Wax Week Day 3 - Choosing The Right Wax

Posted by Josh Doebbert on Jan 20th 2014

Selecting a wax can be intimidating for new skiers, so day three of our Wax Week is dedicated to helping you choose the right wax for any conditions.

Of course, the simplest method is to go by the temperature ranges provided by the wax manufacturers. Before long, however, you will probably find that no matter how closely and accurately you follow these recommendations, some days you’ll still have skis that are slow. The problem is that the snow’s characteristics depend on more than the temperature – a trail can be glare ice, soft fluffy powder, or anywhere in between regardless of temperature. It’s not surprising that the best wax for ice will be different than the best wax for powder.

So what’s the trick? To answer that, we have to understand that, at a VERY basic level, every wax must make a tradeoff between resisting sharp snow crystals and repelling water from the base. Cold waxes are more durable and have a lower ‘dry’ friction with the snow because they are ‘tougher’ and don’t let sharp snow crystals penetrate the ski base. The same molecular chains that make them so tough, though, are fundamentally less hydrophobic than the ones found in warmer waxes – that is, they don’t repel water as well. And in very high moisture conditions, it is adhesion with the water in the snow that slows your ski down more than friction, which is mostly mitigated by the water itself.

The temperature recommendations for most wax companies are based on probable moisture levels at those temperatures. The trick to selecting the right wax consistently is adjusting based on how ‘transformed’ the snow is (how much the snow crystals have been rounded off) and for unusually high or low humidity weather. With practice, accounting for these conditions tends to become very intuitive and choices are made based off past experiences, but the following are some general guidelines you can fall back on:

  • Glide waxes will tend to work better and last longer at the warm end of their stated temperature range, while kick waxes will be more reliable at the cold end. Because of this, when deciding between waxes, wax cold for glide and warm for kick.
  • Wax colder if there is new snow during or in the hours leading up to the ski.
  • Rapid changes in temperature will take time to affect snow conditions. Therefore, wax for the overnight low rather than the daytime high.
  • In general, the weather and grooming schedule leading up to a race are more important than the weather during the race. Snow transformation occurs with changes in temperature, especially near freezing, and grooming can bring up old snow that had been covered. Try to predict how you think the snow will (or will not) change and wax based on that.
  • Ice that has been broken up, including artificial snow, consists of particles that have been fractured rather than worn down and tends to be very abrasive. Due to this fracturing, you should wax cold for these conditions even if it is warm. To account for its unique makeup, some companies offer specific waxes for manmade conditions.
  • Klister kick wax exists expressly for extremely transformed conditions. Do not be afraid to use it in icy conditions or rapidly melting snow. Conversely, keep in mind that even if it is very warm, klister will drag badly in conditions with fresh snowfall.
  • Fluorocarbons provide additional hydrophobic properties to a wax without adversely affecting its durability or ‘coldness’. They are especially important to use in high moisture conditions.

Using these guidelines, you should be able to choose a wax that’s pretty good for almost any condition. From there, it’s just a matter of gaining more and more experience with different conditions and different waxes. Before too long, you might find yourself owning and enjoying using 5 different blue and 4 different violet waxes, looking back at how you ever got by with that little package kit you started with.

-Posted by Josh Doebbert on Jan 20th 2014