I’ve been lucky to travel a bit this winter. I’ve taken my weekend warrior status to the next level and gone up to Crystal, Jackson Hole, and Schweitzer Mountain resorts, as well as a few bonus days at neighboring Solitude. Each of these areas have a unique form of snow. Crystal, for instance, receives snow that is much denser than what I’m used to here in the Wasatch range.
The dissimilarities between areas’ snow types are caused by a variety of factors, including elevation, temperature, and geography. While you might think “snow is snow,” these minor differences can have a massive impact on how your skis perform. And this is where waxing, among other tuning techniques, comes into play, and keeping your skis waxed is one of the best things you can do for your skis, period.
What Does Ski Wax Do?
Skis come with one of two base options: sintered or extruded. Extruded is cheaper to manufacture and hardier, making it a great option for ski rental fleets or kids’ skis. Sintered bases are what you will find on most consumer skis though. They are more expensive to make but have faster glide properties to improve the overall performance of the ski.
Ski bases, whether sintered or extruded, function like an ice skate on a rink. As they glide over snow, a thin layer is melted, and the ski is moving across water. Because ski wax is hydrophobic and repels moisture, a waxed base produces less friction while moving across snow, and as a result, the ski can move faster.
When wax is applied with heat to porous ski bases, it is absorbed into the microscopic openings. Using a proper waxing iron and the right wax will allow the base to soak up more, for improved protection from oxidization and better, longer-lasting glide.
Have you ever looked at a pair of skis that haven’t been waxed in a while, and noticed bit of white discoloration near the edges? This is the base oxidizing, meaning it has begun to dry out and cannot repel moisture effectively. Dry bases lose efficiency on snow, and make the ski vulnerable to damage.
Types of Hot Wax
Hot waxes come in countless varieties, to accommodate a range of temperatures. Colder, harder snow demands a different wax formula than warmer, wetter snow. While there are universal hot waxes that are far cheaper than a temperature-specific wax, they don’t perform as well. Instead, it’s recommended to select a wax that coordinates with the conditions you’ll be skiing in.
Hot waxes are normally defined by the amount of fluorocarbons used. What is a fluorocarbon? Well, it’s a bit over this author’s head, but in chemistry, a fluorocarbon is a very stable organic compound of fluorine and carbon. A fluorocarbon is extremely hydrophobic, making them excellent for hot wax.
Hot waxes are broken into four main categories:
- High Fluorocarbon (HF) – These are generally the most expensive waxes but offer strong gliding in wet snow. They are also most effective on wet man-made snow or snow that is dirty.
- Low Fluorocarbon (LF) – A LF wax has less fluorocarbons than HF or FC but more than CF waxes. This is often used as a base prep before applying more expensive waxes.
- Pure Fluorocarbon (Cera / FC) – These waxes repel dirt and will give you a longer-lasting wax. FC is often used as a final step in waxing.
- Hydro Carbon (CF) – These are the most economical waxes and can be used either by themselves or as a base prep before applying a higher-end wax. CF waxes also excel in colder conditions when used by themselves.
Each of these waxes are further broken down into temperature brackets. Basically, it goes from cold to warm, and you match the wax to the forecasted temperatures. To simplify finding the right wax, we created this handy guide detailing wax types by temperature.
Ski wax can be a nerdy subject. Up at our Rennstall Tuning Center and White Pine Nordic Center, there have been countless conversations about wax and the best combinations to make skis as fast as possible. Race technicians wax skis multiple times a day to match competition day conditions as they progress.
For the recreational alpine skier, wax doesn’t have to be as complicated, and most of us will be happy with a simple hot wax, from the right temperature range, on a regular basis. However, Nordic skiers may want to be pickier, to achieve maximum efficiency on the track.
My Next Wax
In a couple of weeks, we’ll be going back up to Jackson (thank you Ikon). I haven’t waxed my skis in about a month, and they feel a little slow as the day warms up. I’m watching the forecast closely for two reasons… The first being that I want a big storm to pile in some fresh snow, and the second is note the temps to make the best possible choice in wax, so my skis can perform as best as possible.
Are your bases oxidizing, or turning white? Are they ashy or cloudy? Do they feel sticky or slow on the slopes? If yes, it’s time to pamper your skis with a fresh hot wax. Hot waxing can be done at home, but we recommend taking your skis into a tune shop for a proper service. We offer a full range of wax options for every type of skier, from recreational to competitive, at our Rennstall Tune Center. And if your skis need some extra TLC, check out our complete list of services on our ski tuning page.