Who Needs New Ski Prep?

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: February 13, 2020

I could make this Revelation stunningly short and simply say, “everyone,” but that would leave unanswered a few subtleties such as “what the hell is ‘new ski prep?’” In order to dispel this sort of lingering doubt, allow me to illuminate the story behind a line item that appears on many a shop ticket without necessarily being well understood or appreciated.

“New ski prep” is ski shop shorthand for a suite of services applied to the base and edges of a new pair of skis. Exactly what this includes may vary from shop to shop, but the basic premise is to deliver a flat ski, edges lightly detuned tip and tail and base waxed and polished. This may sound like gilding the lily, as every ski receives some sort of factory base and edge tune, but the sad fact is a great many skis arrive on shop racks unready to be skied.

Five stages of new ski prep: dull the tip and tail, polish the edge, roll on a soupçon of wax and buff it into the base until it’s smooth as a baby’s bottom. Technician: Harold Henderson at Bobo’s in Reno, NV.

Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. They could be skied out of the wrapper; it just wouldn’t be any fun. An indifferently tuned ski isn’t just a little harder to ski; it’s almost impossible to ski with any degree of confidence. For the average skier for whom “new ski prep” sounds like a frill that can be safely trimmed off the bill, the problem is even worse as the mid-market skis in question don’t get much attention at the factory and the skier in question has fewer skills to compensate for the skis’ deficiencies.

While my sympathies lie with the hapless ski consumer who expects a new ski to be inherently in ideal condition, I’m also aware that modern ski making is rife with potential pitfalls along the path to the perfect ski. Rockered baselines are harder for grinders to follow, bases can evolve during transit, base material dehydrates and oxidizes, or components may not have enough time to stabilize between production stages.

Of course it’s possible for the factory to spend more time grinding the bases and polishing the edges, but this adds considerable time and expense for which consumers may not be willing to pay. Only a couple of boutique brands dare to spend extravagantly on base and edge finish, and even they can botch a batch. No matter how much attention a base receives at its inception, bases are waxaholics that always could use a fresh drink.

The real problem of proper base and edge preparation is no one – manufacturer, shop or skier – really wants to pay to ensure it, partly because people discount its value.

So let’s clear that up right now. There’s little point in buying a new ski if you don’t take the last step to be sure the edges grip and the base glides. The difference between a finely tuned ski and doing nothing is night and day.

When you consider how much value the new ski prep steps add to the ski experience, the $15 – $30 often charged for it is a bargain. Since most U.S. consumers negotiate a ski sale in a shop the same way they would haggle for a rug in a Turkish bazaar, feel free to use the new ski prep cost as a bargaining chip; just be aware that while its price can be discounted, its value shouldn’t be.

Before stepping off my soapbox, allow me to share a thought about the children, or more to the point, about their skis. Making skis for little kids is a money-losing proposition, so anyone in that game isn’t going to add to their losses by laboring too long trying to flatten a foam-injected ski with an extruded PE base. Parents, of course, are trying to stretch every dollar to outfit the family, so surcharges such as new ski prep are unwelcome when not impossible.

In this sort of untenable situation, where world market forces collide with domestic budgets, the natural compromise position for both sides is to pretend there isn’t a problem. This is a brilliant solution in store, but may help explain why little Jimmy bombs straight down the hill, screaming with what one can only hope are shrill, trembling notes of unfettered joy.

Rather than leave you with an uneasy, dispiriting feeling of childhood trauma, let me share an anecdote with a veneer of relevance to this week’s topic. In the mid-1970’s, a tiny ski shop in Breckenridge, Colorado named A Racer’s Edge was owned by Fred Schwacke and Jerry Clooney. One of the boutique brands they carried was Lacroix, about which there was a great deal of mystique and more than a few inflated claims. They were displayed on the ski wall tips-down because, as Schwacke explained in his laconic, Vermont drawl, this way the glue would migrate down to the tips and keep the notoriously fragile skis intact.

I don’t know if Fred was pulling our leg, forgot he lived on planet earth or got so used to listening to Cooney’s b.s. he eventually believed it, but the glue that never made it to the tip in France when it was wet wasn’t going to finish the job in Colorado where it was bone dry. At any rate, the hilarious exercise didn’t help one iota – imagine that – as virtually every one of the lovely Lacroix models delaminated regardless.

The moral of this vignette is that quality control today – at least among the major manufacturers – is much better than it was in the 1970’s. But perfection in an industrial environment riddled with human intervention is an elusive ideal. The only way to shrink the distance between what is done and what is desired is a final, intimate inspection by loving eyes and knowing hands.

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