Mike Boyer scrapes the excess wax off the bottom of a ski. Mike Boyer is the Ski Shop Manager at Appalachian Outdoors in downtown State College. Boyer is an expert at tuning skis and snowboards, December 20, 2012.
Nabil K. Mark — CDT photos
Mike Boyer’s art moves people — as in downhill.
Boyer, an Appalachian Outdoors technician, specializes in mounting bindings and tuning skis so that they perform correctly and safely for their owners. To his craft he brings about seven years of experience, and a touch first learned in Vermont from old-timers.
By now, the self-professed “gear hound” has tuned more than 1,000 skis.
“Skiing is such a passion of mine, being able to get my hands on the equipment, and help others enjoy the sport as much as I do, is fun,” he said.
In his basement workshop, Boyer mounts bindings to fit skiers’ boot size, height, weight, age and ability. He’s certified to work with specific models, a requirement for technicians to sign off on jobs.
“Not every binding is the same,” he said. “They mount differently based on the manufacturer.”
With new or readjusted skis held steady in a vise, Boyer drills holes for the binding bolts, aligning the two by using adjustable jigs matched to binding models.
“We take a carpenter’s approach,” Boyer said. “You measure once, then twice, and cut once.”
Sometimes, Boyer doesn’t have a preset jig for a certain binder. Then he’ll make his own out of paper.
“I measure about 10 times in that case,” he said.
Before setting the correct binding pressures, he hand-tightens bindings instead of using a power screwdriver to avoid stripping bolts. It’s not ski season, he jokes, until he develops calluses on his fingers.
Tuning requires even more finesse.
To smooth bases, sharpen edges and remove rust, Boyer uses a $40,000 Wintersteiger tuning machine. It uses four grades of sandpaper to grind off material: rougher grades for repairing damage, lighter ones for seasonal maintenance.
For a technician, the trick is to run the ski across the sanding belt with enough force and control to move it forward in a shower of sparks and keep it from shooting into space — but not too much.
“I don’t want to shave more material off the ski than I have to,” Boyer said.
Depending on the ski’s condition or the skier’s preference, Boyer has several speed and pressure settings for the feed wheel and sanding belt at his disposal.
“I can adjust all of that to get different things,” he said.
He also must know how much water to add to cool and lubricate the machine.
Afterward, he bevels ski edges usually one degree for smoother skiing. Then comes choosing the right wax based on weather and snow conditions.
That’s the science. The art lies in the application.
Boyer has to use a sufficient amount of wax without wasting it. Using a special tuning iron, a more precise tool than a regular steam iron, he heats the base with a steady hand to melt the wax.
“You never let the iron sit,” he said. “You let an iron sit on a ski long enough, it will actually cause damage.”
By touch, he knows when a ski is hot enough for the wax to have penetrated the base. Once the wax cools, he scrapes off excess and polishes the surface with brushes.
And his masterpiece is done, ready for the slopes.
“We’re making sure we’re putting the ski into a position to glide over the frozen water in an effective manner,” he said.