Take a whack at waxing
January 6, 2015
Editor’s note: This article is part one in a two-part series on ski waxing; we’ll talk cross country ski waxing with a local expert in next Wednesday’s edition.
Do you wax your own skis? It’s a fairly simple process and getting a fresh coat on can change your whole skiing experience.
Park City Ski Team coach Ben Sinclair, now in his 15th year with the team, explained to The Park Record the basics of waxing and what every novice waxer needs to know.
"I think it’s an easy process," Sinclair said. "It’s something that definitely takes a few times to pick up the hang of it, but once you get it, it can be really fast."
"Basically, wax has two roles," he said. "It can protect your base from little scratches and from drying out and the other main function is to reduce friction so that it can glide."
For competitive skiers, there are lots of different wax options, and Sinclair said both temperature and the water content of the snow will impact wax choice. In Utah, though, especially for non-competitive skiers, temperature is the only factor that really matters.
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"We’re lucky here in Intermountain where 90 percent of the year we basically kind of use the same wax because the snow’s very consistent here. Whether that be in Park City or Jackson Hole, or if we’re racing in some valley, it’s all about the same," he said. "For the average person who might want to learn a little more about it, I think you focus on temperature."
How many waxes should an ordinary skier keep on hand? Sinclair recommends keeping it simple.
"Two would be plenty. You would want to have an everyday wax for most of the winter, and then, when it gets really cold, you would want to have a blue wax, which you would probably put on new snow or when it’s cold out," he said.
The most-of-the-winter waxes are generally red and the cold-weather waxes are generally blue, Sinclair said. He noted that the PCST uses Swix wax ("because they do a lot to help us out").
The waxing process is pretty straightforward: using a hot iron, melt wax onto a ski and spread it all over the base (and keep the iron moving — let it rest in one place and it can damage you ski); wait for it to cool, scrape off the excess wax and give a final once-over with a nylon brush.
It’s not a big investment equipment-wise.
"If they’re going to wax their own skis, really they just need an iron dedicated to wax," Sinclair said. "You need a good, sharp scraper, and I think everyone should have a nylon brush, to brush out the wax after you’re done scraping.
"You’re talking about wax, an iron and one brush, and that’s all you really need to do a job that you’ll feel the benefit of."
While waxing-specific irons are available, a regular clothes iron can do the job.
"It’s fine as long as you then just use it for waxing your skis. I’ve seen kids come in with, you know they’re goofing around with the iron that they stole from mom to wax their skis and mom gets all bent because there’s now wax on her clothes," Sinclair said.
Waxing your own skis isn’t a big time investment, either.
"In terms of time spent, it’s 20 to 25 minutes, versus dropping them off at the shop, having to go back to the shop to pick them up and pay for it. It’s something that you can do in your garage after you’re done skiing and get it done before the next time, without it really being a large impact on your time. I think it’s an easy process, it’s something that definitely takes a few times to pick up the hang of it, but once you get it, it can be really fast."
When do you absolutely need to wax?
"I think the most important thing is to make sure you wax for a powder day, because nobody likes to go slow when the snow’s deep," Sinclair said. "Going down the road to Jupiter, you want to be able to pass people, instead of getting passed, you know stuff like that. I think that the importance of wax gets overlooked, even when you’re just going out for a powder day. We have so many flats here at Park City [Mountain Resort] that having wax on your skis makes a huge difference, I think."
The main other maintenance that skis need is edge sharpening. It’s a more-involved process than waxing and it requires a bigger investment in equipment. But, Sinclair says, everyone can do a little bit of sharpening.
"I teach a lot of kids how to take care of their gear," he said, and "having a stone for your edges is a very good idea. Just one rough stone — any ski shop will know what that is — it just helps take little nicks out of your edges and keeps your edges nice and smooth. And that really only takes one or two minutes per ski to do, after you’re done skiing and before you wax, which will help keep your edges in better shape for a longer period of time. You know, it’s only a $20 to $25 investment to get a stone that the average person can just run down their skis and they would definitely feel the benefit of it."
For more information on ski waxing technique and equipment, or if you’re unsure about any step in the waxing process, visit one of the many stores around town that specialize in ski tuning to get advice from the professionals.