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The secret to fast skis

Tue, Dec  2, 2008 - By Rick Reynolds

Fast Skis.........? ve got almost 50 years of skiing experience and some people think I've got fast skis. If this is true it's because I keep things simple. But, keeping things simple can take some effort and you need to be meticulous to get quantifiable results.

As an alpine coach I got a reputation for "Nailing the Wax." I was always asking other coaches questions and I learned what waxes worked well in different parts of the country and different conditions. To me there were no secrets, it was a matter of keeping things basic. I always kept notes I could refer back to, and kept a close eye on the weather.

At speed events I would make the extra effort to set up our speed trap. I'd have one coach whose sole responsibility was to monitor the speed trap. Our speed trap had 3 lights, the first 2 lights were 10 meters apart and told me the speed my athletes had coming in to the trap, the first and third light, 100 meters apart, told me their elapsed time. This not only told me who was skiing well, what lines were the fastest, but it also told me whose skis were running fast. Keep in mind this occurred in the 80's before stone grinding became the art it is today.

Rick Reynolds and Muffy Ritz

Rick Reynolds and Muffy Ritz showing off their hardware from the 2008 Masters Worlds

While my guys were learning the course and working on their technique they were also testing wax combinations for me. After 2 days of training (sometimes 4 runs) I knew better then anyone what the wax was going to be, providing the weather stayed the same. If the weather changed I had more notes to refer to at another time.

One year at the Eastern Championships things backfired on me a little bit. I nailed the wax so BIG, 3 of my guys ended up in the hospital. One crashed in a fence (he missed a turn) and 2 caught so much air off one of the jumps they both crashed. They all said with a smile on there face, "those were the fasted skis they had ever been on."  Again the wax wasn't anything special: it was tweaked just right!

I've taken the knowledge I gained as an Alpine coach and now use it to help me as a nordic racer. As most of us know "Fast Skis" today is 3 fold.

  1. You need the right flex.
  2. You need the right stone grind.
  3. You need the right wax.

And, all of the above need to match the conditions for the day!

Finding which skis run fast in certain conditions is simple but there's some effort involved. I keep all my skis waxed with Toko System 3 Red. This is the wax I use on a daily bases and if a snow condition exists that I want to test skis in, all I need to do is scrape the skis and go.

My favorite place to test is on the Yuba trail at Royal Gorge. I use a straight section with a downhill that allows me to gain a decent amount of speed, and then the trail goes immediately uphill.

While testing skis you need to be very meticulous. All the skis need to be prepared the same way, your start needs to be the same each time, your tuck needs to be the same, you can't take clothes off or put them on, and you're wasting your time if it's windy. The track will get faster with each test pass so you need to switch test pairs after each run. If you're meticulous you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll see which skis are running the fastest.

Now, make some notes of the conditions and what ski ran the fastest. What's the stone grind, what's the flex, etc. Next step, test again in different conditions. Then test again. One of 2 things will happen: you will have one pair of skis which are consistently faster or some skis will run faster in different conditions. After 2-3 tests you will know what skis you want to race on.

Now it's time to try and make your slow skis faster. It's simple: change the grind. The Start Haus right in my town can usually do a new grind overnight (hot boxing takes longer). Look at what grinds are working for you and what grinds aren't working. My favorite grind is a Fine Linear grind. It works in tons of conditions. In wet snow you can add a rill, in dirty snow it doesn't pick up to much dirt and in cold "Sierra" snow it's fine enough to run well. At the Start Haus ask for the "Universal Linear with a dressing speed of 10." (In the Nordic World this would be considered a Fine Linear). If you want to match a grind, take that pair of skis in and they'll match it.

Keep in mind if you put on a new grind you're going to want to ski it in before you race on it. To say the least "Brush the !@#$" out of them if there is no time to ski it in. I have raced on a fresh grind before and my skis ran very well! But it's risky.

Now here are some tips I strongly believe in:

  1. New skis....Use em! Waxing and skiing on skis is what makes them fast. Don't save them for racing until you know for certain they are fast. 
  2. If you've got a really fast pair of skis. Protect them. Don't let anyone else use them and don't use them in marginal conditions. I've got a pair of skis that only come out for "Big Races." 
  3. Be careful using good/fast skis on frozen corduroy. You'll burn the edges. In some cases you'll have to stone grind the skis to get it removed.  
  4. Change the grind on your slow skis. What the heck, if it's the same grind as your fast skis, open it up, make it more aggressive, or maybe they could become your cold skis, minimize the grind. Do something, what have you got to lose. 
  5. A general stone grind rule: cold snow = fine grind; warm wet snow = agressive grind. 
  6. The longer the race, the more aggressive the snow, the harder the wax needs to be. Don't be afraid to add a little hardener (with Toko, a touch of blue) to the wax on these days. This was something I did very often as an Alpine coach and still do today, when the conditions call for it. 
  7. The Great Race: generally, go a little colder with the hot wax and add a rill. When the gliding really comes into play, the snow is on a Northern exposure, and the altitude is plus or minus 7000', the snow is cold. Near the end of the race the snow will be wet but that's when you need to count on your warm floros and the rill. 
  8. Take notes that you can refer to from year to year.

Good Luck!!!!!