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Wax On, Wax Off Protecting Your Skis and Boards

By Dave Potter

As I sit here watching the Winter Olympics, I marvel at the athletes and the high-tech equipment they use. I am especially in awe of the skiers and the boarders.

Over the years that I have been watching ski racing and boarder competitions, the equipment has certainly evolved to the athletes’ advantage. When I first started paying attention, skis were long and skinny. The ski bases were made out of a material that was very similar to the material of bowling balls. Now, skis are shorter, have shape and composite cores with P-Tex bases.

One thing has not changed, however. Race skis are still prepared with wax to make them go faster. You, too, should be waxing your skis or boards on a semi-regular basis.

“Why?” you may ask. “I’m not a racer and I don’t have any desire to be the fastest down the hill.”

The benefits of properly waxed skis include:

Not getting stuck on flat terrain.

Shorter run-ups for terrain park features.

Consistent and better ski performance.

Protecting your bases from the abrasive action of the snow.

You can tell if your equipment needs wax when the bases start to look chalky and white. If your skis won’t go down Yodeler without some help … there’s your sign.

What kind of wax should I buy?

Well, that’s where a little know-how and experience comes in. When you ski down a hill, the pressure and temperature of your bases melt the snow creating a film of water. Depending on the temperature, humidity and age of the snow, this film can either help you go faster or slower. It all depends on the type of snow you’re going to be skiing on and the temperature.

When snow first falls, it’s a six-sided prism that is sharp and coarse. For this, you’ll need a relatively hard wax to protect the ski bases. As snow ages and is reworked on the hill, it tends to get rounder and softer wax is used. Also, the colder the air, the harder the wax. With the subzero temps that we’ve had lately, I’ve been using a very hard wax. Again, in bitter temperatures, the snow crystals are hard and sharp. This spring for Mardi Gras hopefully it’ll be warm and I’ll be using a soft wax for the round, soft corn snow.

The easiest waxes to use are rub-on varieties, which come in many forms including pastes and aerosols, great for those who have never waxed before. Hydrocarbon waxes must be ironed on, last longer, require some simple equipment and are great for intermediate skiers. Low fluorocarbon waxes are great for intermediate to advanced skiers and provide faster gliding and higher water-repellant properties.

You can hot wax your own skis with minimal equipment. You’ll need a ski vise, a wax iron, a plastic scraper and, of course, the wax. There are plenty of videos and articles on the Internet to teach you how to do it. You could also see if any of your friends have the knowledge and experience to share with you.

If you’re not into DIY or are here for a visit, Ellicottville’s local ski and board shops all have trained experts who would be more than happy to tune and wax them for you.

Or, you could be like my friends who just drop their skies off at my house with the hope that I’ll tune and wax their skis for them. (Yes, I usually do.)

If you choose to do it yourself, you can buy what you need from the local shops, which is what I like to do — you know, support the local economy and all. What I can’t get in Ellicottville, I get online from a shop call Tognar. Tognar also has a blog with a lot of good information.

Even if you don’t want to race in the Olympics, you’ll have a more enjoyable experience by regularly waxing your expensive equipment.

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