How to Wax Your Skis Like a Pro!
If you've ever wanted to learn to wax your own skis, ski expert Cam Baker is here to help with an easy primer.
Ski waxing is the most important part of ensuring your skis maintain high performance. Thoroughly waxed skis are faster, smoother, and more predictable. Have you ever gone out on a warm spring day and it felt like you were skiing on carpet? There’s a good chance they needed a hot wax!
In this article we’ll cover how often to wax your skis, the types of ski wax, common waxing equipment, wax application methods, how to scrape, and how to brush.
How often should I wax my skis?
In an ideal world, you would wax your skis after every day on the hill. A thoroughly hydrated ski base will not only be faster, but it will also be more resistant to abrasions when gouged. Obviously, many of us don’t have the time to wax our skis every single time we go for a couple of runs. Instead, try to wax your skis once a week, or every few times you ski. If it’s going to be more than a few days before heading out again, apply wax the night after skiing and wait to scrape until the night before you go. If it’s been too long since your skis have been waxed, you may notice characteristics of base burn on your skis. Look at the photo below. See how the bases have a white shade to them and a noticeable texture?
This is an indication that the bases are oxidizing. Oxidation will degrade the base and shorten its life. Waxing skis protects the bases from degradation. Ski bases are porous, allowing wax past the surface. When skis are properly waxed, the wax will seep out over time. This lubricates the base to help the ski glide and be more resistant to abrasion.
Types of wax
There are a few different types of waxes. The most common ski wax, a hot wax that you apply to the base of your skis by melting it, is made up of a blend of hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons have a high durability and low friction, which is why it allows the ski to glide better. Fluorocarbon waxes are also fairly common; they are higher performance and will come with a higher price tag.
Waxes are generally categorized by temperature ranges and are rated for specific snow temperatures. They generally fall into one of three categories: cold weather, warm weather, or all temperatures, which you should use if you’re anticipating variable conditions. The all-temperature wax, or universal wax, is your best bet unless you have a good idea of the snow conditions you’ll be dealing with until your next wax.
While getting wax on skis is the most important part, choosing the right wax for the conditions will provide the best ski performance. If you’re unsure which specific wax to use, opt for the colder rated option. Colder wax performs better in warmer temps than vice versa. You may find rub on and liquid waxes as well. These are useful as a last ditch effort if you don’t have time to give your skis proper treatment.
Getting the right equipment for waxing makes the process much easier and more enjoyable. First and foremost, grab a beer (or any drink that suits your fancy)! Working on skis is a great way to de-stress and relax. It’s easy to do and you’ll be super stoked to go skiing!
The most important piece of equipment is a ski-waxing-specific iron. A regular iron works in theory, but a ski waxing iron is great because it allows for superior temperature control. Also, you don’t want to get your clothes iron covered in wax!
You also need to find a way to secure the ski so it doesn’t shift while you are working on it. Ski waxing tables and a pair of vices work super well and make it easy to tune edges too. Then, use a rubber band or some string to hold back the brakes so they don’t get in your way.
Keep in mind you will need a wax scraper. I prefer a metal one for speed and precision, but plastic is easier to use and safer for the ski base. And for optimal results, either a nylon brush or a horsehair brush is a great investment. You could even pick up a set of brushes made specifically for working on skis and snowboards. In a set, you’ll get multiple brushes, each of a different stiffness. Some will be nylon and some will be horsehair. These are great for removing the last bits of wax without inflicting damage on the base of the ski.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, waxing the skis! The goal here is to soak wax into the base and leave as little as possible sitting on top.
First, clean the base of the ski of any dirt or old wax. You can purchase base cleaner or apply a warm weather wax and scrape it while hot. A wet rag can even get most of the dirt off.
The most common method of applying wax is to hold the brick against the iron so that wax melts and drips off the iron onto the ski. It is helpful to hold the iron vertically and tilt it a little so that the wax only drips off of one corner. This makes dripping more predictable so that you don’t miss. It’s also best to continuously rub the wax in circles on the iron so it doesn’t get stuck in place. Set the iron to a temperature where it will quickly melt wax without vaporizing any. If the iron is producing smoke, you can tell it’s too hot.
Drip a line of wax down the ski. If you have powder skis, you may want to drip two or three lines. You’ll get a feel for this as you go. You don’t need to completely cover the base in wax here - just deposit enough to spread around the ski.
You can also use a different method of applying wax - and honestly, I prefer this one. I touch the brick of wax to the iron to melt it a little WITHOUT holding it on for long enough to start dripping. Then, I drag the melted face of the wax across the ski, depositing a streak of wax. Repeat this to cover the length of the ski with wax. I like this method better because it conserves wax, while the drip method typically creates more excess.
Regardless of which method you use, once you’ve applied wax onto the ski, make long slow strokes or small circles with your iron to spread the wax across the base. Move slowly so the ski can get hot enough for wax to penetrate deep into the base. The heat opens up the pores of the base making it easier for wax to sink in.
It’s important however to always keep the iron moving. Leaving it over one spot for too long can burn the base material! One way to tell if you’re heating the ski enough is to touch the top sheet. After a few passes with the iron it will feel warm. This is an indication that the base is hot and accepting the wax. You want the ski to be warm but not hot. When the ski is too hot it’s possible to loosen glue and laminate.
Do at least 10 slow passes. If you feel the ski isn’t warm yet keep going. Once you’re satisfied the wax has soaked in, set the ski aside to cool. It’s best to let the ski completely cool. Wax will continue to set for a while once you’re no longer ironing. I like to leave the ski overnight if possible. The longer the better!
Scraping and Brushing
After the ski has cooled, you need to scrape and brush the base to remove all excess wax. If wax is left covering the base, snow crystals will dig into it and slow you down.
Scraping the ski is very straightforward. It’s best to scrape from tip to tail since you ski forwards more than switch most likely. Hold the scraper at an angle so one edge contacts the base. If you have a plastic scraper, push down hard - you won’t hurt the ski! If you’re using metal, bend the scraper so that only the middle of it contacts the ski and push down firmly but not too hard. If you are seeing material the color of your bases coming up with the wax you’re pushing too hard!
Scrape as much wax off as you can; the idea is to remove as much as possible. If you have brushes, use them after scraping. Start with the stiffest brush, after a few passes switch to the next stiffest and repeat until you’ve used your softest brush.
Waxing skis is fun and will improve the performance and life of the ski. After your last day of skiing for the year, throw a coat of warm weather or all temperature wax on but don’t scrape! A summer coat of wax on your skis will keep them from drying out while in storage. You can also just ski every day and you’ll never need to put storage wax on.
To fix a burnt ski base, take your skis to the shop and have them stone ground. This will remove the surface layer and restructure your base making them good as new!
Two other great DIY practices are edge tuning and base repair. An edge tuning kit will help you keep your skis locked in on groomers and hard snow. A stick of P-Tex is super helpful if you hit a rock and need to cover up a core shot. This is done to prevent water from seeping into the core of the ski.
Hopefully these tips set you on your way to becoming an avid home ski tech! See ya out there!