basics of waxing techniques for skies and snowboards
As the ski season approaches, I receive more and more questions about how to set up new skis and what is the proper waxing technique.
Various wax manufacturers have different approaches to the process. The big question is WHICH PROCESS IS BEST FOR YOU? In reality, most processes can work well as long as the approach is consistent.
Remember that waxing skis can be as much science as art; therefore, the process can be as important as the wax. Just as one wax is not optimum for all conditions, neither is one ski flex or base structure. Waxing is a learnt process. Every time you wax and test your skis, the greater your reference base for prepping your skis the next time out. Therefore, every time you wax and test your skis, the faster your skis should become. Not only are you attempting to optimize the waxing process, but you’re also optimizing the base structure and ski flex for the various ski conditions.
So never miss an opportunity to improve. Take a minute to glide test your skis. If yours are consistently the fastest in the crowd, congratulations! However, if your skis are slow, maybe you could use some help.
To get started, a few things are important (Note: Most wax rooms contain a washer and drier and standard equipment)
A waxing station is helpful. A permanent area for ski preparation and waxing helps control the mess, and most important, provides you convenience. A tray around the wax bench and a shop-vac are also helpful in controlling the wax shavings. There are a variety of adjustable waxing benches on the market, any will do nicely, or you can build one yourself. It also helps if you can mount the waxing bench to a solid stand for ease and stability of scraping.
A good waxing iron is important. Although they may seem expensive, an iron developed for waxing skis is a good idea. To use a cheep iron and burn a $300.00 pair of skis is a sad day. Today, ski waxing irons have enhanced temperature control and can improve the flow of the wax onto the ski. Always turn the iron on at least 15-30 minutes before waxing. This will allow the iron temperature to stabilize and ensure even wax penetration.
Vent the waxing station. A home made fume hood over the bench with a heavy duty kitchen exhaust fan clears the air and prevents fumes from entering the household living quarters. I cannot over emphasize the importance of making the waxing station convenient and safe.
The next items are much less expensive; a metal and plastic scraper, ski brushes (fiber and brass), and a selection of waxes for various ski and snow conditions. Optional equipment can also include a sanding block with sanding paper and structuring tools.
To start with, choose three basic waxes; a cold wax 10 F and colder, an intermediate wax 15 to 25 F and warm wax for 25-35 F. Learn the temperature ranges and conditions these waxes work in first. The wax arsenal can be expanded as experience is gained. The main thing to learn is why skis are fast, so the process is repeatable.
A large inventory of wax to start with will only confuse the process and result. At least in the beginning, use the “KISS” method - keep it simple stupid. Too many waxes early in the learning process are almost guaranteed to complicate you life and provide less than consistent results.
When waxing skis, always work the ski from tip to tail (scrape, brush and iron), never in the reverse direction. As skis are made fast by layers and layers of wax, never use wax remover to clean the glide zone of a ski, unless extreme conditions prevail; skied through oil, cow pies or something equally nasty. Instead, clean the ski by melting and ironing in a soft layer of wax on the base, then scrape it off immediately with a plastic scraper. Repeat the process if necessary.
If the base is damaged, now is the time to make any repairs. Remover gouges with a metal scraper, remember to scrape in long sweeping motions with even pressure from tip to tail. Then you’ll need to remove any ski base fibers with an abrasive pad. In the event of major damage, take to your skis to a local ski shop for an assessment. A more aggressive metal scraping may be required or possibly stone grinding.
Set the ski base structure for the ski conditions. (Structure is the height and number of hills and valleys within the ski base.) New skis generally come with a medium structure and works well under a wide variety of ski conditions. The exceptions being extremely cold, dry snow or warm, wet snow conditions. Softer waxes generally require more structure and hard waxes less structure.
General Wax Application
First select the appropriate wax and skis for the desired conditions. After melting wax onto the ski base (take waxing iron and hold it perpendicular to the ski dripping wax onto the ski base, making sure enough wax is available to cover the total ski base from tip to tail), iron the wax into the base using light pressure, moving the iron from tip to tail in a continuous motion. If you have adequate wax on the ski and the waxing iron is at the correct temperature, you’ll pull a molten bead of wax about Yz-2 inches behind the iron. The speed of the iron should be slow, but steady. If the wax starts smoking or if it’s necessary to move fast to keep the bead short, the iron is probably too hot.
Fast Wax Technical Information
Wax coverage should cover the total width of the ski base. If the ski is gapped on one side or the other, this is an indication the base may not be flat or you may need to drip more wax on the ski. If the ski has wax gaps, additional metal scraping may help or stone grinding will be necessary to flatten the ski base. Sanding may also flatten the base; however, sanding a ski base is somewhat a lost art since the development of stone grinding. I would not recommend sanding a ski without getting some experienced help.
Allow the ski to cool completely before scraping the ski with the plastic scraper (never use a steel scraper here). Ideally, the ski should be allowed to cool in a warm environment (it may be OK for you to go from the sauna to the snow but is not advised for your freshly waxed skis). This is especially true with soft waxes, as they crystallize slower and take more time to set up. If you’re applying more than one coat of wax, scrape the ski between each waxing. The scraping process opens up the micro-structure of the ski base and the ski will be able to absorb more wax. For racing skis, give the ski a minimum of two oats of wax.
Step-by-Step Waxing Instruction
1. Always work the ski from the tip to the tail (never in revere direction)
2. Clean the ski
Melt wax onto the ski base and iron in from tip to tail
Scrape warm with a plastic scraper
Repeat the process if necessary
3. Base Preparation
If the ski base is damaged remove the gouges with a metal scraper or stone grind
Remove the fibrils with a Scotch-brite pad
Structure the ski base for current conditions (see section on tips)
After structuring remove fibrils with a Scotchbrite pad
Wax for current conditions and allow ski to cool completely before scraping with a plastic scraper.
5. Repeat step 4 at least once
6. Brush the ski with a fiber brush to clean the structure a. Polish with fiber cloth
When selecting a wax, sometimes we have to trust the weather report. However, even with our super weather forecasting models, occasionally an unexpected front comes through in the middle of the night changing conditions. If the skis must be waxed the day before a race and conditions are uncertain, try to select a wax slightly colder than the expected conditions and apply a lighter structure than required. This way, if the temperature change is warmer than expected, structure can be added at the race site with one of the new, easy to use rolling rilling tools on the market and your skis will be OK.
The best bet is to have a back up pair of skis waxed for alternate conditions. Try not to error on the side of waxing too warm. Going from a warm wax and large structure to a cold wax and polished skis is difficult to accomplish at the race site.