiing can prolong the life of your skis and change your attitude toward ice. Sharp edges are especially important with today's wider skis, which sacrifice edge-grip.
For the uninitiated, a few basics. Remember, ski edges have two facets touching the snow: the base edge, which lies facedown on the snow, and the vertical side edge, which faces out to the side. The two surfaces meet at a corner-the actual edge of the ski-at an angle of the skier's choosing.
[NEXT ""]Most skis come from the factory with base edges that are imperceptibly angled in relation to the base of the ski. This slight beveling, usually .5 or 1 degree, has the effect of lifting the corner of the edge off the snow, making the ski easier to swivel and pivot during turn initiation and preventing the ski from initiating unintended turns. A base edge that is actually flat on the snow will feel too sharp and will resist skidding, making the ski unmanageable. While it's good to know what your base bevel is, you'll barely touch the base edge during the course of routine tuning, other than to carefully smooth it with a diamondstone.
The side edge is where the action is. When the corner of the edge is nicked or burred from a rough day in Eastern conditions, the way to resharpen it is to remove layers of side-edge until the corner is sharp again. Like base edges, side edges are beveled, usually one or two degrees off vertical, so as to form the desired edge angle in relation to the base edge. For soft snow and a relaxed ride, a 90-degree angle (1 degree base, 1 degree side) at the corner is most comfortable. But for tenacious edge-grip on hard snow, go with a sharper corner, usually 89 degrees (1 degree base, 2 degree side).
Side-edge tools hold files or diamondstones at the desired angle, using the base of the ski as a reference surface. There are many styles, from simple angled plates on which a tool is clamped to complex housings that hold the tool at adjustable angles; from high-grade plastic to anodized aluminum and stainless steel. Here are our favorite options-easy to use for great results and more fun on hard Eastern snow.
[NEXT ""]1 BEAST Side of BEAST Pro, ($60) The Side of BEAST's interchangeable angle plates ensure accurate, no-slip clamping of either a file or a stone in a rugged anodized aluminum housing. Its stainless-steel slide plate won't damage bases if kept clean. We like its heft, comfortable grip and reasonable price. It comes with two angle plates (2 and 3 degrees), and you can order additional angle plates for $10. Order online or ask for a Race Place catalog, which has good information on the basics of ski-tuning. beasttuning.com
Holmenkol Pro Edge Tuner, ($70) Comparable to the BEAST, the Pro Edge is lighter and uses three plastic shims that can be mixed to achieve anything from 1- to 7- degree edge angles. Attach an aggressive panzer file, set it to 7 degrees, and you can plane away sidewall material that otherwise obstructs access to the side-edge. Holmenkol's Pro Edge Champion ($150) is similar, except that it features roller bearings that won't damage the ski's base. But if kept clean, the Pro Edge Tuner's Teflon guide works fine. holmenkol.us.com
Sun Valley Ski Tools Double Duty Side Edge Beveler, ($24) Sun Valley's Double Duty isn't adjustable, so you'll have to chooose which angle you want and stick with it. But it's inexpensive and light enough to carry in a pack or pocket. A rugged plastic housing holds two tools-a file segment on one side, a polishing stone on the other-at the same angle. Give your edges a quick file, flip the tool over, and polish away the file striations for a smooth, polished surface. Available in 1-, 2- or 3-degree models. race-werks.com
Toko Ergo Multi Guide, ($72) The Multi Guide is easily and accurately adjustable from 0 to 6 degrees (using any coin to loosen it). The angles are marked as 85 to 90 degrees on the tool; just remember that 90 equals 0, 89 equals 1, 88 equals 2, etc. Its tough plastic housing is lightweight but sure-handed, and stainless steel roller bearings protect the ski's base from scraping. Securely grips file (included) or stone, so there's no maddening slippage. tokous.com
[NEXT ""]TUNING TIPS
> Working tip to tail, make initial passes with a diamondstone to smooth protruding dings. Switch to a file to sharpen, then finish with a finer stone to polish. Filing can sometimes be skipped.
> Keep files free of debris during use. Use a nylon-bristled brush.
> Polishing and filing stones (diamond, ceramic or natural) should always be used wet.
> Files only work in one direction; many are marked with an arrow to prevent damage.
> Develop a system for keeping track of which edges you've already sharpened and/or polished. It can get confusing.
> Clean your work area and stow sharpening tools before waxing.
> Sidewall material above the edge can impede access to it after repeated filings. Use of a sidewall planer will be necessary.