Waxing your skate skis

Skate skiing is an excellent form of exercise and a great way to enjoy Tahoe in the winter away from the crowds at the downhill resorts. After waxing skis at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area for nearly 20 years, I can say unequivocally that most people don’t wax their skis enough — or in some cases, at all. It’s time to wax those puppies yourself or have someone else do it. Either way, you will be glad you did.

Need to wax your downhill skis? Click on Out & About: Winter.

It is not that complicated to wax your skate skis, but sometimes waxing gurus make the process seem so complicated and arduous that many folks say screw it and don’t bother. But a simple wax can be completed quickly with the most time-consuming part being twiddling your thumbs waiting for the wax to cool.

A simple wax can be completed quickly with the most time-consuming part being twiddling your thumbs waiting for the wax to cool.

Waxing does require a financial commitment: you need to acquire a waxing iron, a device to hold the ski while you wax, several different types of wax, a plastic scraper, a groove scraper, both rough and smooth brush, and a structure tool. This will set you back several hundred bucks. If you are already waxing downhill skis though, some of the tools will work on both.

The Process:

  • Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area.
  • Clamp the ski into its holder.
  • Set the iron temperature hot enough to melt the wax, but not so hot to make it smoke. This might take a bit of adjustment as you go.
  • Get some wax on the ski. You can crayon it or drip it. If you crayon it on, you take the wax and touch it to the iron then rub it along the ski like a crayon. Dripping just means taking a corner of the wax, touching the iron and rolling the drips down the ski. Crayoning uses less wax and spreads the wax evenly. Dripping is faster. You want enough wax to create a thin layer, but not too much because you are just going to scrape it all off anyway.
  • Take the iron smoothly down the length of the ski several times. Keep the iron moving or it will burn the ski. Once it looks like you have a good even coat, lay this ski aside and do the same thing on the other ski.
  • Now, go grab a cup of coffee, check your e-mails or chat with friends while you wait for it to cool. Or, put the wax on a second pair of skis.
  • Once the skis are cool, you can scrape the wax off. Personally, I feel that the more time the ski sits with the wax on it the better — I’m not sure there is any scientific basis for that theory, however. First, take your groove scraper and run a few passes down the groove. You do this first so that if the scraper jumps out of the groove it will land on wax instead of a freshly scraped ski. Then, scrape starting at the tip of the skis and with even pressure firmly scrape the wax off the ski down to the tail. It will take several passes down the ski to get most of the wax off. Once you are only getting a teensy bit of wax with your scrapes, it is time to go to the brush.
  • Start with a more aggressive, copper brush and work your way down the ski. You are trying to get the wax the scraper didn’t get. The goal is to have a bit of wax that adheres to the base. Then follow it up with the smoother nylon brush to get the last vestiges of flecks of white and make that surface smooth and black — so your skis are fast.
  • If this all seems like to much work, drop off your skis for waxing at a local shop.

If your skis are dirty or haven’t been waxed in a while, do a hot clean before the normal wax. To clean, iron wax onto the skis and scrape the wax off right away while it is still warm. Then brush and start the regular waxing process.

Wax choice
There are a lot of different wax choices for snow conditions. Colder waxes are harder and last longer and take a warmer temperature to apply. Warmer waxes are softer, melt quicker and don’t last as long on your skis. Recently, some good universal waxes have become available for a wider range of temperatures. In general, right after a cold storm early- to mid-winter, you use blue wax, which then moves into the purple middle range and red for the warm spring conditions. It is best to error on the colder wax. You can use the less expensive hydrocarbon waxes, which are fine in most situations or spring for the extra bucks (and extra danger to your lungs) of the fluorocarbon waxes. Most folks for everyday skiing are fine with the hydrocarbon waxes.

When the snow gets older and wetter, it’s time to structure your skis. One or two passes down the ski with a structure tool after you have waxed, scraped and brushed does the trick. When completed, your ski should have grooves like you see on the freeway and the concept is the same: Get the water away from your ski — or tires.

Classic skis
What about classic cross-country skis? For waxless skis, the process is the same as waxing skate skis, except you only wax the tips and tails of the skis. Just be sure and don’t get wax on the fish scales in the middle. When classic skiing it’s a good idea to bring along a universal rub on wax while you ski that you can apply on the ski if things start getting sticky.