Daron Rahlve's former ski tech.


This guy will have you skiing a different tune
Willi Wiltz wields his magic at Sugar Bowl resort

- Paul McHugh, San Francisco Chronicle Outdoors Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005

I'm off to see the wizard. There are plenty of ski/snowboard tuners
and techs who labor in joints like the repair shop trailer near Sugar
Bowl's Mt. Judah lodge. But I'll bet only one sports a Rolex with a
grateful inscription from Tommy Moe.

That would be Willi Wiltz, longtime ski designer, tuner and strategist
for the U.S. Ski Team. The steel Oyster Perpetual Submariner came his
way after Moe won silver and gold in super G and downhill in the 1994
Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, riding boards alchemized by
Wiltz, a San Francisco native.

Wiltz, 48, originally sought to make his mark as a high school ski
racer, then as a pro.

"I always looked for ways to make skis go faster," Wiltz says, "but I
couldn't keep up. Made ground in the straights, but lost it all in the
turns. Took out a lot of hay bales. And spectators." He lets loose a

He got drafted as a team tuner for Atomic in the 1980s, next developed
downhill race designs for K-2, then settled into working with Fischer
for Canada's team in the early '90s.

I hand Wiltz a pair of ancient boards, Fischer RCS World Cup GS skis,
212- cm long. I own modern shaped skis, and like them fairly well. But
I also enjoy long, skinny boards like those I learned on, even prefer
them for some uses. Such as breaking the sound barrier on steep

I snatched those clean, unscarred, old RCS planks out of the closet of
a former collegiate racer who said he'd ridden them only a few times.

"Hey," Wiltz says, smiling as he handles a model of ski he hasn't
touched for a decade. "These came from the race room!"

He launches into a detailed lecture on ski cores made with vertical
laminations of ash and birch and points out an integral metal plate
below the ski's topsheet installed to dampen vibration at speed.

Wiltz hammers hardwood pegs into the old binding holes, slaps on a jig
and drills holes to mount new bindings. He mournfully holds up a curl
of black plastic.

"Uh-oh. Acrylic, not wood. Maybe these came out of a race room, but
not a World Cup room. Same dimensions, different cores," he says.

Wiltz has no training as an engineer, but as he worked his way toward
U.S. ski team support in 2000, he brought with him a practical ability
honed by years of constructing race skis from the base layer up.

"Just like assembling a big sandwich," he says. "Lay in the meat,
spread glue like mustard, put on another layer of lettuce and pop 'em
in the oven."

His heyday with the team, which lasted until 2004, plunged him into a
realm of intrigue, industrial espionage and international politics.
Playing this game means use of top-secret modifications and core
designs that filter to the popular market only after a decade, as well
as ploys such as setting out decoy skis to confuse competitors about
the gear selected for a race.

As Wiltz and his partners performed sub rosa alchemy, U.S. stars such
as Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller jumped repeatedly onto the podium.
Then, supposedly pressured by European manufacturers, the team decided
it was time for Wiltz to take a break.

"Put it this way," Wiltz says cryptically. "We won races we weren't
supposed to win."

Juliann Fritz, publicity director for USSA (parent organization for
the U. S. Ski Team), says that, as far as she knows, no pressure was
put on Wiltz; the decision to depart was his alone.

In any case, Sugar Bowl, seeing a chance to bring world-class chops to
its race academy and repair shop, hired him to install a robust level
of consultation and training at the resort.

Other techs in the trailer casually observe the master as he bestows a
spell he calls Willi Love on my old Fischer RCS boards.

Their basic race tune remains intact: flat bases, a 1-degree bevel on
the bottom of the steel edges, tested with a truebar, a 2-degree bevel
on the sides. He puts a diamond polish on the edges, then files round
corners on the tail for better release in turns. Wiltz slaps the file
on a work bench, then flips it neatly in his hand with the ease of a
drummer twirling a stick.

He checks the edges, shaving off a curl from a thumbnail. He dribbles
wax from a cake pressed against a hot iron in a perfect sine wave down
the base, then irons it in. The wax is shaved, then scrubbed with
brushes that range from copper bristles to horsehair.

Wiltz's practiced hands seem to caress the skis. "Nice," he says. He
winks as he hands them over. "They'll be real fast," he warns.

And they are.

E-mail Paul McHugh at [log in to unmask]

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