words: Preston Strout
photos: Aaron Blatt
On the day we dropped by Mono Cera, Ryan McDermott’s hole-in-the-wall tuning shop in Dillon, Colorado he was prepping one of Danny Davis’ back up boards for the Sochi Olympics. The now famous Jimmy Hendrix Easy Livin’ graphic that Danny cranked his near 20-foot Grand Prix winning switch method on in Mammoth was getting a tune up. “I’m gonna regrind the base and bake it in the hotbox for a few cycles to make sure it’s good to go if Dan needs it again,” said Ryan. Next to his grinder were a few of Jamie Anderson and Mark McMorris’ Sochi slope boards, and a couple of Kelly Clark’s personal pipe rockets. While we watched Ryan work his magic, the FedEx guy came in and picked up a box containing Barrett Christy’s ride for the legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom, and then Torstein Horgmo swung in and snagged a few boards on his way to airport.
Originally from Boston, hints of his accent linger after fifteen years in Colorado. Ryan’s neat rows of dreads are kept tucked under a bandana, and he exudes a calmness that seems to relax everyone around him, a valuable trait in his line of work. Spending his winter atop pipes and slopestyle courses at major contests, riders often rely on him during panic moments. When gear shit hits the fan seconds before a rider needs to drop on live TV, it is Ryan who calmly solves their speed, equipment, and occasionally their corresponding emotional problems from behind the contest curtain.
The walls of Ryan’s master bedroom-sized tuning shop are littered with the retired contest decks from riders like Shaun White, Torah Bright, and Danny Kass, all hand signed with thank you notes to Ryan for making their jobs easier and their boards faster. Whether during early season prep work in his shop, or last minute wax overlays at the top of crucial contest drop-ins, most of the contest history-making boards from the last decade have past through Ryan’s competent hands. Watching him work on Danny’s board that day, it was obvious that he’s a master craftsmen. Like a ship builder, or a NASCAR mechanic, Ryan has a precision, skill, and depth of knowledge that it takes a lifetime to achieve.
Want your board tuned by a legend? Ryan’s shop is actually open to the public. Tucked into an aging strip mall off Labonte Street in Dillion, Summit County locals and visitors alike can drop by Ryan’s shop to have their boards tuned by the same shred mechanic that got Danny Davis’ boards geared for the road to Sochi.
The Preparation Process
When a rider drops off boards for Ryan to prepare, he takes them through a five-step prep process. Although your average snowboarder doesn’t necessarily need this level of board prep, everyone’s experience would benefit from having a board that can haul some ass.
1. Grind the Base Flat
No snowboard comes with a perfectly flat base. Tiny inconsistencies from the pressing, curing and shipping process are unavoidable. However microscopic, these base height variations create a disturbance in a snowboard’s glide. Skilled snowboard techs like Ryan that know how to properly use a grinder can shave off the high points to create a perfectly flat base.
2. Texture the Base
Once the base is flat, the grinder can be used to give the base a criss-crossed micro texture that allows water to be channeled out from under the board enabling a more efficient glide. Picture two wet plates of glass stacked on top of each other, and the suction that’s created if you try and lift one. This same thing happens between your snowboard and the snow that this texture can help avoid. This is especially noticeable in wet, spring-like snow.
3. Set the Edge Geometry
Many factory tuned edges come with an edge that sits 90 degrees to the base. The proper tuning tools in the hands of a skilled tech can bevel these edges so they sit slightly off the snow. The typical base and side bevel of 1 degree gives those edges some better bite. Side note: most riders don’t realize that burs and nicks in your edges often slow you down more than scratches in your base. Even if you fully round your edges off for rails, they should be kept smooth and polished with a medium diamond stone or gumi stone for proper speed.
4. Saturate the Base in a Hotbox
Basically a snowboard oven, the hotbox is a heated, wooden box that holds a sustained temperature of around 46 degrees celsius. After ironing on a generous coat of wax, the board is placed base up in the hotbox allowing the wax to remain in a molten-like state for hours, slowly soaking into the open pours of the base. Most high performance snowboards come with sintered bases, a porous material that allows for maximum wax absorption, yet also drys out quickly if not religiously waxed. One cycle in the hotbox can be the equivalent of nearly 20 hot iron wax jobs, rapidly saturating the base with wax. Like seasoning a cast iron pan, this hotbox process increases the longevity, performance, and effectiveness of future hot waxes.
5. Scrape, Brush, and Buff
Contrary to some beliefs, the excess wax should always be fully scrapped and brushed out of the base. Since a snowboard most effectively glides on a flat textured base, these grooves must be brushed clean for maximum glide. Elite level tuning incorporates several brushings with varying stiffness bristles to properly remove all unwanted excess wax.
From here, boards are ready to once again be waxed, scrapped and brushed with the appropriate temperature waxes to match snow conditions. Whether you’re gliding through untracked pow, hoping onto a handrail, or competing in the X Games, a fast, slippery base makes everything more effortless. The less you fight friction, the easier every trick, turn, and slash becomes.
Read the full Meet the Masters: Ryan McDermott Snowboard Tuning Guru article on Snowboarder Magazine.