Sunday, February 12, 2006


This season has turned a lot of skis into rock skis.

Most of us have rock skis. These skis have seen their best years, but still allow us to get out on really substandard surfaces and go through the motions while we wait for better conditions to arrive. In a normal year, we only have to put up with these decrepit relics for a few outings before the snow gets deep enough to entice us out on the better gear. The fact that we are usually premature in this insures a steady supply of rock skis as the years go by.

Here it is, February twelfth and we have just been threatened with our first good winter snowstorm. We aren't getting it, either. While Boston and Cape Cod burrow out from under more than a foot, close to two feet in isolated places, we're still waiting to collect our second inch out of this much ado about nothing. It's a slow mover. Some forecasts still dangle the notion of four to eight inches. I'll believe it when I'm shoveling it. Meanwhile, it was a good day to conduct unsanctioned medical experiments in the backshop.

I hoped to reanimate the mutilated demo skis I've been using because my rock skis were just too nasty to use for weeks and weeks. I justified using the demos because they'd taken a few hard landings during their service, and they no longer had the latest sidecut profile. Heck, they were practically kindling. And they fit me better than my real rock skis.

Strictly from a survival standpoint I didn't like to use my rock skis on anything steep. The edges are completely rounded. The skis are too soft for me, so they're squirrelly on a fast descent. Their only virtue is that they're shaped like skis and I can trudge around on them a few times on the flat fields we usually groom when the first flakes fall.

Excuses aside, I began to feel really sorry for those demo skis. In the last couple of days we'd been skiing some very tan snow. Earlier I'd managed to skip nimbly around the snags, even completing one whole run on a wretched day without picking up any new gouges at all. But eventually conditions got so bad that no amount of agility could save my skis. The granular snow was extremely fast where it was there at all, which meant that I would rocket into minefields of pea-sized gravel or rocky water crossings on blind drops or curves. Whether I sailed into the hazard or jammed on the brakes in the gravelly approach, the skis took the hit. It was a little sickening.

With a captive subject I could try a base repair technique I was developing, using the riller to push base material back into something like its intended shape. Many of the dings had not gouged material away, they had simply pressed a mark into the base, the way the riller does. The gouges are random and chaotic. The riller pattern is regular and carefully sized. I guessed that by imposing the riller's discipline on the randomly scored base material I could eventually push it straight again.

It's a scary procedure. A Swix 3 millimeter riller looks like it will leave trenches like a ploughed field in that shiny black expensive ski base. It's drastic. And once I'd made a couple of passes I had to continue, to see if the theory would hold up.

All I was doing was accelerating and reversing the natural progression someone might follow when structuring a base during a season of variable wetness. We generally use very fine structures on cold, fine-grained snow and very coarse, deep ones when the snow is very wet. Deep grooves channel free water away from the base. Sloppy snow usually happens in springtime.

Ideally I would have gone methodically from 3 mil to 2 mil to one mil, and so on down to .25 mil, but someone sold the 2 mil, so I went from 3 to 1. It was all right. By the time I got to .5 I could see it was going to work.

For good measure I went over it again with my Toko roller riller, using the coarse and fine inserts. A quick buff with Fibertex and a light pass with a new plexi scraper and I'm ready to start waxing. The cycles of scraping and brushing should smooth the bases further. The ghosts of the gouges are still there, but the base looks much better. And it was way cheaper than a stone grind. We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, our day-long snow storm has left us still waiting for that second inch. Thanks again, Winter. I'll have time next week to do all that waxing.

No comments: