Wax. Why do we wax our skis? What type of wax do I use? Does it really make a difference?
Well, yes, it does make a difference. Wax is what reduces the friction factor between your skis and the snow/water. We will explain here some waxing techniques, the differences between the waxes, and some of my personal observations. Now it is important to remember that everybody has their own preferences: techniques, waxes, brands, etc...and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A few commonalities hold true throughought the entire process, however. We will try to focus on those common factors. Keep in mind that we also aren't talking about waxing them up for a Super-G race, either.
Section I: base inspection: Ok, hold on there, killer. Put the iron down and back away from the wax for a second. Before you go cranking the temp up and dripping wax all over the place take a deep breath. The best wax job doesn't mean diddly if your base structure is all messed up. Take a look at the bases of your skis. Are they fuzzy or white? Are there little pieces of p-tex (base material) peeling off like string cheese? You need to fix that first.
What you should see upon inspecting your bases are some fine lines running down the lengths of the skis. These little 'lines' are there for a reason. The base structure allows the skis to glide over the thin film of water and snow crystals that form undeneath the skis as you slide down the hill. It channels the water in a specific manner. Think of it sort of like what the treads on your tires do. You don't want to use the same treads for winter and summer, because the conditions are different. Same thing here. Although we are not going to talk about resurfacing bases depending on snow crystal size, suffice it to say that if your bases are fuzzy and peeling you need to fix that. (Please note that by stone-grinding or restructuring your bases in the middle of the season you may hurt performance. World Cup Techs often say that polishing your skis by skiing on them is the best way to make the skis fast. If you stonegrind or restructure, you are removing that layer)
Skiing over rocks, stones, and people also will make your life more difficult by resufacing your bases for you. As a good friend of mine comments every time someone takes a jump over a rock, "well that is base resurfacing 101!!"
We're not here to talk about how to resurface your bases, that is for another time. Let's assume that your bases have passed inspection for structure. Break out a brass brush or scotchbrite pad and rub the bases of your skis from tip to tail. Don't be He-Man, but use firm and even pressure. What you are doing is getting out the old wax that is in those little grooves. Cleans up a little bit of dirt as well. If your bases are real dirty, such as in the spring, you may want to break out the citrus base cleaner. You'd be suprised how much oil is spewed out in snow-guns!
Why tip to tail? Think of the ptex on a microscopic level as one of those lint-brushes or someone's beard. If you rub your hand one way on a lint brush, or 5-o'clock shadow, it is nice and smooth because all of the little hairs point that way. If you rub your hand the opposite way, the lint brush or beard puts up resistance, because you are going against the grain. Same applies with your bases. If you are rubbing tail to tip, you are re-arranging the ptex hairs the wrong way for sliding down the hill! There will be a performance hit with that.
The tip to tail technique is a blanket technique. I will point it out a few times, but suffice it to say, you always go tip to tail unless otherwise specified. When final waxing, when filing edges, or when doing any sort of base work, you go tip to tail. Just remember that and you will be all set!
When you are done with removing the wax, be sure to make sure the bottoms of your skis are clean. Use a paper towel or cloth and brush them off. Do not use your polishing brush (explained later). Why? You don't want old wax, dirt, or other crap getting in the bases of your skis. Also, if you plan to do your edges, do them now. Clean your bases after doing that too, silly. Having metal shavings resurface your bases for you as you drag a hot iron over them is not a great idea.
Section II: Know your snow, know your wax: All waxes are generally rated in some manner as to the condition and humidity level that the snow you will be skiing is currently at. If you are just going out for a day of fun and don't really care, go ahead and use a generic wax. I am a little more picky about it. Most of the time I attempt to match the temperature of the wax and the snow so I get some better performance than just putting some old paste on there. It takes time to do that, however, and I have no problem with the old generic application of multi-temp wax. Yes, I even do it myself if I'm in a hurry.
Actually, I think a lot of the time my friends think I'm a little odd by taking the time do do all of this work just to in turn head out on a groomer and putt-putt around. So why do I do it? A major factor in my little brain is to protect my investment. Skis are expensive. Snow can be as rough as sandpaper. If you faceplant I'm sure you can attest to this. I want to protect the bases from base-burn. Once the bases burn your performance will be affected drastically, they don't accept wac correctly, and you will have to get them resurfaced to fix the problem. I akin that to buying a brand new Porsche, not waxing it, and parking it out in the Arizona sun for a couple of months. Not a great idea, eh?
The wax you put on your skis works by adding a hyrophobic layer to the bottom of your skis and impregnating that into the bases. (hyrdophobic means it is 'scared of water' and rejects it) You do not ski entirely on snow. You ski on a very thin film of water. The friction of your skis passing over the snow melts the crystals a bit, producing water, to which the wax repels and glides on. Said water is channeled down the bases of your skis, reducing friction and producing speed. The trick to this, however, is to have a wax that is hard enough to resist the abrasion of the snow that does contact the bases thus not wearing off after a run or two, but soft enough to allow the structure of your bases to do what they need to.
Ok let me explain a little of the factors in that chart to the right. I usually am not so picky as to pay attention to D, E, and F, unless it is colder than 23 degrees outside. At that point, little things such as sun and wind can make a difference to the point where I notice it.
Snow temperature. This is one of the more imporant factors. Waxes, regardless of brand, employ some sort of "temperature designed to be used at" to "model # of wax" ratio. I exclusively use Swix brand waxes. I find their products to be consistent in quality, easy to remember the ratings of wax they come in, and economical vs performance. The warmer temperature the wax is designed to be used at, the "softer" the wax is considered to be. Use a soft wax when the snow is cold or sharp and it will wear off very quickly. The softest of waxes are sometimes known as "Base Prep." Always base-prep your skis at the beginning of the season and/or after freshly doing some base work.
Humidity: Oft overlooked, but if you want to further break down (or make your life more complicated), you can choose between low, medium, and highly fluoronated waxes. The higher the "fluoro", the more hydroscopic the wax. Also, the higher the fluoro content the higher the price. Keep in mind...if you have too much water under your skis you will actually create suction, which will keep your skis from sliding efficiently. They literally get sucked to the snow!
Air temp/Sun/Shade: If you will be racing or are looking for performance this is something to consider. If the air temperature will be signifigantly warmer than the snow its, expect the snow to warm up. Warm snow is wetter and could push you to use a one step warmer wax. Same thing if the sun is shining brightly.
Crystal size: Yeah, this is getting picky. If snow crystals are sharp they will dig into your bases like velcro. Pick a harder wax. If they are old and/or rounded and wet, you want a warmer wax which will allow for better water phobia! Better glide that way.
Wind: Beleive it or not, if the air is dry and blowing it will dry the snow out. This could affect performance if you are worried about tenths of a second!
So you've got the temperature of the snow you will be skiing on. Or at least you made an eduated guess, right? Time to pick the floro content if you want to if you want to be picky. If not, just skip this part. Should you would like to use generic non-fluoronated wax you honestly aren't missing much for a fun day at the mountain. (For instance, for me I use Swix CH series of wax for non-fluoronated) It's a lot cheaper than having a bunch of bars of wax haning around that you may never use. But in general, Here is a breakdown of how the whole fluoronated waxes thing works for Holmenkol and Swix waxes, the only two I will use:
Low humidity would be defined as 0-50% snow humidity, or unable to make a snowball. Use a low floro or non-floro wax.
Medium humidity would be defined as 50%-70% snow humidity. You can make a snowball with the snow. I find in New England most of the snow is generally like this. Use a low or medium floro wax. For Swix I just use LF (low fluoro) and it works fine.
High humidity snow would be defined as greater than 70% snow humidity. When you make a snowball it is wet/soggy and you can easily pack it to the point that it becomes as hard as a rock. You want high fluoro for this type of snow. Spring skiing for example.
WARNING: Fluoronated waxes generally require a hotter iron setting than hydrocarbon waxes. DO NOT BURN fluoronated waxes! It releases very dangerous chemicals are aren't very condusive to life. It can blister your lungs. Gonna have a bad time! Wear a respirator and have some good ventilation going on in your work area. Don't forget about pets, too!
Now it seems like this is a lot to take in but don't let it frustrate you. If you just pay attention to snow temperature you will most likely be just fine. And it only takes a few moments to figure that out. Generally I will take a look at the forecast for the night before and day of my skiing. Let's see, it was 25 degrees for last night's low, and there will be a high of 35 today when I'm skiing. I'll probably pick a wax designed for 25-30 degrees and it'll work great!