Marolt: The fat lady sings while I play the tune

Reflecting on the season with a ritual ski tune

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt for the Snowmass Sun
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

I tune my skis before the last day of skiing — not just the pair I will use on the day punctuated with a reminder from my smartphone (as if I forget), but all three pairs I swap out throughout the season. They’re like golf clubs, each designed for a specific purpose, but in the rough any one might do. It’s a ritual before storing them, tuned and ready for action, like fighter jets.

I fill the scratches. Some, I know precisely where they were acquired. They are the big ones, the ones that elicit swearing when you hit the rock, though not out of anger. It’s just a reaction, a bad habit, perhaps one of those things you feel you should do if you’re a man. I don’t know, but I do it anyway.

It takes me back to the early ski season when the snow is so thin you don’t dare take good skis up. You take the ones that were your favorites maybe four years ago. They’re rock skis now, good for nothing but sacrifice in the name of preserving the ones hiding in the garage for better days to come. Even still, I try to take care of the beaters. Some say, “don’t worry, they’ll make more,” but “they” don’t make more. “You” make rock skis, and “you” make them out of good skis. And, that can get expensive, if you have to start mass-producing them. Drought years look exactly like regular ones until you’re well into one and you end up skiing on lousy skis longer than you thought.

Filing edges is therapeutic. Of course I have the music cranked out there at my tuning bench. Nobody can hear me singing or thinking. I am alone, creating file shavings, wax scrapings and air stagnant with the scents of burning P-tex and fluorocarbon vapor hanging there side by side, lingering listlessly in fluorescent light. I concentrate on squaring the edges and on nothing at all simultaneously. I wonder if this is more restful than sleep.

I mentally number the powder days this year, not to pass the time, but rather to make my chores here feel more necessary and ease the guilt that creeps in telling me this is for nothing but pure pleasure. I can’t justify the time for that when there are repairs to be made to the house, the dog needs brushing and the yard is begging for a raking. Those things can’t wait if there is nothing better to do, so I make this a better thing to do.

Eventually I do recall the best powder day of the year. I picture specific runs and which were best. The details are as sharp as the biting cold that morning. The only thing I can’t come up with is the date it arrived. When it comes to that, all I can remember is that the skiing wasn’t worth talking about until about the middle of February when a few good storms passed through in succession and pushed the thoughts of the drought into summer, or more probably late spring the way things are drying out now.

But the important thing is we’ve made it all the way through to the scheduled season closing when making it this far seemed to be always in doubt. Remember worrying about the possibility of a reservation system and scheming over how to work around blackout dates? There were rumors about a sudden early closing in the darkest days of January, too. And here we are. We may not have gotten enough skiing, but that is our own fault, not the the fault of the virus, Aspen Skiing Co. or even Mother Nature.

It turned out that skiing was about the only normal thing this winter. I think I’ll even keep the face mask for next season. I discovered I like warm cheeks.

Of course I won’t need smooth bases, sharp edges or even wax for this last week of skiing. The hard snow is lumpy and firmly textured. You don’t need a honed edge to cut into it, only a hard one to bash it flat under your weight. Coarse ice crystals will sand off the wax after only a couple turns. A few gouges in the bases actually break the suction of wet snow and allow the ski to glide faster. In the unlikely event I need an excuse for tuning my skis now, I suppose I’ll tell anyone who cares that I’m getting ready for next year. That’ll do.

Roger Marolt is now ready to start tuning his mountain bike. It takes different tools but a similar mindset. Email him at