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Ski Wax FAQ

Ski Maintenance

By Steve Kopitz



The following is a list of many of the frequently asked questions about waxing skis. To obtain the answer to any question listed below, please click on the respective question in the list to jump to its answer.


Click on a section to jump ahead to that section:

• Do my brand new skis need to be waxed?

• How is waxed applied to skis?

• How can I tell if my skis need wax?

• How long does wax last once applied?

• Do certain skis need to be waxed more often?

• Are the different temperature waxes really that important?

• How do I know what temperature wax to use?

• How can some wax cost eight dollars and some over one hundred fifty?

• How do I determine if my edges are dull?

• How do I know what angles to sharpen my edges at?

• Do I need to resharpen my edge if I hit a rock or something buried in the snow?

• Why are there small nicks in my base when I get new skis?

• What are brushes for?


Ski Waxing and Tuning Videos


Q: Do my brand new skis need to be waxed?


A: All skis come from the manufacturers with a factory tune, and technically are ready to ski out of the box, but the truth of the matter is most of them have been sitting in containers and shipping boxes for some time afterwards. This allows the base material a good amount of time to dry out and all new skis benefit from a fresh coat of wax and a little touch up work on the edges before they see any snow.


Q: How is wax applied to skis?


A: Wax can either simply be rubbed onto the base of the ski or ironed into the base. Rub on waxes vary from simple shoe polish style applicators, to pastes, and bar styles. Traditional bar waxes are melted into the base material by dripping from an iron and then melting the wax into the base.


Q: How can I tell if my skis need wax?


A: There are a few tell tale signs as to whether or not skis are in need of wax. The most obvious sign is the discoloration of the base material. If the base material is dry and in need of wax it will appear white and chalky, starting at the edges and moving inward. If the entire base of the ski is white and chalky the skis have reached the point where base grinding is necessary, and your local shop should be able to do this for you.


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Q: How long does wax last once applied?


A: The two most common types of wax are rub on and iron on waxes and both styles last different amounts of time. On average rub on waxes tend to be effective of a day or two at most. Iron on waxes penetrate the base material allowing them to be effective for eight to ten days. However, this time frame is dependent on weather conditions as very cold and dry weather breaks wax down faster. Also time between trips to the hill will allow the base material to dry out, a ski left on the shelf will start to dry out after a week or so.


Q: Do certain skis need to be waxed more often?


A: No matter the ski wax wears in the same manner. This being said, certain base materials react worse to being dry, becoming very slow and producing tremendous water suction. This type of base material is referred to as “Sintered”. Properly maintained “Sintered” base material gives an incredible glide and is commonly found (in varying grades) in most intermediate to advanced skis. The other common base material is referred to as “extruded”. “Extruded” base material will show a definite increase in glide when maintained properly but will never glide as fast as “Sintered” material given the same preparations. “Extruded” base material is most often seen in beginner level skis where glide quality is not as important.


Q: Are the different temperature waxes really that important?


A: Yes, although it’s not that simple. The reason for varied temperature ranges of wax has to do with the shape of snow crystals at different temperatures. At lower temperatures snow crystals are much more jagged, so hard and flaky waxes are used to protect the base material. As temperatures raise so does the moisture content of the snow and softer waxes are employed to add a level of smoothness and water repellency to the base. This does not mean a skier needs every single temperature available, most locales will fluctuate between two or three of the ranges, so it is important consider your typical weather when picking waxes.


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Q: How do I know what temperature wax to use?


A: Selection of wax is based on the temperature of the snow you are going to ski on. Usually this is a few degrees colder than the air temperature during the day and a few degrees warmer than the air at night. Waxes work for broad temperature ranges and will often overlap. When two waxes ranges overlap it is always better to err on the side of the colder temperature range, as colder waxes work better when it is to warm than warm waxes work when it is too cold. If you are preparing for a trip it is always best to use the wax for the lowest temperature expected.


Q: How can some wax cost eight dollars and some over one hundred fifty?


A: The cost of wax is largely dependent on the fluorocarbon content of the bar. Most waxes use either a hydrocarbon or fluorocarbon composition to determine the water repellency. This is very important because as the ski glides across the snow it is actually melting the snow creating water suction, so the more water repellent the wax the faster the ski is able to glide. Most inexpensive ($8-$15 per 60 gram bar) will use hydrocarbons, which will do the job but are the least water repellent of materials used. As waxes increase in price they will start to use different levels of fluorocarbons, and the price will rise accordingly. Low fluorocarbon waxes tend to be the choice of advanced to expert skiers who are looking for a clean glide without breaking the bank ($20-$35 per 60 gram bar) and as training wax for racers. High fluorocarbons waxes are usually saved for race day preparations and skiers looking for a long lasting and very fast wax ($70-$90 per 40 gram bar). The pinnacle in wax is pure fluorocarbon ($160-$220 per 20 gram powder), saved for race run application, and is used very sparingly.


Q: How do I determine if my edges are dull?


A: An easy test to determine edge sharpness is the fingernail test. To perform this test place a fingernail against the edge of the ski, under slight pressure pull the nail down across the edge. If the edge removes a small shaving of nail off the edge is sharp. When performing the fingernail test it is best to start at the tip and tail contact points of the ski as they are the points that dull first.


Q: How do I know what angles to sharpen my edges at?


A: Edge angles are largely determined by the type of ski and the caliber of skier. Most modern adult skis are pre-tune with a two degree side edge and one degree base edge. The slightly more aggressive side edge angle allows a skier to articulate more and take full advantage of a ski’s shape. When you get into wider ski profiles and powder oriented skis it is fifty-fifty between a two degree and one degree side edge with a one degree base edge. Most children’s and junior skis will be set at one degree on both the side and base angles. Edge selection gets quite a bit more complicated when it comes to race set-ups and will be discussed in the race prep how-to guide.


Q: Do I need to resharpen my edge if I hit a rock or something buried in the snow?


A: Depending on the amount of damage the answer is most often no. While the edge will appear marred, the whole edge does not need attention. There are many tools such as pocket and diamond stones (which will be discussed in the tools buying guide) that are designed to remove the burrs and scrapes created by the rock. So what might look like tremendous damage can usually be fixed in a matter of a few minutes.


Q: Why are there small nicks in my base when I get new skis?


A: Upon a closer look you will notice that these nicks are in a defined pattern, and are very important to ensure a smooth glide on the snow. These patterns are referred to as structures, and will vary greatly in pattern, size, shape, and depth depending on the ski and snow conditions. The structure allows the ski to dissipate the water created by the skis as they glide over the snow. Without this outlet, the water would build up a massive amount of surface tension, leaving the ski gliding poorly and sticking while transferring edge to edge. Over time these grooves will settle, so if your skis have been properly waxed, but still feel slow it is time to take them to your local shop for a stone grind.


Q: What are brushes for?


A: Once a ski has been waxed and scraped properly there will still be a wax residue on the base of the ski, as well as wax in the structure of the base material. This build up needs to be removed and brushes are the tool for the job. By removing the wax from the structure in the base the ski can dissapate the water created by gliding on the snow, allowing for a much more smooth and quick glide.

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