Sunday, December 12, 2004

Want fries with that?

How would you like a free gift with your purchase? How about a free hot wax on those new cross-country skis?

Few things are more useless than a single coat of hot wax on a new ski, especially a racing ski. So you’re not being terribly clever when you bend a shop to throw in a free hot wax, because it will be gone in the first 15 minutes of skiing.

Probably every ski shop in the world offers a free wax or will agree to put one on if you try to play “smart shopper” and ask for it. What’s 10 minutes out of their life to lather on a quick coat of something that melts and scrapes easily? If they use one of those cheesy roller waxers it scrapes even more easily, because the wax never really penetrated the ski base. So by all means, get the freebie. It’s worth exactly what you paid for it.

To prepare a new ski for a life of speed and fun, you need to apply more than a single coat of wax at the beginning of its first season. A minimum of six coats, of varying grades, will just get your ski started. No shop in their right mind will do that for free, nor should you ask them to, since it takes care, patience and a sense of responsibility, not qualities you would expect from someone you’d just asked to work without pay.

Waxing is not technically difficult. It’s not really tedious, either. I find brushing my teeth much more boring than brushing out the wax on my skis, perhaps because I can watch the improvement in the skis more easily than I can admire the buffed shine on my molars.

Not all ski bases are created equal. Racing bases accept and hold wax more easily than touring bases, but they need the wax more. Their porous structure makes them more vulnerable to damage if they don’t have wax. Touring bases are designed to withstand neglect and abuse. Their extra hardness also makes them resist wax penetration. Within those categories, base hardness varies with the price of the ski.

Skis with a waxless grip pattern tend to be made of harder materials than bases designed for grip wax. This even applies to the few models of racing no-wax skis. The grip pattern is machined into the base. Harder material is more durable. So even though the base is sintered, which means it is made by pressing particles of heated base material rather than pouring liquified melted plastic, it’s a denser block of harder plastic so the pattern won’t wear down too quickly over the life of the ski.

Some touring skis use extruded bases with molded patterns. This can produce an excellent all-around base for grip and glide, but it’s also barely worth hot-waxing. Nothing will penetrate that surface.

Wipe-on products like Swix F4 will definitely help any waxless ski perform better. If the ski has a sintered base, you may want to use hot wax on the glide zones, outside the grip pattern, but use the F4 on the grip zone to keep snow from sticking. On bases that don’t take hot wax well, smear the paste product over the whole base.

Some skiers rely on the wipe-on products for higher performance skis, like skating skis. That’s really not adequate for very long, because the paste does not get into the base enough, and the fluorocarbon particles don’t protect the base material even if they do enhance its slipperiness. The paste waxes work over a wide range of temperatures, but proper hot waxes work better because they are made to match more specific temperatures and changes in humidity.

The one thing you can count on is that the free hot wax on a brand-new, dry base is a waste of everyone’s time. Pay for the good job or do it yourself. Your skis will thank you for it.

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