Without good base preparation there can be no good waxing. Lots has been written about base prep, but here the basics of what you need to do. Luckily, you will probably only have to do this once to your skis if you are a casual skier, maybe once a season if you are more serious. Here’s what you need to do:
1. You need to open the “pores” in your bases
2. You need to have structured (textured) bases
3. You need to get rid of the hairies
1. Your ski bases must be able to absorb wax.
If the bases have been overheated in the past with a overheated iron, the top layer of the bases will have been melted over, effectively sealing the base up so no wax can get it. To a lesser extent the same can happen if the bases have been exposed to air for a long time — the P-Tex oxidizes and dries out. What fixes sealed or rough bases? Elbow grease. There are many great articles on this subject, one at the Star Wax website and another really good one at The Master Skier. Basically, you use sandpaper to take off a thin layer of P-Tex, once again opening up the pores. Use 80 or 100 grit aluminum oxide sandpaper mounted on a flat sanding block. Run the sandpaper down the ski from tip to tail about 100 times.
2. The bases also need to have a structure or texture on the base.
Skis glide more or less due to a tiny amount of melted lubricating water due to the friction of the skis on the snow. But water has a tendency to create suction on perfectly flat, smooth skis, thereby slowing you down or making your skis a lot harder to turn. What you need to do is to roughen the base so it is not perfectly smooth — breaking up the suction. Kind of like car tire treads channeling water away from the tire. That sandpaper you just used in Step One solves two problems — it will unseal your bases and create a structure. You could also have your skis stone ground (expensive, but the best,) or buy a structuring tool or rill bar that actually cut small grooves in your ski bases (Tognar Toolworks has these,) but are more expensive. If you use the sandpaper method and live on the West Coast you want to use coarser sandpaper because our snow tends to be wetter. The wetter the snow, the coarser the structure. But using sandpaper creates another problem. Read on.
3. Using sandpaper raises thousands of tiny polyethylene hairs on the base.
These tiny hairs create an incredible amount of drag, probably caused by water vapor freezing on them. You must get rid of the hairs. After using the sandpaper, take a sharp plastic scraper and scrap the bases until you get most of the noticeable hairs off. Then use a 3M Fibertex or Scotchbrite pad to burnish the bases — this will remove a lot more of the hairs. Rub the bases with the Fibertex after every waxing to remove more hairs. Your skis will get faster and faster over time.
To give you an idea of how important this is, a nordic team coach took six identical pair of skis and wax and scraped one pair 60 times, another pair 50 times, another pair 40, and so on. The 60X pair was by far the fastest when tested. Then he had all pairs stone ground to make them all equal again. Then he took the pair he waxed 10X and waxed them 60 times, the 20X pair he then waxed 50 times, etc.
Once again, the 60X pair was the fastest. He attributes much of the speed to eliminating those microscopic hairs due to repeated waxing and scraping. Most of us can’t afford the time or money to wax our skis that much, but it does show how repeated waxing, scraping and brushing can only make our skis better. To recap, you need an open base (not sealed up from an overheated waxing iron,) you need structure to break up the suction of the snow and you need to eliminate any tiny polyethylene hairs on the base. Now you are ready to apply wax, but first you need to learn about the dangers of waxing irons.