Wax on, wax off | The art of waxing downhill skis

Collin Fletcher scraping the ski. | Courtesy Start Haus

I spend a lot of time waxing cross-country skis at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, but because I like to write about unfamiliar topics, I figured I should learn about waxing downhill skis. I reached out to a few experts and found that waxing downhill skis is similar to waxing cross-country skis with a few important distinctions — and that once you have the right equipment, waxing is something anyone can do.

Check Out Tahoe Downhill Ski Guide  for everything you need to know for the upcoming 2019-20 ski season in Tahoe.

First, I talked to Collin Fletcher, a waxing expert at Start Haus in Truckee. He told me that if you want to wax your own skis, you to acquire the necessary tools: vises to hold the skis; a coarse stone to smooth out the nicks; a warm, base conditioner wax, a middle-range wax and a colder wax; a waxing iron; a horsehair, coarse brush and a smooth, nylon brush and a plastic scraper. You can also add painter’s tape. This will set you back a couple 100 bucks, although perhaps some of it is already sitting in your garage.

Fletcher recommends waxing every few times you ski, with a more detailed tune once or twice a season depending on how often you ski and in what terrain. How much you wax will probably depend on how much time you have, how serious a skier you are and how much you want to spend on wax. It also depends on how many rocks you hit. Do you wait until the snow is deep or do you have to get out as soon as anything white has covered the ground?

Another option is to have a shop do a stone grind, which refreshes your base and creates a structure pattern. In the process, however, it removes a bit of that base, which is why you can only do a grind about two or three times during the life of the ski.

Collin Fletcher dripping on wax. | Courtesy Start Haus

The waxing process

Before you apply the wax, use a hard, ceramic stone. Rub it flat against the edges to smooth off the big nicks. For more serious issues with your base or edges, bring it into a shop for a tune.

The first step in the waxing process is to use a warm, cleaning wax — yellow or warm universal wax. To apply the wax, use the iron to drip or crayon on the wax, then make several steady passes down the ski to apply the wax evenly. Scrape off the cleaning wax while it is still warm. This removes the dirt and grime. Brush out any remaining wax. Always brush first with the coarse brush and then with the fine brush.

Next, wax with the wax of the day. Red wax is a middle-of-the-road wax for normal snow temperatures, while blue wax is for colder temperatures.

“Go colder rather than warmer,” said Fletcher. “You can never go wrong adding a few drops of blue in, even in the spring to make the wax last longer.”

Let the wax of the day cool off before scraping with a plastic scraper, followed by a good brushing and you are ready to go. Fletcher says to keep the skis and bindings clean, use painter’s tape along the ski where the binding is to keep wax from mucking up the works.

Once you have invested in the equipment, this is a process that is almost free —the cost of wax is the only recurring cost — and should only take about 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time or don’t want to invest in the waxing gear, take it to your favorite local ski shop.

Collin Fletcher smoothing the wax over the ski. | Courtesy Start Haus

Tuning tips

For nearly 20 years, Rob Furtney has been involved in the ski industry, including working as a representative with a large demonstration fleet of skis. He passed on these key tips.

  • Tuning is a lot like cooking. The more you know, the more options you have to make the process quicker, easier and much better. Knowing the individual steps and what they add to the overall process is important.
  • Tuning will improve your ability to hold an edge on firm surfaces, as well as glide better in sticky snow.
  • Attend a tuning clinic at a local ski area.
  • Make tuning time fun. Good music and a tasty beverage can elevate the experience. Never underestimate the atmosphere that a proper she-shed or man-cave can bring. Make sure it stays clean and above all well ventilated.
  • Don’t waste time and money with crazy expensive waxes unless you are racing and looking for the win. There are many wax options these days including some that claim to be environmentally friendly.