How to service a pair of skis

Want to ski better? And save money on your ski gear? You could start by servicing your own equipment.

Tom Lewis, instructor with the Warren Smith Ski Academy, prepares to service a ski

Tom “Scouse” Lewis prepares a ski for servicing

Tom “Scouse” Lewis, from the Wirral, is an instructor with the Warren Smith Ski Academy. While training to become an instructor, he learned to service skis at a rental shop in Courchevel, a habit he has continued ever since.

This is what he says about servicing his own equipment:

“Many people would ski a lot better if only they serviced their skis more regularly. If your edges are blunt, you lose a lot of grip – especially on hard pack, even more so on ice.

“You can of course take them into a shop to be serviced, but you will save money in the long run by doing the job yourself. Ideally service your skis at least once a week; if you do the job thoroughly, a pair of skis will take about two hours.

Set of clamps for ski servicing

Set of clamps for ski servicing

“First, make sure the ski is dry. Then, clamp it to your work surface. Use special ski clamps: these come in sets of three, to secure the tip, middle and tail of the ski. Don’t ever try filing an edge holding the ski in your other hand – it’ll be a disaster.

“Get rid of any surface rust on the edges using a burr rubber; a cork from a wine bottle would do the same job.

“Then move onto the files. There are many different kinds, ranging from coarse or bastard files (aggressive) to World Cup chrome files (fine) and diamond files (good for finishing the edges).

“To use the files, you put them in a side edge file guide (for doing the side edge of the ski) or a precision base file (for the base edge). You can adjust the angles between 85-90 degrees for the side edge or 0.5-1.5 degrees for the base edge.

“Shops normally sharpen the side edges to 90 degrees, but you will get much more control and grip from your skis if you go for 88 degrees – though this can feel quite aggressive, possibly too much for a lower-level skier. Any sharper, and you would have to service your skis again after a very short time.

Tools for servicing skis, from left: burr rubber, fine file, coarse file, side edge file guide, cleaning brush

Ski servicing tools (from l.): burr rubber, fine file, coarse file, side edge file guide, cleaning brush

“Start with the coarse (bastard) file, but only if the skis are in a bad state; then move on to the chrome files and finish with the diamond for a quality finish. Whichever one you are using, run it carefully down the length of the ski, applying a steady pressure. Always work in the same direction. It is important to clean the files after use, to keep them sharp; an old toothbrush will do just fine for this.

“Next, fill any small holes in the base with P-tex (a thermoplastic used to fill gouges or gaps in snowboards and skis). The black version looks like a stick of liquorice; buy a colour that matches the base of your skis. Light the tip, wait for the flame to turn blue, and then drip the molten P-tex into the hole. When it’s dry, remove the surplus with a plastic scraper.

“You can’t P-tex a hole that has gone through to the core: moisture will get in and rot it. In that case you need a patch put in – it’s best to get a professional to do that.

Tom Lewis, instructor with the Warren Smith Ski Academy, waxes a ski

Tom “Scouse” Lewis waxes a ski

“Finally, wax the skis. When the skis come out of the factory, they have little grooves in the base designed to hold the wax. Choose your wax according to the temperature of the snow. Try skiing on winter wax on a glacier in the summer, and you’ll hardly move.

“Melt the wax by holding it against the base of an iron – it doesn’t have to be a purpose-made one, an old-school travel iron will do, as long as it does not have holes in the base.

“Drip wax all along the base of the ski, and then smooth it out with the iron, covering the ski from tip to tail and edge to edge to guarantee the smoothest glide. Never leave the iron standing on the ski, it’ll melt the base, just as it would burn a shirt – it’s plastic. Keep it moving. Don’t believe people who say you can use candle wax – it doesn’t work.

“Finally allow the wax to dry, and scrape the base smooth with a plastic scraper. These have a notch in one corner, so you can also scrape the ski edges free of wax. Finally, use a soft horsehair brush to rub the wax into the base of the ski.

Ski servicing tools (from l.): iron, wax, brush; scraper is below

Ski servicing tools, from left: iron, wax, brush; below, craper

“Take a final look at your skis: the edges should look and feel sharp and silvery. Run your fingernail along the base; it should make a mark in the wax. You’re done!

“Every four or five services, take the skis to a shop to have them put through a grinder to create a new ski base structure. These small lines running down the base help reduce drag, like the tread in a tyre. Your skis need to ride on a film of water produced from the friction of your base and edges cutting through the snow. Different base structures are used at different times of year, depending on the temperature of the snow.

“To buy the tools you need for all this, including the clamps, costs about CHF 400 – 450 (£240 to 275) to in Verbier. Having your skis serviced in a shop costs anything between CHF 35 and 70. So, buying the equipment is an investment well worth making – and you’ll find your skiing benefits as a result.”