Glide Wax — Why you need it, how to put it on.
So why do we even need glide wax in the first place? And which wax do I use?
Well, this is more or less the theory on how it works. As your skis run across the snow, a tiny amount of snow is melted by the friction of your skis and provides the lubrication for glide. But because there are different hardness’s of snow, you need difference hardness’s of wax. The colder the snow, the harder it is, the harder the wax you need.
The goal is to have a wax that is of more or less equal hardness to the snow. This way, one is not poking into the other (creating drag,) but are equally rubbing against each other, creating minimal friction you need for good glide. Okay, that’s simplistic, but more or less the idea.
And because the P-Tex base of your ski is of one hardness (and a lot harder than the snow,) we add wax to the bases to make them useful to different snow conditions. When you warm the base up with your waxing iron, you “open” the pores of the ski and let the wax soak in. Even when you are all done waxing, scraping and brushing the ski, wax is still being extruded from the pores as the ski cools. This microscopic extrusion helps balance the hardness of the ski to the hardness of the snow. Again, simplistic, but hopefully it will help you visualize how it works.
Luckily, in California (and most of the West Coast) we can get by with just one or two wax temperatures. Seems like most of my skiing is at temperatures between 25° and 36° F. This usually means just two temperatures of glide wax — one for just below freezing and one for just above. I personally use Swix wax, only because I have been using it for 35 years and am used to their system. I use CH-8 (the CH stands for Hydrocarbon wax) for my touring skis and everyday use and LF-8 (the LF stands for Lo Fluoro) for my zippier skis. Then in the warmer Spring months I switch over to CH-10 and LF-10. Their system’s handy because no matter what level of wax you use, the temperature ranges are consistent and easy to understand. Again, pick one wax manufacturer and stick with it because you will learn the “personalities” of the wax.
Okay, after all the previous articles talking about sealing your bases with an overheated iron, I assume you got a thermometer for your iron. And you turned on your iron and watched the thermometer go up and down a dozen times (never over 250°F) and now your are sure your iron is ready to do the job and you have some fresh wax to work with. Now what? We are finally at the point where we put wax on the skis. First, find some way to mount the ski so you can work on the base. I found dozens of imaginative ways to clamp my skis for waxing before I finally broke down and bought some ski vises.
Warm up your iron (if you haven’t read the article on irons yet, you better do so before you screw up your bases) and apply wax to the base by dripping a string of dots along the base. If you are using a kick wax, don’t ever apply glide wax in the kick area of the base. You can determine the kick zone by placing the skis on a level surface, stand on them with equal weight on both skis and have someone slide paper under the skis to where the bases touch the ground. Mark that limit line with a marker on the side of the ski for future waxing. Then use the iron to melt the dots, spreading the wax over the entire base. Run the iron along the base warming the ski. If the wax is smoking, your iron probably just sealed your bases!!!
The secret here is to WARM the entire base up to about 250°F so the wax soaks in good and deep. Trade time for heat and slowly warm the bases up. Running the iron over the base for between 3 to 5 minutes is a good target. Having lots of melted wax on the surface of the ski isn’t what you want — you want a WARM ski with lots of nice, open pores that is absorbing the wax deep into the base. Just remember what I told you repeatedly about an overheated iron…
After you finish the first ski, do the other one. By the time you are done with the second one, the first should be ready for scraping. You want the wax to be hard, but the base still slightly warm to the touch. Use a sharp plastic scraper to scrape off as much wax as you can, going from tip to tail (you can keep your scraper sharp by rubbing one edge of the scraper on sandpaper or a file to make a flat, sharp edge.) Then try to scrape off a little more — removing a bunch of those tiny polyethylene hairs we talked about. After scraping off as much wax as you can, take a nylon brush (a cheap utility brush will do for starters) and brush the remaining wax out of the structure grooves. If you don’t do this, you will have a perfectly smooth base with no structure and that nasty suction we talked about will make your skis go slow. Brush, brush, brush. Brushing has become a science of its own and you can spend hundreds on special brushes, but for now just keep brushing.
Lastly, take your Fibertex or Scotchbrite pad and rub the bases. This will remove even more P-Tex hairs that might be hanging off the base. Now go back and wax, scrape and brush your skis at least two more times. Later on you will only have to wax your skis once in a while, but since you probably just sandpapered your skis to reopened the bases or add some structure they really need more help right now.
Storage Tip: At the end of the season, cover the glide area with a good coat of cheaper wax and don’t scrape it off. This protects the base over the summer from oxidation.