How to Race Prep a Ski
When it comes to race skis preparation can make the difference between valuable tenths of seconds. Preparation comes in two forms, waxing and edge work. Waxing will provide the perfect glide a high level skier requires and edge work will give the precision bite necessary for exact control and drive needed. The process of waxing and edge work are identical to the basic processes just require much more attention and precision.
Waxing is premium when it comes to race preparation. The more coats of wax put into the base of a ski the faster it will run. There are many waxes on the market that are developed purely as preparation waxes. The reason most of these waxes come only in large 180 gram bars is because they need to be used as much as possible. These prep waxes are only part of what is useful while properly setting up a race ski. Very cold temperature waxes like CH 3 and LF 3 can also be very useful in race preparation. These extremely cold temperature waxes not only help build a base of wax, but actually harden the base material making it more resilient towards scarring and gouging.
While many different methods can be used during preparatory waxing there are a few commonly practiced ways. If you are simply using a prep wax it is easy, as many coats as possible. If more waxes are being introduced like LF 3 powder the process changes slightly. Two or three coats of the extreme cold temperature wax provide a great base of wax and penetrate very deep into the base. Follow this with five to ten coats of mid temperature prep wax, then back to the extreme cold for two more coats. After that finish with as many coats of prep wax, either mid or warm temperature, as you have time to do. Remember that there is no such thing as too much wax.
Although the goal of prep waxing is very much the same as waxing for actually skiing, it is the ironing phase that makes all the difference here. Unlike with regular waxing is is not important how long the wax sits on the ski, just as long as the ski wax cools back to room temperature. Also, although you will need to scrape the ski between every coat it is not necessary to brush the ski before or after each coat, until the final application. While race prep can take an enormous amount of time many shops will have hot-box setups that can offer the same effect in an easy five to eight hour process, and the newest infrared systems can do the same in under ten minutes. However most shops will charge one hundred dollars or more for these treatments, while a bar of prep wax good for forty coats costs as little at twenty-five dollars.
Just like with the wax preparation, the edge work is a similar, it all comes down to tools and time. However before we delve into the process it is important to know what angles are best depending on the skier and ski type. Side edge angles usually vary in one degree increments and determine how far a ski can angulate, the greater the angle the more angulation it will allow for. With larger side edge angles a skier can get into more aggressive positions, but will feel skittish unless put in these positions. Base edge angles typically change in quarter degree increments, and dictate how quickly a ski will start to engage and hookup into a turn. The smaller the base edge angle the quicker the ski will engage but reduces the overall forgiveness of the ski. Most speed event skis (downhill and super g) will have two to three degree side edge angles and a one degree base edge angle. This allows for good angulation, while keeping a slightly forgiving feel on a ski that will be travelling at high speeds. Skis meant for precision events (giant slalom and slalom) tend to have more aggressive side edge angles, around two to five degrees and a base edge between .50 and .75 degrees. As these skis are travelling at lower speeds forgiveness is less of an issue and precision is paramount. These are very basic guidelines that work for most aggressive skiers, and a common substitution is for less aggressive racers to use a one degree base edge on precision skis as well.
Once you decide what the best edge angles are for each of your skis it is time to start shaping. When setting new angles on a ski it is important to use a very aggressive file to remove material, and guarantee that the edge will take shape tip to tail. four to five passes per edge usually does the trick, but an easy way to make sure is by coloring in the edge with a sharpie, and run the edge until the marker is fully removed. If you are having a hard time shaping the whole edge (common when going to three degree or more) it is important to use a sidewall scraper, which will allow the file more freedom to contact the edge. Most aggressive files will leave a rough outline of what the edge needs to look like but it is important to hone the edge from there. After basic shaping, a less harsh file like a second cut file should be run two to three times per edge, this helps to hone the edge and remove the machining marks left by the more aggressive file. At this point it is time to switch from files to diamond stones. Using a coarse then a fine diamond stone another three to four passes each puts a permanent hone and starts the final polishing process. The last stone needed for a perfect edge is a smooth ceramic stone. This stone doesn’t do much for shaping or honing the edge, but it puts a perfect polish into the edge, which helps the edge keep it’s new shape longer. Three to five passes with the ceramic stone and you are all done. If you take the time to do this prep work regular maintenance throughout the becomes very easy. Waxing simply becomes one coat before race day, and edge work is basic touch up every two weeks or so. Just remember, patience is your best friend when working on skis, and proper work means more control and faster times.