Kicking and gliding: how to wax your XC skis
January 9, 2015
Editor’s note: This article is part two in a two-part series on ski waxing; click here to read our story on alpine ski waxing.
Locals seem to be turning more and more to cross country skiing as an alternative to alpine skiing, especially as a fitness tool.
Ski wax is perhaps even more important in cross country skiing than alpine, and the process itself is very similar.
"The only tricky part with cross country is that we have two techniques: skating and classic. So we need to separate them very clearly," says Robert Lazzaroni, Nordic program manager at the Utah Olympic Park, who recently spoke with The Park Record about waxing.
The main difference between skate and classic is the technique the skier uses. In skate, the skier is propelled forward by pushing outward on the skis, similar to ice skating. In classic, the skis are kept in parallel lines and are kept inside straight tracks in the snow.
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"I would say 70 to 80 percent of the people here that cross country ski in Park City are doing skate skiing," Lazzaroni says.
Three different waxes should be kept in stock for a skate skier. "Blue for very cold, red for 25 to 30 degrees and yellow if it’s very warm," he says. Those are Toko brand colors, but Lazzaroni says they’re generally the same across the most-common brands of waxes.
The necessary equipment for waxing is the same as alpine — an iron, brush, and plastic scraper — with one additional item, a groove scraper.
"It’s kind of a pen, a plastic pen, you can buy from all of the suppliers," Lazzaroni says. "Cross country skis are not a completely flat base; there is a groove in the middle. And on the Rossignol skating skis there are even two grooves, to help with stability. So when you put the wax on your base, it will go inside of the groove and you need to remove it. And the big rectangular scraper will not go into it and it’s not supposed to."
The process of waxing a ski, from start to finish, only involves a few steps.
First, secure the ski, base-side up, and clean off any debris or dirt.
Then, drip wax onto the base along the entire length of the ski by melting the wax with your iron a few inches above the ski’s surface.
How hot should the iron be? "There are some recommendations [on the wax packaging] from the supplier, but it’s basically just to melt the wax." Cold-weather waxes are harder ("because the snow is very abrasive and we want the wax to stay longer in the base," says Lazzaroni) than warm-weather waxes and require a slightly hotter iron.
Next, iron the dripped wax until it spreads over the entire surface of the ski. Do not stop moving the iron.
"Once you put the iron on the base, always keep it moving — always, always," Lazzaroni says. "Just don’t stop for even one second. Never stop. If not, it will burn the base and the ski is screwed up.
"I will say it again, one more time — be very, very careful, not to burn the base."
Then, let the wax cool for five to 10 minutes.
"You can even put them outside to cool a bit faster," Lazzaroni says. "And then you start with the groove first, to remove the wax, because when you go down with the pen, sometimes you slip and you go on the base. And if you still have wax on it, it will protect the base. So start with the groove, start with the edges, and then you finish with the regular scraper. And then you brush."
How often should you be applying new wax?
"You do it every four or five training sessions, and you do it when the weather changes — either it gets colder or it gets warmer and you adjust to the right wax."
And for anyone with a race coming up, "you do it the day before the race."
The challenge with waxing classic skis is that the skis need to both grip and slip.
"You have two different kinds of classic skis. You have the waxless skis — they already have a mechanical kick and you don’t have to do anything, they are ready to go," Lazzaroni says.
Waxless classic skis still need to be waxed, but only two-thirds of the skis — the tips and tails. That process is the same as described in the skate section above.
"And then you have the classic skis, completely flat, where you need to put on the kick wax," he says.
Flat classic skis have three distinct zones on their bases: the tip section, the kick zone and the tail section.
"You have the gliding part (the tip and tail sections) and you have the kick zone part. The kick zone is under the foot and this is where you will put the kick wax. And this is where you will never, ever wax with the glide wax.
"And then you have the tip and the tail, where you want to put glide wax. So you will do the tip and tail of the classic ski the same way you do the skating, exactly the same way."
Kick zone waxing is the one part of cross country waxing that beginners should probably seek help with.
"On this part it gets tricky, because we have hundreds of different waxes," Lazzaroni says. "On the glide zone, for skating or for classic, if you put yellow wax when it’s very cold, your glide will not be great but you will still be able to go. If you put the very warm kick wax on a [cold] day like today, there is no way you can go forward. The snow will stick under your foot. So it has to be very, very specific. And if you use the hard kick wax on a day when it rains, you will have zero kick and then you cannot go forward."
"I would refer to White Pine Touring or Swix or Toko or some other expert," Lazzaroni advises.
For more information on 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 cross country skiing to get advice from the professionals.
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