Ever wonder how much rope patrollers string up at resorts on an average day? Does your ski boot chafe your ankle, and no one seems to be able to tell you why? Want to know why your favorite trail hasn’t opened this year?
Submit your snowsport-related questions to The Weekly Ski Poll, and we’ll find the answers. Send questions to email@example.com, fax at (970) 668-0755 (ATTN: Ski Poll) or call (970) 668-3998, ext. 237. Make sure to include your name, address and phone number. We’ll select a different question each week and run the answer on Friday.
This week’s question: The weather’s getting warmer and the snow’s getting wetter – how do I adjust my wax for the best glide?
How you wax your gear and what type of wax you use depend exactly on those conditions in question – it depends on the air temperature, the humidity, the snow conditions and whether or not you just want a smooth ride or you’re racing.
But keep in mind, if you’re a purist – or one who fancies being in touch with the roots of snowsports – you wouldn’t be waxing at all. When early Scandinavians began skiing about 3,000 years ago, it was on what we’d call primitive boards – wood. They didn’t even have access to lacquers or shellacs.
“They might have used fat or whale blubber or something like that to keep the skis from icing up,” said Jim Deines, co-owner of Precision Ski in Frisco and Keystone. “But we really use it to go fast. They weren’t interested in that so much.”
Skiing in the American West moved from hunting, mail delivery and transportation into racing in the late 1800s. Still, waxing appeared only about 40 years ago with the advent of P-Tex bases. Since then, waxes have changed as ski technology has evolved.
According to Ian Harvey, a race service tech for Pioneer Sports in Heber, Utah, and a marketing representative for Toko waxes, the original glide waxes were akin to candle wax. The only difference was the hardness – a function of how long the wax was distilled. (Distillation removes oil from the wax, increasing its hardness.)
These days, Harvey said, wax manufacturers add synthetic hardeners instead of distilling, and the newest revolution is fluorinated waxes (just like your toothpaste) and liquid applications.
And that brings us back to the original question.
Spring can mean a lot of wax problems. Jack Wilt, a ski tech at Mountain Sports Outlet in Silverthorne and Christy Sports at Copper Mountain, sees it all the time.
“The weather warms up, and the people coming up from Denver or wherever still have their cold wax on,” Wilt said. “They end up having to stop and come into the shop to get it fixed.”
The wax needs to be changed to accommodate the change in the snow crystals, said Breckenridge’s Mountain Outfitters owner Ket McSparin. In cold weather, snow crystals are sharp and angular; a harder wax helps skis stick when you want them to and glide when you’re moving. Warm air metamorphoses snow crystals and softer waxes are the ticket.
To adjust to spring conditions, Wilt suggested first cleaning the base of skis or boards. A spray-on base cleaner will do, he said.
In applying the wax, Wilt said to pick a wax based on the next day’s predicted temperature and to mix in an all-
temperature wax – making sure that both waxes are made by the same company.
“By mixing it, you can give or take a few degrees on the temperature and not have any problems,” Wilt said.
McSparin had an additional recommendation for downhill action. He said to take your gear to a shop with a stone grinding machine – several shops have them – and have the techs grind it for wet conditions.
Spring skiers might have experienced “suction,” especially prevalent in racing, which is the sensation that a ski or board is sticking to the wet snow. McSparin said the structuring a stone grinding gives a base allows air in between the base and the moist snow.
“The grinding really means less maintenance for the consumer at home,” McSparin said.
After waxing, he added, use a brush to get the wax out of the pattern ground into the base.
For Nordic skiers, McSparin had some other tips on wax. He suggested the same stone grinding (unless you use waxless skis). In the middle area of the cross country skis, McSparin said to use a klister.
Klister, the Norwegian word for “glue,” is a sticky paste that comes in a tube and helps the ski grip wet, sun-melted snow in the skating phase.
McSparin said Nordic skiers using waxless skis might encounter snow balling up in the “scales” on the base of the ski. He said that’s the result of dirt caught under the scales. Moisture sticks to the dirt and forms ice, slowing down a skier. Use a base cleaner, McSparin said, and follow up with any of several liquid or paste, rub-on waxes specially made for that type of ski.
“But essentially, glide waxes are glide waxes,” McSparin said. “It really just depends on the temperature, unless you’re racing. And these days, they’re making paste and liquid waxes that come with brushes or a sponge head. They’re easy to apply and you can throw it on quickly the night before a powder day.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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