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If you’re new to skiing you might be wondering what’s all this about skis wax, how does it work? and how do I know if my skis need more of it?
Ski’s wax is a protective material that has been applied to the bottom of skis to seal them and make them slide better across the snow since at least 1673. Ski wax can either be used for better glide (downhill skiing) or for better grip (cross-country skiing). Different waxes, from ‘soft’ to ‘hard’ waxwork better on different temperatures and snow textures from light powder to abrasive compact snow.
Here is your dummies guide to ski wax and the answer to every question you might have. No ski has been left unturned in my quest to answer your ski wax questions!
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How does ski wax work?
Ski wax is typically melted with heat (using a ski iron) and spread across the base to create an even layer. It then hardens and provides a protective surface for the ski -- helping it to slide better on the snow.
Most downhill skiers will use a ski wax for improved lubrication and glide. Ski wax has been in recorded use since at least 1673 when Johannes Scheffer in History of Lapland wrote about using pine tar pitch and rosin to coat skis [source].
Over the years modern ski waxes have moved from natural plant materials to petroleum & paraffin based waxes through to more complex synthetic mixtures.
Wax serves a necessary role in skiing, acting as both a sealant and a lubricant for your skis.Source Weekly
Ski wax not only improves the skis movements across the snow, but it also helps to protect the skis from scratches caused by dirt in the snow.
If the snow is colder or was laid very recently then a harder wax is needed. For warmer or older snow a softer wax works better.
For most new or beginner skiers, where high-level ski performance is not a concern, just one type of all-around wax for the whole season will be fine to get you started.
Cross-country skiers who ski on the flat or uphill use wax to provide a better grip on the snow. It improves their efficiency on uphill gradients compared with glide wax.
The wax provides grip when one ski is weighted and fully flexed (as the skier pushes off with one foot) and minimized drag when both skis are evenly weighted (downhill or flatter sections).
Other types of wax
There are many types of wax and brands offering a range of products. This video walks through some of the most popular styles of wax from roll-on waxes to paste waxes.
Ski Wax for different snow conditions.
In older snow, because the crystals have lost their points and ’rounded’ out there is more friction with the base of the ski, so it runs slower and feels stickier. D’Arcy McLeish
Different types of snow make for wildly different skiing conditions, from fluffy fresh powder to hardened packed ice crystals.
You can use different types of skis wax to deal with these different conditions.
Fluffy snow tends to reduce friction because there is more air around the ski, whilst older dense snow can be sticky or grating on your skis.
Not only is this snow more compact but the point on the snow crystals has rounded or melted into larger blocks. Wax or the lack of it becomes more noticeable on this slower more sticky snow. Waxes lubricant properties help you slide more smoothly and ski faster on this type of snow.
When buying wax -- check the packaging to see what conditions it has been designed for. If you’re planning on applying wax to match the weather then pick a temperature or snow specific wax.
If you’re not planning to wax your skis as often then you can pick an all-round wax that will be optimized for a range of weather conditions.
Typically you can use softer at the beginning or end of the season (warmer snow) and harder wax in the middle of the ski season (colder weather).
Of course, local variations and weather patterns play a massive role in temperatures and snowfall, but what part of the season you’re in is usually a good guide to go with. Snow tends to be slushier in the spring!
Most skiers will not be waxing their skis more than a few times per season, so you’re unlikely to need more than one or two types of wax.
When do I need to wax my skis?
You’ll need to wax your skis at least once a season, but more if you ski more often.
You can usually tell if your skis need a wax if the bottoms start looking grey and scratched and not the shiny black they once were.
For most new skiers, if you ski a couple a week or less per year than waxing your skis annually at the end of each season will be sufficient.
If you rent skis, then your ski shop will be maintaining the skis and you don’t need to worry about waxing them. It’s done for you!
If you use your ski more frequently, then waxing them mid-way through the ski season as well at the end of the season would be a good idea.
Competitive skiers may want to wax their skis every time they hit the slopes and use a different style of wax depending on the conditions of the day.
Ski bases should be moist and black. New skis should be waxed regularly so the pores of the base really soak in -regularly wax will improve their longevity.
What will happen if I don’t wax my skis?
If you ski on severely unwaxed skis then they will begin to deteriorate much faster. Your skiing won’t be as smooth or as fast and your skis can develop deep scratches and possible fractures. They also won’t make a very nice sound.
How do I wax my skis?
You can wax your skis yourself at home. It takes some patience and clear guidance to do it right (DIY guide below.)
Another option is to take your skis to a pro shop or rental ski shop and they can wax your skis for you -- from €10 / $12 and up, per set of skis & depending on where you live.)
If you’re renting skis, they’ll already be waxed for you.
Wax Your Own Skis DIY
So you’ve gone down the DIY route, if you plan to ski a lot, live near the mountain or just like to get practical then waxing your own skis can be a great option.
You’ll need to buy some kit first as well as the ski wax and you won’t start to ‘save’ money until a few waxes in. You’ll need a ski iron, some brushes, and a vice.
Here’s the full list, walk-through instructions, and a video tutorial:
What you’ll need to wax your skis:
- Ski Wax (it costs about €18 / $20 per block and up.)
- Ski Iron (⚠️ it’s not recommended to use a normal iron as they’re not good at regulating temperatures + once used for wax it can’t be used for clothes anymore!)
- Brass Brush
- Nylon Brush
- Base Cleaner
- Kitchen Sponge & Cloth
- Vice or clamp to keep the skis still while your working on them.
- Table or workbench for your vice.
Or save yourself the hassle and buy this Complete Ski Tuning and Waxing Kit that has everything you need for your first wax.
How to wax your skis?
Go to your garage, shed or somewhere where you have plenty of room to gather all your stuff.
- Preset your iron to 120C (different temperatures for different skis -- check the packet)
- Tie the ski brakes up with some old cloth or tape.
- Flip over your skis and clamp them to your vice so it won’t move anywhere.
- Grab a cloth and wet it with some base cleaner. Wipe your ski a few times with the wet cloth.
- Now brush your ski with the nylon brush. 2-3 passes per ski.
- Melt warm wax over your ski by pressing it against your hot iron and moving it across the ski. ⚠️Keep your iron moving or you may damage the ski.
- Move the hot iron over the ski to spread the warm wax.
- Use a sharp scraper and scrape the soft wax off. Make a few passes.
- Use your brass brush to take off more wax, moving firmly in one direction across the length of the ski. 2-3 passes.
- Take the sponge and scrub with the rough surface over the ski.
- Wipe with a soft cloth to clear any debris.
- Now melt warm wax with your iron over the ski.
- Wait 15 minutes and then scrape the wax tip to the tail and the edges.
- Use the brass brush to wipe the wax.
- Use the sponge to clean the surface.
- Use the nylon brush followed by a soft cloth. Once you can see your reflection in the base you’re done.
- Clean Base
- Warm Scrape (optional)
- Apply melted wax.
- Iron the wax.
- Immediately scrape it off.
- Cold Wax
- Apply melted wax.
- Iron the wax.
- Wait 15 minutes then scrape it off.
- Final Brush
How to care for your ski at the end of the season?
- Deburr the edges to prevent rust
- Apply a thick coat of wax
- Wash them and let the dry
- Store them inside in a shaded, ventilated space (like under your bed).
Full guide on how to store your skis here.
What’s the difference between snowboard and ski wax?
Both ski and snowboards use the same Polyethylene materials for their base so you can use all waxes interchangeably between the sports.
Keep your skis regularly waxed to keep your skis in good health and give you better performance on the slopes.
Skis are an expensive investment, so keep treat them well and they’ll do the same back.