Jimmy's Ski Tips and Tricks

Mounting Your Own Skis

Tuesday January 16, 2018

Just as your car drives you around town, your skis drive you around the mountain. And like your car, sometimes they need a little loving care to stay in shape. Some tasks are trivial, akin to changing the oil, while others will normally require the assistance of a professional.

Waxing and edging your skis is certainly something that an average skier can perform quickly and easily at home. Some resorts will offer a quick machine wax for a few dollars, although those provide sub-optimal performance, and should be considered a last resort when you were unable to wax your skis before your trip. A good hand wax should last about ten days on snow, or one season, whichever comes first — but costs anywhere from $40 to $80. You can do that at home easily in thirty minutes to an hour, saving considerable money. A base grind, on the other hand, requires expensive equipment that you probably don't have access to.

You may recall that I snapped a ski while teaching two weeks ago. While I have many pairs laying around, those were my favorite skis to teach in — nimble, short turning radius, light, and still able to rip at high speeds to catch escaping children. I wanted a replacement, and I reached out to Line Skis, who were kind enough to provide me with a pair of Sick Day 88's for a small fee. As an aside, Line calls these "East Coast skis", but I believe they are beautifully suited for the Pacific Northwest, with about a 80% piste / 20% off-piste mix. They're playful and responsive, and one of the most fun skis I've had the pleasure to use.

The skis arrived at my house "flat", meaning no bindings whatsoever. Some skis have integrated binding systems, but with the majority the bindings are separate, screwed into the ski itself by the shop selling them. Fortunately for me, I had the bindings from the old broken skis I could just move over. If you buy skis from a shop, they'll usually mount them for free, but if you buy a pair flat online, your local shop may charge around $60-$100 to put the bindings on (not including the cost of the binding itself). But how difficult is it to mount bindings? Well, it's not an oil change, but it's not an engine rebuild, either.

Mounting your own bindings should only be attempted by someone with a moderate collection of tools, and a basic awareness of how to deal with common workshop issues, such as stripped screws. A vice is handy, but for the most part common tools are all that is required. It's not for the complete novice, but it's easy enough that most people can handle it in an hour or two.

The first step, if you did not buy new bindings, will be to remove the old bindings from an older pair. Sometimes the screws will simply unscrew and come out, but more likely glue was applied, and they will not budge. Heat the head of the screw with a soldering iron for 30 to 60 seconds to loosen the glue, and a hand screwdriver will remove 95% of screws easily.

From here one, the carpenter's rule applies — measure twice, cut once. A poor mount can cause a ski to perform poorly, or possibly even destroy the ski. Don't eyeball anything, and even if you measured it, measure it again just to be sure. I also cover the entire ski in paper before mounting. This allows me to work and mark all over the ski freely. Some people just use masking tape, but I find a bunch of white paper works better.

Once you've covered the ski (if you choose to do that), you'll also need to get some paper jigs. The pros use expensive metal jigs to ensure they drill in the right spot, but you can download disposable paper jigs for free. Almost all bindings can be found on this website, just be sure that your printer doesn't scale the image. Double-check they printed at true scale by measuring the ruler on the print-out, and if it doesn't match, adjust your printer settings. The image here shows the paper jigs sitting loose on the ski, but once you have them placed correctly, you'll need to tape them down (then re-measure to make sure they're in the right spot!).

Before you can place the jigs, however, you need to find the centerline of the ski. The easiest and most reliable way is to mark a spot on the ski near the tip and tail, as far apart as possible but close enough that your longest straightedge can reach both points. These marks are important so that you don't move up or down the ski, because the ski gets narrower toward the middle. Take a narrow strip of scrap paper, and press it tightly across the side, from side to side. Where it reaches the edges, press on the paper firmly to crease it with the edge. Remove the strip, and fold it sharply in half, so the creases line up perfectly. The new crease from folding it will be the exact center halfway between the edges. Place the strip on the exact same spot, using the mark you made on the ski and the edge creases to guide it, and mark where your center crease is. Do the same thing on the other edge of the ski, and connect the two marks to draw a centerline.

Now take your boot, and place the centermark of the boot directly above the centermark of the ski. This is usually a line across the ski near the middle. You can move the boot slightly forward to easy spins in the park, or slightly back to increase float in powder, but most people will align both marks. Put your toe piece on the ski, engaged with the boot, and adjust the toe piece template underneath until it matches perfectly. Ensure the paper jig is aligned with the binding and the centerline you drew on the ski, and tape it down.

Now you're ready to drill. You don't want to drill too deep and risk poking through the bottom of the ski! Each ski should have printed on it how deep to drill, but as a general rule it's normally 3.6 x 9mm for wood skis, 4.1 x 9mm for skis with metal plates, and 3.5 x 7mm for kids' skis. You can buy very affordable drill bits from Tognar that will ensure you drill to the exact depth needed for each ski, so there's no need to eyeball or guess here.

Once you've drilled the holes, remove the paper from that part of the ski, and blow out any sawdust to get the hole as clean as possible. Place a small dob of ordinary wood glue in the holes to lubricate the screws, and screw the toe piece into place. The screws should be torqued fairly hard by hand, but don't go overboard and strip the screw or create a "spinner". I don't use a drill, but you do want to get them in hard.

Now the toe piece is done, and you're almost there. Place the boot in the toe piece, and slide the heel piece into the correct position relative to the boot. Follow the same steps again, ensuring the paper jig is aligned with the heel piece, and also the line you drew down the center of the ski, and mount the heel binding.

Double check your placement by putting the boot in. You can adjust the position of the heel slightly to correct minor errors, but if your two skis have the toe bindings mounted in different positions, you're not going to be able to ski well, so ensure any error is only on the heel pieces. Wait at least 24 hours for the glue to dry before ripping it up, and enjoy your new skis!

For more information about me, check out the About page. All content copyright 2017 James Brokaw.