is a material applied to the bottom of skis
to help them perform better on snow.
Types of ski wax
In general, ski wax can be broken down into two categories: "grip" and "glide."
describes a range of waxes which can be applied to nordic
skis, and snowboards
. The gliding property of a ski is an attempt to optimize the thickness of the thin film of water between the ski and the snow. Skiing over snow is a combination of both wet friction and dry friction — too much water will create "wet drag
) while too little water will result in "dry drag
). A properly selected glide wax will aid in this delicate balance.
A glide wax is selected based primarily on snow temperature, as well as the crystal structure and relative humidity of the snow. Manufacturers' packages generally provide guidelines for matching a glide wax to the snow conditions. It is applied to the "glide zone" of a ski. For alpine skis, snowboards, Nordic jumping skis, and telemark skis, the glide zone consists of the entire base, except for the raised tip. For cross-country skis, the glide zone depends on the style of skiing being done. For the skating technique, the entire base is a glide zone, but for the classical technique, the glide zone will be the tips and tails of the ski, but not the kick zone (see below).
describes a variety of waxes specific to cross-country skiing
with a classical technique. This wax comes in two forms, "kick" and "klister." Kick wax
is a firm substance which comes in a small tin. It is used for new snow with a clearly-defined crystal structure, and sometimes for older, cold snow (found when the air temperature is below freezing). Klister
is a semi-liquid which comes in containers similar to toothpaste
tubes. Klister is notoriously sticky and deserves its reputation as a difficult wax to use, but is excellent when used in icy conditions (below freezing, when the snow has lost good crystal structure) or with snow that is relatively warm and wet (above freezing). In times when Kick wax and Klister don't produce enough grip, skiers will sometimes make Hairies
: a process of turning the skis into waxless cross country skis by roughing up the base significantly.
Although the nuances of grip waxing are incredibly complex, all grip waxes serve the same purpose. The wax is applied to the central portion of the ski called the "kick zone." The kick zone extends from skier's heel to about 15 cm ahead of the binding. When enough pressure is applied downward, the camber in the ski is flattened, allowing the kick zone to make contact with the snow. When properly selected and applied, the wax in the kick zone grips the snow and allows the skier to propel him or herself forward. A well selected grip wax will release its hold on the snow as the pressure on the kick zone is released.
There are a wide variety of materials used for grip wax. Both natural and synthetic materials are used.
Glide waxing process
Glide waxing is much more common than grip waxing, simply because most skiers use alpine skis, snowboards, waxless cross-country skis, or skate skis. Waxless cross-country skis usually have etched gripping surfaces that eliminate the need to apply grip wax. Usually, the process begin with a cleaning of the board by using specifically formulated wax remover (see below), which removes both the old wax and any other dirt that may interfere with the adhesion of the wax. After the bare ski base is exposed, there are typically three methods of waxing:
This method, albeit tedious, offers the best performance. Basic tools required include a waxing iron (see below), a horsehair, brass or nylon brush, and a plastic scraper. Wax appropriate for the anticipated temperature range is heated up against the iron, melted, and dripped or 'crayoned' onto the base of a ski or snowboard. The wax is then ironed into the base using an iron heated to a temperature of 100 to 130 degrees C. Softer waxes for warmer conditions require lower iron temperatures than harder waxes for colder conditions; the appropriate ironing temperature for a given wax is often listed on its packaging. After allowing the base to cool, the excess wax is scraped off. Then the ski is brushed to remove more excess wax, exposing the structure of the base.
When applying hot waxing as a glider it is good to wait 10 -15 minutes so the wax gets cold before removing the wax with the plastic scrape. However, hot waxing is also an excellent way to clean the ski base and especially after other maintenance, such as edge filing or ski base repair, which will leave steel particles or microscopic bumps on the ski base. This is done by applying the softest wax, such as yellow at about 110- 120 degrees, and the wax is scraped immediately when it is hot. The hot wax will absorb dirt and particles from the base and leave a clean surface.
Hair dryer paste waxing
This method is a cheap and easy alternative to the hot wax method. The preferred wax is a paste wax or rub-on wax, as opposed to the solid waxes used in hot waxing. The base is simply heated with a hair dryer, then a layer of wax is applied and melted into the base with the hair dryer. Cork can be used to buff it to an even surface, and nylon brush or scraper can be used to remove excess wax before skiing.
Paste, liquid, spray-on, and rub-on waxing
These are the simplest waxing methods. Generally all that is required is to smear, rub, spray or apply a thin layer liquid wax onto the ski's base using a paint brush, then let dry before buffing it into the ski base with a waxing cork. A common misconception is that waxes applied with this method offer the least performance and require frequent re-application. Liquid and spray waxes in particular provide better coverage than solid wax applied with an iron, however to achieve the same durability as hot waxing an iron is used after liquid or spray wax application to maximize penetration of the wax into the base.
Another method, hotboxing, consists of applying a wax with an iron, then warming skis in a device called a hotbox at 50-55 degrees Celsius, allowing more wax to enter the base. Hotboxes can be home made — an insulated box with a heater is the basic setup — although commercial made hotboxes are available from manufacturers such as Swix and Toko.
Grip waxing process (for classical, non-waxless cross-country skis only)
This comes in three forms: the traditional hard wax in an aluminum tin, as a liquid paste and as a tape. The three forms can be used by recreational, fitness and racing skiers. With all forms leave the skis outside to adjust to the temperature before using (usually 10 to 15 minutes). Kick wax that has not had time to adjust to the same temperature as outside will not perform correctly. This can incorrectly lead the skier to believe that the wrong kick wax was applied.
The hard wax is "crayoned" (rubbed) onto the kick zone of the ski and then rubbed with a cork. For durability the hard wax is best applied in several thin layers and "corked" (rubbed using a piece of natural or artificial cork) between each layer. Corking serves to mechanically distribute the wax over the kick zone (to evenly distribute the wax) while simultaneously warming it via friction to improve adhesion to the ski base. For increased durability, needed on long outings or races, the hard wax can be ironed into the kick zone. There is a specific kick basewax for applying as the first layer to aid in the adhesion and longevity that racers regularly use. Racers and ski wax technicians regularly blend and layer different kick waxes to obtain the best application for the conditions. However, recreational skiers generally do not need to perform such complex applications.
The liquid form of kick wax needs no corking. It is spread across the kick zone in a thin layer and left to dry in a warm room for 10 to 15 minutes. The primary intent of this form is the ease and speed of application. As such, there are often conditions in which the traditional hard kick wax or klister may offer better performance (especially when it gets very cold or very warm).
The tape form is applied by unrolling a sheet covered with kick wax and sticking it to the kick zone. The tape is then trimmed to match the length of the kick zone. The wax on the tape is designed to cover a wide range of temperatures and to be used for many ski trips. However, it is not perfect for all conditions. Users of the tape have reported a wide range of results when using it. The tape can be removed and saved for a future application.
Klister wax comes in a squeeze tube or a spray-on can and is best applied in a warm location. It is squeezed out of its tube onto the kick zone of the ski, and then spread using a paddle or with a thumb. Some people use a hair drier, iron, or blowtorch to warm it to better adhere to the ski base. Klister wax is often applied in combination with hard wax to ensure lasting results (though this racing technique is best avoided by recreational skiers).
Skier's hands and fingers, being readily available, are often the tool of choice for the application of Klister, especially while out on the ski trail. Klister is extremely sticky, and without the use of wax removers or other solvents, it is virtually impossible to completely remove it from one's hands. Often, although it may seem uncomfortable at first, the best thing to do is to put your gloves back on and ski. The klister will dissolve slowly with the heat and moisture inside of your gloves and will usually not be noticeable after a short period of skiing.
There are times when neither kick wax nor klister can create effective grip; a technique that is not technically waxing is used to create grip in a particularly specific snow/air temperature (around 0°C) and snow grain (new, abrasive snow). This technique is called "making hairies". The kick zone of the ski is cleaned, then roughened by using fairly coarse sandpaper (usually at least 80 grit). Lastly, a layer of silicone is sprayed over the textured base to discourage ice from sticking to the "hairs" of ptex
If a skier wants to use wax on their skis after applying hairies, they must first scrape the hairies off (using a steel scraper) or have their skis professionally stoneground, which removes a layer of base from the whole ski (stonegrinding also can refresh a pair of skis that have been "sealed" as a result of multiple or particularly harsh glidewaxing).
There are a wide variety of tools that can be used to aid in the application of ski wax. Most beginners only require a few tools. Racers and wax technicians will want more tools to improve and/or speed their ski wax application.
For glide waxing the basic tools are typically a waxing iron, a plastic scraper and a nylon brush. For grip waxing a cork (natural or synthetic) for application and a plastic scraper for removal (though not the one used for glide wax).
The potential list of tools is very long and can include: waxing irons, scrapers, profiles/vises, brushes, files, screwdrivers, drills, thermometers, hot boxes, planers, clamps, rillers, special pads, cleaners and respirators. These tools are used not only in the direct application of the wax to the ski, but for the preparation of the ski base before applying the ski wax.
Special-purpose ski waxing irons have more accurate temperature controls, and thicker and smoother bases. Thick bases help keep the heat evenly distributed over the iron's surface. The more accurate temperature control means the iron maintains the selected temperature without excessive temperature spikes or drops. All together this results in better wax penetration into the ski base because each wax has an ideal application temperature. The iron's flat base also allows for easy cleaning so that waxes from previous applications do not become mixed with the current application resulting in a contaminated wax mixture.
Clothes irons are an inexpensive alternative to a special purpose waxing iron but are not recommended. These irons can easily heat to temperatures hot enough to melt the wax, but may not be accurate. Clothes irons suffer from relatively thin bases that tend to poorly distribute heat and low quality temperature control which can result in wide temperature variations during application. Clothes irons can often overshoot the desired temperature and scorch the wax, which decreases the performance of the wax and may be harmful to one's health, especially with fluorinated waxes. If the iron is too hot you could risk damaging the ski base and could permantently ruin the ski. Steam holes, in and of themselves, do not do any harm, as long as the steam function isn't used, but they do collect wax. The collected wax will mix with future applications which is generally not ideal. Once a clothes iron has been used to wax skis, it should never be used to iron clothes, as the wax residue left behind on the iron would likely ruin clothing.
Corks come in two materials: natural and synthetic. They come in small and large blocks. The corks are used primarily for the spreading of Nordic grip waxes. But they are also used extensively by Nordic and Alpine skiers for applying the high-end fluorocarbon powders. A special cork on a roller called roto-cork is used for pure fluorcarbon wax applications.
These help hold the ski or snowboard in place while waxing and/or tuning is performed. There are different profiles and vises for Nordic skis, Alpine skis and snowboards. Some are large and meant to be left fixed on a workbench while others are portable.
Generally the purpose of brushing is to remove the final thin excess layer of wax from the ski without damaging the bases or changing the structure of the ski base. The specialty brushes are used to prepare the ski base and/or deal with very hard waxes. The wide variety of conditions and waxes require a large array of brushes which vary depending on material, bristle stiffness, bristle diameter and size. While it is unnecessary for recreational skiers to have every kind of brush, more serious skiers and wax technicians will have them all. The brush types include stiff nylon (general purpose), soft nylon (finishing/polishing), horsehair (soft and hard), brass (fine and extra fine), copper, fine steel, coarse steel and combination brushes. These brushes come in two forms: hand and roto. The hand brushes are, as the name implies, used by ones hand. Roto brushes are attached to a drill and spun at 2000 to 3000 rpm.
Ski waxing began in the 1860s of America
, where California gold rush miners held impromptu downhill ski races. They soon discovered that bases smeared with dopes brewed from vegetable and/or animal compound helped increase skiing speeds. This led to some of the first commercial ski wax (even though they contained no wax at all), such as Black Dope
and Sierra Lighting
; both are mainly composed of sperm oil, vegetable oil and pine pitch. However, some instead used paraffin candle wax that melted onto ski bases, and these worked better under colder conditions.
Ski waxing has developed into a very complex pseudoscience, its advancement motivated by ski racing. Many companies are dedicated to ski wax production and have developed full lines of wax to cover every condition for the maximum performance. The most recent great advancement in ski wax has been the use of surfactants and fluorocarbons to increase water and dirt repellency and therefore increase glide.
Wax can be dissolved by nonpolar solvents like gasoline
(carcinogenic) or mineral spirits. However commercial wax solvents are made from citrus oil, which is less toxic and is harder to ignite than these.