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The art of tuning skis

By James Roh - Daily Herald - | Jan 14, 2013
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Ty McRae, left, and Kenton McRae tune skis at the repair shop in Rat King Bikes and Freeskis in Orem on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. McRae has been tuning skis and snowboards for over three decades and now owns a repair business with his youngest son, Kenton. JAMES ROH/Daily Herald

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This before and after photograph shows a damaged ski repaired by Ty McRae at his repair shop in Rat King Bikes and Freeskis in Orem on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. McRae has been tuning skis and snowboards for over three decades and now owns a repair business with his youngest son, Kenton. JAMES ROH/Daily Herald

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Ty McRae, left, looks at a damaged ski with his son, Kenton McRae at the repair shop in Rat King Bikes and Freeskis in Orem on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. McRae has been tuning skis and snowboards for over three decades and now owns a repair business with his youngest son, Kenton. JAMES ROH/Daily Herald

In the corner of Rat King Bikes and Freeskis in Orem, Ty McRae inspects a pair of skis for dings and damage. Methodically running his hands down the length of the skis, McRae takes note of the problem areas and confidently begins to fill in the large gashes with molten plastic. It’s only a matter of time before the repaired sections become difficult to discern from the undamaged ski. These days, with more than three decades of ski and snowboard tuning experience, there’s hardly a damaged ski that can evade McRae’s handiwork.

“It’s something I love to do,” McRae said. “I know the importance of having a tuned board or ski.”

McRae learned to wax skis as a BYU student, using the clothes irons in the dorms. Charging fellow students to tune their skis allowed McRae to afford lift tickets to the local resorts. But what started off as a hobby has since transformed into a passion that keeps McRae busy during the off months of his landscaping job. Although it is not McRae’s primary occupation, his career in ski tuning has been met with considerable success, including writing an article on the topic in Transworld Snowboarding Magazine and being the go-to guy for all of Milosport’s board repairs since 1998.

“He takes pride in it,” Milosport owner Benny Pellegrino said. “It makes a big difference.”

Nevertheless, it seems that McRae’s biggest accomplishment in the world of ski tuning is passing on his skills to his youngest son, Kenton McRae.

“It’s very gratifying to see your kid doing something you love to do,” Ty McRae said.

McRae was quick to introduce his five children to snowboarding and, subsequently, ski and snowboard tuning. However, Kenton was the only one who expressed serious interest in learning his father’s hobby. As a result, McRae has been teaching his son the ins and outs of repair for five years.

“I really like working with him,” Kenton McRae said. “It’s the one thing that makes us closer than anything else. It’s kind of a special bond.”

Ty McRae is confident that his son is capable of handling any repair job, so now the two work side by side at their shop in Rat King Bikes and Freeskis. It is evident from McRae’s smile that he is happy and proud to own a business with his son.

“Dad and son making people slide a little bit better,” Ty McRae said enthusiastically. “This is a family-run business.”

On occasion, one will disagree with the other on a specific way of fix a problem, but at the end of the day, both adamantly agree that all problems should be solved with a hands-on approach. Many big ski and snowboard shops use automated machines to tune customers’ equipment, but the McRaes insist that tuning with these machines is unacceptable.

“When you do it by hand, you do it right,” Kenton McRae said. “It’s almost like an art form.”

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