Back in the early days when all skis had wood bases, skiers had little choice but to wax ’em regularly if they wanted to slide on snow. But along with the introduction of polyethylene bases (p-tex) came the assumption that skis no longer needed waxing. Wrong…p-tex is a thirsty plastic that needs frequent wax feedings. In no time at all, the number of skiers who waxed their skis flip-flopped from 97% who did, to 97% who didn’t. And that’s pretty much where it remains today… amazingly, a very low percentage of skiers and snowboarders wax their equipment. The performance these folks lose because of this misunderstanding is significant…a waxed base is about 30% easier to turn, more durable and faster than an unwaxed base.
P-tex bases can lose their ability to absorb wax efficiently. The most common cause is simply neglecting to wax regularly. The high friction of snow acts like sandpaper to abrade the base, wear off wax and leave the p-tex dried out. Black bases make it easy to tell if your bases need wax, though close examination of clear bases in good light will reveal the same condition. Bases that need wax will appear whitish in areas, especially along the edges where pressure and friction tend to be greatest. Waxed bases appear consistently shiny.
Another cause is too much heat created by a improper stonegrinding, the use of excessive speed or pressure when rotobrushing, or, most commonly, from an improperly used or uncalibrated wax iron. About half the surface area of most sintered racing bases will absorb wax when new…these are call “amorphous” regions. Excess heat converts these to “crystalline” regions, which do not absorb wax. Furthermore, heating the base can increase its oxidation by atmospheric oxygen. Overheating a base also dries it out and results in the creation of more unwanted, drag-inducing p-tex hairs. Wax absorption can be recovered by restructuring the skis, with a stone grind or hand structuring tool, which “opens” the base allowing wax to seep into the pores.
You can help thwart most of these occurrences in obvious ways. When hot-waxing, for example, use a decent wax iron that holds a fairly constant temperature (+ or – 8*F). Most household irons don’t…they fluctuate wildly in temperature (in excess of 40*F). Secondly, calibrate your iron using a thermometer (a simple coil type will suffice). Third, apply enough wax to the base so you have a nice molten layer between the iron and p-tex. Don’t let an iron come in direct contact with a dry base. Remember, wax…even the pricey fluoro stuff…is cheap compared to a new pair of skis or snowboard!
Next up, wax application methods and deciphering wax choices.