The best way to demonstrate the relationship between wax and ski is to think of it terms of motor oil and a car. In order to insure that your car keeps running you have to check the oil to make sure it is at the proper level. You have to change it at the appropriate time, and you have to make sure you’re putting the right oil in. Oil keeps your car running. Ski wax will keep your skis running…or gliding as the case may be.
I have been waxing skis since I started working in ski shops over 12 years ago. It wasn’t until I took my first trip to Big Sky approximately 8 years ago that I finally learned how important ski wax was. The temperatures there were crazy cold. We’re talking -40 degrees cold and my skis were sticking to the snow like glue because I hadn’t prepared them properly. I had put wax on for weather at approximately 20 degrees.
As snow becomes colder, its crystals become sharper and actually begin to cut into the base of your skis. Conversely, as the temperature of snow rises it becomes wetter, creating more suction. A colder wax is harder and denser. Cold wax hardens the base material and makes it more resistant to the cutting effect of colder snow. Warm waxes are softer. They add moisture to the base, which creates a wicking effect that allows the ski to glide over soft, sticky snow.
By now, you should be able to see that waxes are different and that it is important to understand the type of conditions you’re going to be skiing so that you can be ready, unlike me in Big Sky. Next, I will explain the items that you will need and the process to perform your own ski waxing.
Here is a list of the tuning tools that you will need to get started waxing your own skis:
- Iron: Please! Please do not use a clothing iron! We recommend that you invest in a waxing iron. It will save you from wrecking the wax you just bought, as well as your skis. A waxing iron will maintain a consistent temperature preventing the wax from smoking, which is a signal that it is breaking down. Additionally it will help in warding off costly damage to your bases.
- Scraper: A scraper is necessary to remove the bulk of the wax on your skis. A good sharp plexi-scraper will quickly become your best friend when you begin waxing your skis on your own.
- Brushes: Brushes will be used to remove any remaining wax left on top of the base that the scraper does not get. Brushes vary from very stiff steel, to ultra soft nylon. I recommend that you invest in two, but if you get only one go with a white nylon that has medium flex bristles. If you get two go for a medium brass brush and a boars hair. These two coupled together will do wonders for your skis.
- Vise: Understand that this item is not necessary, but it will save you loads of time and many busted knuckles. It will hold the skis in place perfectly for you instead of them flopping around wildly in every direction!
That’s it. That’s all you need!
Once you have all of these items, the fun can begin. The first thing that you will want to do is secure your skis to the vice if you have elected to equip yourself with one. Select the appropriate wax for the temperature which you plan to ski in. (NOTE: The temperature range on the wax is for the snow temperature. The snow temperature is usually a couple of degrees higher than the air temperature; this is due to the insulating properties of snow.)
Begin by dripping the wax on the skis by holding the iron approximately 6 inches above the base of the ski. Be sure to keep the wax constantly moving on the iron. I find it helpful to point one of the corners of the iron at the base of the ski, allowing the wax to drip off the iron in a controllable fashion. You will not need as much wax as you probably think you do. A 60g bar should be good for about 6-8 pairs of skis (3-5 snowboards).
After dripping wax onto the base material you can begin ironing it into the ski. It’s imperative that you keep the iron constantly moving while ironing the wax into the ski. If you leave it in one spot, the heat from the iron can bubble the base or cause the epoxy to lose bond with the internal materials of the ski. If this occurs, it can lead to de-lamination.
Be sure to spread the wax evenly over the entire running surface, which is the area of the base that will actually have contact with the snow. Once you’ve done this, it is now time to let the wax cool. An optimal cooling period is 30-60 minutes. A simple way to determine if the wax is ready to come off is by feeling the top-sheet of the ski. When it is cool to the touch, you are ready to begin scraping.
Make sure that you have a sharp scraper. Scraping wax with a dull scraper is like cutting a steak with a butter knife, it might work but it’s not fun. Hold the scraper at a 45 degree angle to the ski and begin at the tail. Start with pushing strokes towards the tip, and then make pulling strokes on the return pass. Repeat this until wax can no longer be removed.
Next you will move to your brushes. Begin with the stiffest brush in your arsenal and work your way progressively down to the softest. Make long strokes from tip to tail applying some “elbow grease” while still allowing the brush to do the work. Use each brush until wax can no longer be removed. Wipe down the base with paper towels to remove the “wax dust” before moving onto the next brush.
As a guideline, it is best to wax your skis every 4-10 skiing days, depending on the snow conditions. The more you wax them, the better they will glide and the easier they will turn. The final step in the puzzle…GO HAVE FUN!