Bad news from the backcountry. After two weeks of waiting for the right weather conditions, a local extreme skier lifted off in a light helicopter this morning to drop into fresh powder on a technical slope at 13,000 ft, hoping to shoot some high-quality action footage. The flight and the drop went okay—just not the landing. As you gathered from the buzz racing through town, on impact with the slope, one of her bindings failed, causing her to lose control and tumble hundreds of feet downhill. Fortunately, she’s okay: she only broke her left fibula and tibia and five ribs. It could have been much worse. But as you drive to the hospital to visit her, one thought keeps pounding in the back of your brain: how did that binding fail? You just repaired it yourself…
Winter sports, particularly skiing and snowboarding, are dangerous, even for experts. Accidents on the slopes can easily result in broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, and even fatal injuries. The risks don’t go away as the athletes improve; professional racers, ski jumpers, and extreme athletes are constantly pushing the limits of what their bodies and their gear can accomplish. The wrong movement at 60 miles an hour can end a career or a life. Even backcountry patrollers, on skis for the purpose of helping others and improving mountain safety, are continuously exposed to high levels of risk, far from aid.
When something goes wrong, like gear failure, it often goes wrong very quickly and with serious repercussions. In the small towns and tight-knit communities that winter athletes call home, these tragedies sometimes carry the extra weight of familial connections. Improving ski repair and maintenance isn’t just business, therefore—it’s personal.
Understanding Torque Control in Ski Maintenance and Repair
The professionals who maintain winter sports gear like skis and snowboards understand the responsibility on their shoulders and work hard to ensure that each piece of equipment that leaves their shop is ready for the slopes. Professional gear, designed to maximize performance and capability, requires precise tuning and care to function properly. It’s also designed to be as light as possible, using high-tech materials and small, lightweight fasteners. That means there is little room for error, particularly when tightening the screws and bolts that keep the bindings in place.
Threaded fasteners, like screw and bolts, have an ideal range of torque. As fasteners get smaller and the stresses they’re subjected to increase, this range narrows and narrows. Fasteners that are too loose, even if not visibly so, can work free under the tension created by a winter athlete zooming and cutting downhill. Once a fastener works free, it increases the load on all the other fasteners, upping the likelihood of a cascading failure, which can lead to accident and injury.
While it may seem like the solution, then, is to tighten every fastener as far as it can go, this can also lead to problems. Screws and bolts that are too tight may not be able to handle the stresses placed on them by sudden movements. When a jumper lands or a slalom skier cuts, the sharp shift in stress can cause fasteners to warp, deform, or shear. This can lead to immediate failure or increase the probability of failure after the next sudden movement. It’s not only the fastener that can fail, either; the assembly it’s screwed into can also crack or warp if a fastener is too tight.
So, fasteners holding winter sports equipment together must be tightened to a Goldilocks level—not too loose and not too tight—in order to safely hold. Given the narrow acceptable range, delivering the right amount of torque is difficult, if not impossible, to perform by feel or eye. Instead, like professional skiers, maintenance and repair professionals must rely on professional equipment. The best way to deliver the right amount of torque to a fastener is to use a wrench or screwdriver which can detect and limit the amount of torque applied.
Choosing Torque Tools for Winter Sports Equipment
The best torque tools for winter sports maintenance and repair are hand tools. Specifically, adjustable torque screwdrivers with internal clutch mechanisms are ideal for small screws. These screwdrivers can be set to a range of torque values so the same tool can be used for many different screws. When the set torque is reached, the clutch slips inside the screwdriver, preventing its user from applying more torque. This effectively eliminates the possibility of over- or under-torquing a fastener in the binding of a ski or a snowboard.
Break-over or cam-over wrenches are best suited for bolts or fasteners with non-standard heads. Break-over wrenches are versatile and can easily be equipped with drivers that match different fastener heads. When the desired torque is reached, these wrenches “break” at a joint on the shaft, preventing the user from applying more torque without resetting the tool. Cam-over wrenches, like torque screwdrivers, have an internal clutch mechanism that slips when the right torque is reached. Both break-over and cam-over wrenches can be adjusted to accommodate the ideal torque ranges of a variety of small fasteners.
Part of the thrill of winter sports, particularly extreme sports, comes from the risk and the challenge of steep slopes, inaccessible terrain, and serious repercussions for failure. But in order to overcome the difficulties inherent in flying down the mountain, athletes need to be able to depend on their gear. In order to ensure that the fasteners in skis and snowboards stand up to the harsh conditions, repair and maintenance professionals must tighten them to exactly the correct value—no more and no less. Choosing the right torque tools to use when working on winter sports equipment is a smart, and safe, decision.