One of the many things that recreational skiers have in common with professional ski racers and instructors is that they all like to go fast. After all, isn't that what skiing is all about? But, if you feel like you're lagging behind all of your friends as you chase each other down the mountain, the solution could be something as simple as waxing your skis.
All modern skis are essentially made with the same type of ski bases - plastic running surfaces made from some form of polyethylene. When you ski over the surface of the snow, the pressure and temperature of your skis melt the snow, creating a fine film of water. Depending on the temperature, humidity and age of the snow, this film of water can either make you ski faster or slower.
Snow can be divided into six different types: new snow, fine grained snow, coarse grained snow, corn snow, saturated snow, and chemically treated snow. New snow is the stuff skiers live for. It's the blanket of untracked powder that's fallen during night or continues to fall during the day. Fine grained snow is merely new snow that's two or three days old.
Coarse grained snow tends to be older, "rounder" snow that has lost its shape over time. Corn snow (a popular springtime snow) is snow that has survived two or more thawing and refreezing cycles. Saturated snow is snow with a higher water content - typically found with spring skiing. Chemically treated snow is found at many resorts that use artificial snowmaking.
Snow takes the form of sharp, six-sided prisms when it first falls and requires a relatively hard wax that won't allow the sharp edges of snow to penetrate the bottom of your skis. As it goes through many cycles of thawing and refreezing, snow tends to get grainier and denser, requiring softer waxes. In addition to the type of snow you're skiing, you'll need to consider the air temperature and the humidity - all have something to do with how well a wax will perform on your skis.
With all of the different types of snow, the temperature, humidity, wind speed and weather, how does anyone accurately choose the best wax for their skis? Fortunately, Swix, one of the leaders in ski wax, has come up with an easy to use Ski Wax Wizard. Choose your sport (nordic, alpine skiing or snowboarding), your level of skiing (pro, sport or recreation), then choose the temperature, humidity and snow conditions. Voila. The wizard will suggest the appropriate type of wax for the day's conditions.
It's time to hit the workbench now that you've made the appropriate wax. If your skis haven't been tuned in a while, drop them off at a ski shop for professional tuning. All the wax in the world won't make much difference if your bases are gouged and your edges are dull. The most common method of applying wax is to use an iron. Set the temperature of an inexpensive clothing iron on low and melt the wax onto the ski bases by pressing the wax against the bottom of the iron. Professionals will melt wax until it's a liquid and paint it onto the bases using a brush. Allow the wax to cool for at least 20 minutes.
Once the wax has completely cooled, scrape the excess wax off the bases using a profession-grade base scraper. Finish by running a nylon brush over the bases. Some technicians use a medium-course pot scrubber instead of a brush. If it's been a while since you've waxed your skis, your bases will be "dry." You'll need to repeat the process several times to force the wax into the pores of the bases.
You can protect your investment at the end of the ski season, by applying a liberal layer of wax to the bases of your skis before you put them away for the summer. After applying the wax, do not scrape off the excess wax. Separate the skis with a long piece of plastic wrap and bind the skis together using a Velcro ski holder.
Something as simple as a bar or tube of wax can make the difference between your skis creeping downhill or flying like the wind. It's probably one of the cheapest ways to ensure that you make it down to the bottom of the mountain first.