Several seasons back, I was proudly waxing my new skis on my porch with the sun slowly setting behind me. As I waxed, my mind started to wander, and one of the thoughts that popped into my head was this: We know that skis must be able to glide, but what if there was a point where was too much glide?
The more slippery, the better in Alpine (downhill) skiing. Skis can be too slippery for Cross Country (or classic) skiing, where you can slide sideways or even backward, affecting beginner or intermediate skiers the most.
All skis need wax, but the amount and type involved depend on several factors. Are they for Cross-country or Alpine skiing? Is the snow hard, soft, wet, or a combination of several conditions? The level of ability of the skier is also significant. A Ski Instructor in Verbier will prepare his/her skis differently than an intermediate skier in Vermont, even if they are skiing on the same model skis.
By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.
Can Skis Be Too Slippery?
If you’re downhill skiing, you don’t have to worry about making your skis too slippery. It may feel uncomfortable for your feet to keep moving from underneath you if you’re a beginner, but the way you stop and get control over the skis is by angling the skis and your body, not by changing the texture of the ski itself.
If you’re trying out cross country skiing, then very slippery skis can be hard to manage. Walking up hill might be the most difficult thing to do with super slick skis. In general, even here, you want your skis to have as little friction as possible.
Can You Put Too Much Wax On Skis?
It is possible to put too much wax on your skis, but this isn’t hard to fix. You should shoot for putting around .5oz of wax or less on two skis.
The pattern for waxing is:
- Apply wax onto the board (you can have a block, or you can “crayon” it)
- Heat and smooth out the wax (many people use an iron.)
- Shave off any of the excess wax (any wax that pools or causes the bottom of the ski to be uneven)
- Smooth out the wax (you can use the green Scotchbrite pads)
If you skip step 3 and 4, you might not have the smoothest finish on the bottom of the ski.
All you have to do is scrape off any excess wax and sand it out and you’re done. No harm done.
Why Do You Need Wax?
Whenever one object slides over another, as in the case of skis over snow, several forces come into play, two of which are motion and friction. In physics, motion is described as when an object – the skier – changes position over time. In mathematics, motion is described in terms of distance, velocity, acceleration, displacement, speed, and time.
When we wax our skis, we are trying to minimize the friction of the skis on the snow and thereby maximize the acceleration and velocity (speed).
If you toss a pebble across the surface of a pond, you will get it to skip several times, depending on your ability. Take the same pebble and try to skip it on beach sand, and the result will be a bit more boring, as the sand offers more friction to the pebble.
Snow behaves in the same way with skis, slowing them down constantly. Sure, you will have no trouble getting speed up when you are on a steep run, but then gravity has kicked in, and you will be more concerned about stopping than getting going.
What wax offers you is a way to get the least amount of friction possible between ski and snow so that you have more control and exert less effort on or off-piste.
Ski bases are usually made from polyethylene, which is a lightweight and robust material. As you ski, gravity from your body and the temperature of your skis partially melts the snow, creating a thin film of water, and wet snow can slow you down. –> This is why wax is crucial for a good skiing experience.
Can I Use Any Wax on my Skis?
Indeed, you can. However, waxes that are not designed to withstand the cold and wet of a typical day’s skiing will quickly prove inefficient. Far better to get the correct wax for the job.
All skis need to receive an application of glide wax, regardless of whether they are waxable or waxless: skin or skate skis. Invisible to the human eye, the materials used to make skis all have microscopic pores, which will fill with packed snow, slowing you right down.
A good – preferably hot – waxing will cover these indentations, and the change will be instantaneous. Think of it as a Spa Treatment for your beloved skis. Note the treatment is applied only to the glide portion of your skis.
In order to ski correctly, you need to be able to glide.
The name of this one gives it away: Glide waxes are used by all skiing disciplines, from Telemark and downhill skis to cross-country skis and snowboards to limit the effect of friction and enhance the effect of motion. The better the application of glide wax, the smoother the glide and the faster you can go.
If you take a look at the underside of your skis, they may be whitish and dry, which will be the cause of passive, limp turns and limited speed. All this can be changed with a good coating of applicable glide wax.
Glide wax comes in several applications:
- Powder – for the professional racer
- Liquid – A temporary fix between hot wax applications
- Solid – Ski shops can do a tremendous hot wax application for you; by this, I mean heating a hard glide wax into the glide portions of your ski bases. (The front and rear third)
- Paste – Efficient, but used more as a temporary solution
Used primarily for Cross Country (or Classic, or Nordic) skiing, kick wax is applied to the kick portion of the ski (The middle third) and is the antithesis of glide wax. It is designed to assist Classic skis in gripping, as the skier traverses slopes and even needs to climb on occasion.
Unlike Glide Wax, this version comes only in a solid form and is rubbed onto the ski and buffed.
Note that you can purchase Wax-less Cross Country skis that require no waxing as they have a tread cut or pressed into the base – similar to the tire on a 4×4 – which prevents slide in all but the most exhausted skier.
Are All Glide or Kick Waxes Equal?
No. temperature and the condition of the snow plays a considerable role, and while the rubs (liquid and paste) are aimed at general conditions, they are also temporary, as mentioned. The solid blocks that require ironing on are generally able to cover wide temperature ranges. (warmer or colder, so not precisely scientific)
Get a good ski shop to advise you whenever buying wax, as there are many options for various conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all in ski wax.
How Often Should I Wax my Skis?
Many beginners or even intermediate skiers rarely apply wax themselves, trusting instead in the ski shop’s expertise and experience to assist them once a season. This decision is acceptable if you ski two or three weekends in a season, but any more than that, and you would do well to wax your skis yourself.
Duration and frequency of application will depend on temperatures, terrain, and the existing wax’s condition when you prepare for your next trip. I would rather spend an hour (or seldom two) waxing my skis in preparation than settle for a less than perfect tool when I hit the slopes.
Failing this and provided you can justify the expense (usually around U$25-40), return them to the ski shop halfway through the season for a top-up. As your experience and proficiency increase, you will be grateful for the performance improvement, and perhaps you will consider doing it yourself at some point.
If you are faced with an unexpected opportunity to ski but have no time for preparation, grab a tube of liquid glide wax and apply that before you leave. Not very durable, this will at least give you a good glide for this specific trip. Let it dry for 20 minutes or so, and then buff well. It’s not possible to over-buff.
Many competitive Nordic skiers will not step onto the snow unless their skis have been lovingly waxed, using a solid block and a hot iron. There is, however, a widespread belief propagated in Scandinavia that skis perform better sans any glide wax. The belief is that the wax collects microscopic debris from the snow, but who knows?
Perhaps this applies mainly to Nordic skiing, but I honestly doubt it will affect Alpine skis in any calculable way, other than to slow you down enormously as you watch your friends head off downhill into the distance.
Looking after your sporting gear is a basic tenet of the competitive spirit in many of us. If you are a casual skier, I would still recommend a hot wax every season, simply because it’s safer to use correctly prepared tools.
Very few of us sharpen our kitchen knives with any regularity, yet we all know that a sharp knife is less dangerous than one with a dull edge.
Look after your tools if you expect them to look after you.