SARL Peak Transfer
44a Chemin du Lai
Chamonix Mt Blanc
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by A. Dusmet
A wise man once said, “it’s all about the edges”. And it is. Sharp edges are crucial to staying safe, particularly on steep, icy pistes. But tuning edges can be a bit of a minefield. There’s a lot of different, sometimes contradicting, advice out there and everyone has a slightly different way of doing things. The main principle to remember is that both your base edges (the sides on the bottom of the ski) and your side edges should be set to a specific bevel for optimum performance, so use a guide. Hacking away at your skis freehand, like an alpine Michelangelo, is only going to lead to trouble. And ruined edges mean ruined skis.
These are designed to cut away material from your metal edges. Because of this, they are used to set the bevel angle of your base and side edges. But you don’t want to keep cutting away loads of material from your edges every time you sharpen them, or you’ll soon run out of edges altogether. So set your edges once and then maintain them thereafter with diamond stones for sharpening.
You’ll need to reset your edges after a base grind. You might also need to use a file if you’ve damaged your edges on rocks or rails, but otherwise leave it alone.
(Remember that files are directional and only cut one way, so check for an arrow on the side of the file that indicates the cutting direction.)
These are diamond-coated stones that are set into a plastic case to hold them. They should be used wet in order to preserve the life of the stone. Some people add a tiny bit of washing up liquid to the water in order to better lubricate the stone. Keep them clean by wiping them regularly on a clean rag or some kitchen roll while you’re using them.
Diamond stones come in a variety of grits. 100 and 200 grit stones are used for de-burring and sharpening, while 400 grit stones and above are used more for polishing. Racers will use a selection of stones, from coarsest to lightest, in order to achieve really sharp, smooth edges. However, diamond stones are expensive. So if you’re looking for the best all-round grit, start with 200.
A gummy stone is a sort of rubber stone that feels like a very hard eraser. Once you’re done sharpening, a gummy stone is used to remove any last little burrs and give the edges a final polish.
Run the gummy stone gently along the length of the base edge once or twice and then repeat along the side edge. This isn’t an essential component if you’re on a tight budget, but they’re not very expensive and they do provide a nice final touch.
Base edges do not run flush to the bottom of your skis – they angle upwards, away from the floor. When you initiate a turn, you lean your ski onto one side and engage the edge. This bevel prevents the edge from catching before the turn has been initiated and throwing you over as soon as it encounters some resistance in the snow. Base bevels are usually set to 1˚ on most skis. Some racers will bring this all the way down to 0.5˚ if they’re looking for their skis to engage earlier and have more bite – but for our purposes, let’s stick to 1˚.
You can buy base bevel file guides, but these can be pricey. Many shops also stock multi-purpose, plastic file guides that do both side and base bevels, but in my experience these don’t tend to work very well and it can be hard (or impossible) to get a good, clean edge.
A cheaper alternative to the base bevel guide is to buy an edge file and wrap some electrical tape around one end. About three turns should do it. Place the taped end on the base of your skis, so that the file is angled downwards across your edges. It won’t be perfect, but it’s a solution if you’re in a bind.
Base edges only require occasional maintenance, for example if they’ve been damaged by rocks or rails. Routine sharpening is done on the side edges.
Bevel angles vary a lot more on side edges. Most snowboards will come with a factory bevel of 1˚ on the side, whereas the factory bevel for skis varies depending on the manufacturer. Here’s a handy reference table:
Once you’ve set your bevels, you’ll want maintain your edges, as much as possible, only by sharpening the side edges with diamond stones. Again, a lot of ski shops sell plastic edge tuners that will do a variety of angles, but the problem with these is that they’re only designed to hold the files that they’re sold with, and not diamond stones, which means that you would end up cutting away too much material from your edges every time you sharpened them. A better solution is to either buy a cast edge ruler or a dedicated side edge tuner, such as the Toko Edge Tuner, which can be set to 6 different angles.
The cast rulers are set to one angle. A small clamp with then allow you to fix either a file or a diamond stone to it. This is a good, cheap and reliable solution for a precise bevel angle. However, if you’re planning on maintaining more than one pair of skis, and maybe a snowboard as well, you may prefer a tuner that allows you to change the bevel angle.
This means dulling parts of the edges at the tip and tail of your skis once you’re done sharpening. That may sound like the last thing you want to do after you’ve spent all that time sharpening your edges to perfection, but detuning can help a lot to prevent the skis from feeling too grabby, and particularly for snowboarders it can help prevent catching edges.
The idea is to dull the edges of the skis for about an inch or two down from the effective edge – the widest parts of the ski at the tip and the tail, and therefore the areas that have the most contact with the snow. This means that you will be detuning on both sides at the tip of the ski and on both sides at the tail of the ski, giving 4 areas per ski.
Simply hold your file at a 45˚ angle to the edge and gently take off some of the sharpness. You can use your gummy stone to smooth it out afterwards and blend the transition from the sharp edge to the detuned areas. It’s quite hard to sharpen an edge once it’s been detuned, so if you’re not sure, try riding the ski first and only detune over a short distance to begin with. For icy conditions, you’ll want to keep the skis sharp.
You’ll notice that the angles on side bevel guides are written as 89˚, for example, rather than 1˚. That’s because 89˚ is 1˚ off 90˚, which is what the side edge would be if you didn’t put any bevel on it at all. However, this is not to be confused with the overall angle of the edge.
As an example, let’s say I’ve decided to put a 1˚ bevel on my base edge and a 2˚ bevel on my side edge (88˚). Because of my 1˚ base bevel, if I were to measure the overall angle of my edge, it would actually be 89˚. This can be a bit confusing, but try to picture a 90˚ angle. Now tilt the whole angle counter-clockwise by 1˚. What are you left with? A 1˚ angle on the bottom and an 89˚ angle on the side.
The relevance of the overall angle is strength. A 90˚ overall angle will give the strongest edge, meaning that it will stay sharper longer and will therefore require less tuning. As the overall angle decreases, the skis will be sharper and have more bite, but they will also dull more quickly.