As a new season rolls around, thoughts move to dragging out the ski and snowboard gear and assessing its condition and readiness for those early days on snow. However, dragging the equipment out from the shed and expecting it to perform without some assessment and preparation may not be the best way to do it.
Below is a list of considerations I use to assess whether my gear is ready for the snow, safe, and prepared to perform:
NUMBER OF SKI/RIDE DAYS
A ski or snowboard's life is finite, and performance features like the flex, base, and edge condition all affect how they perform. In addition, the core of a ski and snowboard is mostly wood, and this causes fatigue over time, making it less responsive and behaving less favorably with the other performance features of the equipment.
WHEN WERE THEY LAST WAXED AND TUNED?
The base and edges of the skis and board are your connection point to the snow. A simple wax and edge tune can completely change their behavior on the snow. Grip and friction are the two main concerns regarding how the equipment holds and slides across the snow. A tune can make a ski and board that feels hard to handle feel like new again at a fraction of the cost of a new one. Also, regular maintenance will allow you to access the same sensations between you and the snow. There is a reason the best skiers and riders wax their equipment daily, yes daily! Waxing the base and sharpening the eyes doesn't last forever. It requires regular attention. World Cup ski racers prepare their skis every night after training so they can trust a consistent feel on the snow every time. I'm not saying you should do this, but preparing your equipment only once or twice a season is not ideal.
Bindings like skis and snowboards do not last forever and for skiers having a DIN check or the release force of your bindings is critical. The DIN setting is specific to your height and weight and skier type, and like skis, bindings fatigue or failure exposes the skier to risk or pre-release where you come out unintentionally or not coming out at all. For snowboarders, check the age of your straps and that the mounting bolts are tight. Knees don't grow on trees; they are expensive and take time to heal. Don't risk an injury by taking advantage of something that's in your control and having bindings tested or replaced.
BOOTS - HOW OLD ARE THEY?
Plastic does not improve with age, and ski boots being primarily made of plastic fatigue over time. The flex changes due to weakening in the materials, and the plastic will fail if you wait long enough. A new boot with a pre-determined flex or stiffness can change dramatically over time, so upgrading every 1-3 years becomes imperative.
Snowboard boots also fatigue over time, losing their flex, and this is one of the key components to protecting your ankles, as snowboard boots, compared to ski boots, are much less stiff by nature.
DO THEY FIT?
The most common thing I see when someone complains of foot pain is their boot is too big and the shape of the boot. The last of the boots are not matched to their foot type. Foot length, foot width, heel shape, the height of your instep, high arch, and flat-footedness, among other things, all decide which boot is right for you. Flex, snow, and terrain type, male/ female, are also part of the decision-making process. The boot is the most essential part of your gear. Spend time with an expert on selecting it.
ARE THEY ALIGNED TO YOUR FEET?
This is more specific to skiers where the ability to stand on a flat ski and access the left and right edges equally is, in a nutshell, what skiing and ski control are about. Most people, by nature, favor balancing towards the foot's inside or big toe side, called pronation. In my experience, very few skiers prefer leaning to the little toe side or supinating. Not correcting this lean to one side makes accessing one side of the ski easy and the other more difficult or impossible for some with excessive pronation. Have an expert measure your foot and decide how to get you in a neutral position where accessing both sides of the ski is equal. Skiing becomes easy after you fix this common problem.
WHAT ABOUT THE BODY?
Preparing the body for the rigors of a dynamic sport like skiing and snowboarding is just as important as preparing your gear. Doing pre-season strength and conditioning exercises to prepare the body for a high-performance activity should be part of your pre-season. We can't expect high-performance movements from a low-performance body.