U.S. ski team tuners prepare World Cup wax
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Gus MacLeod knows his tune ” his grinding stones and scrapers, his waxes and powders ” can’t win a ski race.
“Can it lose a race?” he said. “It can screw it up pretty badly.”
MacLeod, a technician with the U.S. Ski Team, tunes the skis of two American skiers competing in this week’s Birds of Prey World Cup races at Beaver Creek. He fine-tunes the edges, waxes and bindings so the athletes can scream down the icy course at up to 75 mph.
The technicians for the American skiers labor out of sight in the basement parking garage of the Inn at Beaver Creek. On Wednesday, dozens and dozens of skis were propped up against the walls in the makeshift workshop, making a colorful palette that curled around the room.
MacLeod, a bushy-bearded Vermont native, worked with studied concentration in the corner of the room, his iPod cranking tunes and a Diet Mountain Dew at arm’s length.
One by one, he placed a ski in the clamps on his table. He removed the protective travel waxes and used grinding stones to smooth the edges.
Later, he would apply waxes and let them sit for at least a few hours. The weather dictates which of his myriad waxes to use.
There’s a wax for warmer temperatures, a wax for medium temperatures, a wax for colder temperatures, a wax for new snow and a wax for old, manmade snow.
Tomorrow would be the super combined, which meant MacLeod had to prepare both short, 165-centimeter slalom skis and long, 215-centimeter downhill skis.
MacLeod tunes skis for Americans Erik Fisher, T.J. Lanning and Andrew Weibrecht. But Fisher crashed last week at Lake Louise, and he wouldn’t race this week.
“It’s a bummer because he’d been skiing really well,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod, a former ski coach, said the relationship between the technician and the skier is close ” even closer than that of a coach and athlete.
“I feel more a part of it when they do really well than I did when I used to coach,” MacLeod said.
The communication must be constant between the skier and the tuner, he said.
“How’s that feeling?” he said. “How are the edges feeling? Is that too sharp for you?”
Besides traveling to the World Cup stops, MacLeod goes to training camps with the team. At the camps, MacLeod and his athletes discuss things like binding settings and ramp heights to figure out the perfect setup.
On the day of the race, MacLeod carries the skis up to the top of the course and applies last-touch “additives,” which can be powders or sprays.
If MacLeod does his job really well, he may end up losing it. Such is life for a U.S. Ski Team technician.
Elite skiers have tuners from their ski companies that travel with them from stop to stop. Olympic medalist Ted Ligety, for instance, has a worker from Rossignol that tunes his skis at each World Cup stop.
MacLeod, on the other hand, tends to the skis of up-and-comers Fisher, 22, Lanning, 23, and Weibrecht, 21.
On Thursday, with the skis MacLeod had tuned, Lanning would notch his career-best World Cup finish, 10th place in the super combined. In the same race, Weibrecht got his first-ever World Cup points with a 14th-place finish.
And on Friday, Weibrecht had a thrilling run in the downhill, flailing through turns and off jumps to a 10th-place finish.
MacLeod may well be starting down that path toward losing his job.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.
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