Setting up a home tuning bench may at first seem expensive, time-consuming, and intimidating… But there is something truly enjoyable to this ritual, and it can save you money in the long run in between professional tune-ups. Not only will a sharpened and waxed ski ride better, it will also increase the longevity of your boards. However, tuning your skis doesn't need to be an elaborate process, nor does it always need to be a costly endeavor by a ski shop.
There is no doubt that once a year your skis should visit the ski shop for a proper tune and base grind. But, before you tag all those rocks during the first month of the season, getting your skis dialed in anticipation of the lifts spinning will aid in the enjoyment of those early season turns. Additionally, maintaining them after they do get tuned professionally may keep you off your ass when your skis are laid over on ice, or help you glide ahead of the pack on the traverse. Below are a couple pieces of gear to setup your home tuning kit. It's based on the icon Doug Coombs’ patented Quick and Painless Tune (Q+P), which he developed while working as a ski tech at Jackson Hole’s Teton Village Sports.
Perhaps the most expensive component here. Vises attach to a table and allow you to tune your ski without it flopping around (this is key). Vises will also pay for themselves after three uses, since most basic ski tunes cost around $50. And, they last forever. Clamp them onto a table or workbench–in fact, whatever you have in the garage or shed that works as a ski bench (and you don't mind getting drips of ski wax and beer on)–and you are almost ready to start tuning your skis.
Coombs uses the Gnarly Bastard. But for less abrasion on your edges you can use this file from Swix. The file will cut the metal edge and reshape it, so it's useful if your skis are mega dull from last season and you need grip on the infamous early season white ribbon of death. It's also helpful if you tagged a bunch of rocks and the edges are jagged and uneven.
Diamond stones are perfect for maintaining the sharpness of your skis. Think of the file as the shaper, and the diamond stone as maintenance. I personally use a diamond stone and gummy stone (see below) most of the time. The diamond cutting surfaces come in a variety of coarseness and should be used with a water/alcohol mixture to help lubricate the stone finish. If you're maintaining your ski's edge throughout the season, 400 grit works well for most situations, and avoids working through each grit progression, unless you're racing competitively.
The gummy stone is perhaps the most underutilized piece of tuning equipment. This little tool removes burrs from hitting rocks and cleans up the edge after you re-shape it with the file. It is also super helpful to de-tune the tips and tails of skis—allowing the ski to drift across the fall-line without getting caught up, yet still allowing them able to track while carving on groomers.
Using a file or diamond stone requires a guide, unless you are seasoned vet. This guide helps maintain the angle of the sharpener as you pass it along the ski. There are plenty of options available, some of which adjust to several degrees or others that are fixed. Whichever works for you is the best option.
While you can use a clothes iron in a pinch, Swix makes a a better iron specifically designed for waxing skis that won't break the bank. Simply drip the wax on and coat it in. This is widely considered the fun part.
For wax, having a couple options is always good—a hard/cold weather wax and warm one, but the standard CH7 works well for most conditions (handling temperatures from 18-28 degrees Fahrenheit).
A solid and sharp scraper will make the Q+P super painless. By far the most annoying part of tuning your skis is scraping, so get yourself a fresh scraper. They're super handy and you can keep your dull one in your pack to scrape ice off your skis when in the backcountry.