Tech Talk: Understanding The Elements

Along with seasonal weather patterns and snow consistency, backshop techs must take into account the terrain and temperature highs and lows throughout the day.

In Vail, Colorado, Owner Craig Cohen of Polar Revolution takes this into account when he develops certain combinations–particularly for base structures–to meet and sometimes exceed a board’s typical performance levels.

While he has individual preferences, he says each tech must develop this knowledge on their own through on-snow testing.

“A lot of it can be trial and error,” says Cohen, “and learning combinations for different snow.”

He expands the two basic base structures, crosshatch and linear, into four. This makes the combination concept a little more complex, almost like finding the right gear combination on a mountain bike for different grades.

For starters, a crosshatch pattern is exactly as it sounds–fine lines formed in a crossing pattern in both directions on the board surface. “Linear,” straight from high-school algebra, means a straight line involving a single dimension. From these two types, Cohen uses wide crosshatch, narrow crosshatch, wide linear, and narrow linear patterns (see chart). With a combination of these four structures, Cohen says he can create an optimum base for the most low-friction glide.

“The structure will determine how the board breaks up the suction from the snow,” says Cohen.

Use The Right Structure In the most straightforward terms, the heavier the snow, the wider the crosshatch; while the lighter the snow is, the tighter the lines for linear patterns. But real-life mountain conditions aren’t this simple. This is where creativity and expertise come into play. Heavy, wet snow (more prevalent in terrain closer to coastal areas or typical spring snow almost everywhere), contains a denser crystal. Dry, less-compact crystals accumulate more often in colder regions such as the Rockies.

Visualize a raindrop and figure that six inches of heavy snow equal one inch of rain, whereas it can take 30 inches of dryer snow to equal the weight in that same one inch of rain.

Dryer snow forms in a flatter pattern in temperatures of about five degrees Fahrenheit and heavier columnar snow occurs at around 23 degrees Fahrenheit. With these shapes and weights in mind, picture the difference in velocity that might occur once the board hits the snow.

All this becomes even more complicated once the mediums that occur in each respect are considered. According to Cohen, a wider crosshatch in wet, heavier snow will help move through extra moisture.

“A wider crosshatch will help funnel the layer of water,” he says. “In colder, dryer snow there will be more pressure with tighter linear rails. The pressure will funnel through the smaller crystals and obtain more speed.”

But most places don’t contain one type of snow solely specific to one case scenario or the other. Even when temperatures vary from morning to afternoon, they also vary from top to bottom as elevations and exposure change. So, an ideal base will adapt to these perimeters and occur in a combination type form.

Remember, temperatures pertain to snow and not air. For instance, in Vail, Cohen restructures the bases of his rental boards in January with a linear base, even though temperatures began to drop in mid December.

For days when there can be as much as a 25-degree change top to bottom and morning to afternoon, Cohen launches his combo science.

“I break the board into thirds,” he explains. “I use a tight linear up front and cross hatch in the mid and back. Picture it as a wedge–as narrow up front as you can get to obtain initial speed. Then the weight will push the snow underneath so that the crosshatch structure will push it out at the sides and keep it accelerating.”

Prep Rentals Variations on Cohen’s example occur, and again, rely primarily on each technician’s preference. Combinations should cover a wide array of snow temperatures and mirror those that are used for waxing. Cohen explains how, at the end of each season, all of their rental boards are base-ground and coated with a warm-weather wax before summer storage, providing a “total protective coating.”

“The boards are then ready for early season so its maintenance and prep,” explains Cohen.

Without this sort of wax preparation the boards aren’t protected from moisture or dryness. As a result, more maintenance would be required, and, unfortunately, each extra grind will add extra wear and tear.

While this is valuable information to give customers, it’s absolutely crucial in the shop when considering rental decks. The warm-weather wax also works well in early fall conditions.

By mid December, Cohen says he is ready to replace the warm-weather structure with one that a mid-temperature. In January or February the boards are ready for cold-temperature structure. So basically, he uses three general structures for his rentals during one season. Again, each can be adjusted for additional performance in certain conditions.

Wax Layers Like base structures, choosing the right waxes is complex and requires on-snow experience. Combos, again, are the key. While Cohen says he might sell a generic wax in his shop for someone who’s doing his own work and visiting Vail once in December and another time in March, he tries not to use the generic wax when performing backshop work. Instead, he selects from eight or nine different waxes. The advantage is he knows a board will be going out that day or the next and can anticipate the type of conditions.

“Why use something that will be okay when you can make it really good?” asks Cohen referring to using combos rather than generic wax.

Techs can exert a little extra effort to construct the utmost results for customers. Adapting to the varying conditions according to region, terrain, and temperature enables riders to get the most out of their boards–and the shop to get the most loyalty from its clientele.