Mike Walsh | Powder Report: With ski season over, now is the time to take care of your rides
I played nine holes at Egremont Country Club the other day. It was a last-minute thing when a buddy told me they had opening day. So I grabbed my clubs out of storage and opened my trunk to toss them in. There you were. My trusty sidekick for the last 15 or so winters, a sticker-covered Original Sin snowboard, with Liquid boots and TechNine bindings. With the exception of TechNine, I'm not certain either of those other two companies exist anymore.
A few days later, I can tell how truly ancient my gear is by the face Jeff Grella makes when I tell him what I'm riding at Plaine's Bike, Ski and Snowboard in Pittsfield.
Grella is a master boot fitter at Plaine's, but is also responsible for a lot of the waxing, tuning and repairs that go on after a season of shredding northeast terrain.
My board at this point in its life has been criminally neglected, and I credit Plaine's every year for getting it back into riding shape each fall. This time around, as my baby gets a little long in the tooth, I'm looking to take preventative measures.
"Probably the two most important things are: One, with boots, buckle your boots, or lace your snowboard boots. That will keep your boots in the form that they were built in and fitting comfortably year after year," Grella tells me about preparing for the offseason. "Two, the most important thing with your skis or board is getting the bases clean and have an iron on storage wax. That will act as a preservative for the base."
I'm at Plaine's to get my board into storage shape for the coming summer. Originally, I thought of this as a bit of high-class pampering for the wealthy among us. After meeting with Grella and touring the shop, I wouldn't be surprised if the shred police called snowboard protective services on me.
As we get late into the season, Grella explains, the snow melts and refreezes, which can introduce a lot of residue, oils, rocks and stones that can lead to oxidation of the base of your ride. He recommends two things above all else this time of year; get it clean, and get any rust taken off the edges. A place like Plaine's will do everything from simple wax, to edges, to stone-ground finish and ceramic cup grinding, like your skis came from the factory. They can pretty much fix anything and everything you can do to your gear.
"Stone-grinding is the status quo in the industry right now," said Grella of Plaine's' tuning capabilities. "What it does is, much like with rain or snow tires, it puts a siping-like structure into the base, so it helps channel water and break surface tension. The skis glide easier and turn easier. Every ski today comes from the factory with stone-ground finish on the base which is a generic base,"
Grella has been at Plaine's for three years working with the stone grinding machine and can restructure the base for different snow types.
"This area, I mostly use a linear during the colder months. Then I'll switch to a cross-hatch, which is basically more of an X shape on its side," he said. "In the warmer temperatures, there is more moisture and more surface tension. Especially on a snowboard, you come down and hit that wet spot and your board comes to a breaking halt. A stone-ground structure allows you to break that tension and glide right over it."
Most skis today come with ceramic cut grinding. That tune lasts the longest. The cup grinding on the edges is a ceramic disk that spins at a high velocity over the edge and case-hardens the steel. It stays sharp even against rocks, it hardens and stays sharp longer.
Plaine's had a solid winter, despite the roller-coaster season. They moved almost all of their 400 seasonal rentals, all of which will receive the same postseason tune and wax that Grella recommends we do to our personal gear.
For my heavily-seasoned ride, he recommends: "Side edge and iron on wax, put it away. Next fall can either ski off the wax or give it a scrape."
That simple job will run me $30 and will hold up into next season. A fresh repair and tune this fall, without any TLC beforehand, will cost you more than double. Especially with how pricey new gear is, it pays to treat your ride right.
Now, I've just got to see if Mazzeo's will take a dinner reservation for a man and his snowboard for Monday night after I pick her up and before I load her into storage for the next few months.
Powder in Review
The Spot: Ski Butternut
Open: Dec. 14 - April 1
Notes: Timing was everything at Ski Butternut this season, and unfortunately the timing wasn't great. Some of their planned biggest periods; school vacation and MLK Weekend, were either too cold or snow duds. By the time we got March's dumping, the public's mind was already transferring to spring and skis had been all but removed from trunks.
Under new Marketing Director Dillon Mahon, Butternut still had a pretty successful season, especially compared to the barren winterland of 2016-17.
"It wasn't quite the best season for us, just because of how the weather broke. It got real cold to start the season, but there were days it barely hit zero and once its that cold its tough for families and kids to brave that kind of weather. And then warmed up quite a bit before MLK Day, which is another big one for us," said Mahon. "March, which is probably the slowest winter month for us, we got a ton of snow, but it was almost too late it seemed like. It was literally just the timing of the weather that was the key factor."
Butternut had a big offseason in 2017 to prep for the winter, upgrading the Wi-Fi mountain-wide, renovating the carpeting and bathrooms in the upper lodge and even dredging one of their ponds for better water retention and snowmaking capacity.
Mahon also helped to launc a series of new events, and the continuation of some stalwarts. Butternut hosted live music every Saturday, dubbed Turns and Tunes. They also introduced Febrewary, which was a beer tasting every Friday in February.
"I think for sure we'll continue with the music and I'd like to keep some sort of beer tasting alive," Mahon said. "We did our third annual Spring Fling event that I'd like to keep going with the pond skim and big air contest, cardboard box race for the kids."
Butternut had to close up in April 1, despite a strong showing from Mother Nature in March.
"It gets tough to attract skiers deep into April. Even if there is snow on the ground, people start turning their attention to golf and boating and picnics," said Mahon, who came over from a software background. "Closing day is determined by management, but there are a lot of factors that weigh into it."
Be on the lookout for a series of summer events at Butternut, including the Berkshire Arts Festival and a couple of Truck Days. Skiers and riders can also get stoked for the 2018-19 season by picking up early-bird season passes. Prices are $299 for adults (14 and up), $249 for juniors (7-13) and $99 for kids (6 and under) and seniors (70 and up) until Sept. 1. Season pass discounts can include deals at Stratton, Smuggler's Notch, Jay Peak, Ski Blandford, Otis Ridge, Pats Peak, Thunder Ridge and Ragged Mountain. Also 10 percent off at on-mountain shop.
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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