WILL COLFORD, SnowSeekers Inc.
“There’s way more to it than people realize,” says Stefan Jones. Standing in the Whistler tuning station I was about to learn just how true Jones’ statement is.
Typically, getting your skis or board tuned involves a quick drop off. You hand your equipment over to the someone dressed in wax-stained attire; they look back at you with a mixed air of superiority and apathy; you try your hardest to sound like you know better.
Usually phrases like ‘core shot’ and ‘base grind’ are about as far as you go before submitting, giving up and saying, “What ever you think is best.”
In this sense, getting a tune is a bit like taking your car into the mechanics: you’re not sure exactly what’s wrong with it, you just know how to describe it in vague, generalized terms. It’s also the right thing to do, because a good tech does know more than you and shouldn’t care what your opinions are.
“I know exactly what the equipment needs just by looking at it, and that’s a skill that only comes with years of experience, riding particular snow conditions, and working with all kinds of equipment problems.”
Almost like an artist seeing the stroke pattern in a painting, or a musician hearing sheet music, Jones sees the structure and functionality of a ski or board.
“Different skis and boards have different structures depending on their use. After all, you’re not riding on snow, you’re riding on a thin layer of water cushioned by a thinner layer of trapped air,” explains Jones, like I understand any of it.
Apparently skis and boards melt snow underfoot as they ride around. Different skis will trap and use air pockets differently, depending on if they are slaloming, racing, or free riding. In this way, techs imprint a pattern, or “structure” in the wax on the base of the ski or board to maximize its functionality. After getting a tune, take a look at your equipment and notice the pattern imprinted.
In order to imprint this pattern, Jones uses a high-dend tuning machine, complete with ceramic diamond grinding stones, and diamond imprinted steel tuners.
“The machine has over 300 signatures I can put onto the equipment, and it’s all in German so that took some time to learn.”
There are so few of these machines in Western Canada, one person composes the entire maintenance department. Again, Jones knows what kind of riding you’re doing, and what conditions you’re doing it in.
After the machine grinds and imprints a signature, then the equipment gets waxed. Again, depending on temperature, conditions, rider type, equipment type, and a host of things the average skier or border never thinks about, wax plays a vital role.
“This chunk here costs about a $150. That’s not even the high-end stuff either. A vile of the powder runs about $275, and it only lasts for one or two runs.”
The Whistler tuning station has one last phenomenon worth mentioning. Unlike the rest of the village, the tuning shop is staffed almost entirely by Canadians. Given all the knowledge, experience, and time it takes a tuner to get as dialed in as Jones, it’s no wonder the locals are the only ones accepted.
Without riding the mountain every day, in every type of condition, for many years, you can’t understand how best to tune the equipment and read the customer’s needs.
“It’s not just their skis or boards the customer is trusting us with, it’s their lives.”
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