Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Ski Prep

Experienced skiers and ski technicians have always known that new skis need their bases prepared before they will perform well on the snow. Ask ten of them what they suggest and you'll probably get ten variations, but they all come back to the same principle: put on a lot of wax.

We're talking about glide wax. With the rise of skating, glide waxing has become a more complex science than it was when the pursuit of reliable kick eclipsed most other concerns. Then, once the technological genie was out on skate skis, all that glide wizardry has come back to land on the glide zones of classic skis as well.

Using only the basic hydrocarbon glide waxes in any wax company's range, a skier can charge up a new ski base with an initial fund of wax to provide a good foundation for the routine waxing that will follow it.

The glide wax for the warmest temperature, for instance Swix CH 10, melts at the lowest iron temperature, making it the best choice for cleaning glide zones. Never use solvent to clean glide zones. Scraping and wiping hot CH 10 (or equivalent) while still melted to liquid will remove dirt from glide zones without drying the bases. On a new ski, a couple of cleanings with CH 10 will start your base prep procedure.

Do NOT hot-wax clean the kick zone of a classic ski. Sand that with 100 grit and brush away the loose lint afterwards. Once you complete your glide zone prep you can iron in a thin layer of base binder to prepare the kick zone to receive grip waxes, or you can leave it sanded and ready in case you need to use klister binder instead. If this makes your eyes begin to glaze, you know one powerful reason why skate skiing became so popular.

Several years ago, Swix had an exhaustive ski prep procedure involving multiple grades of wax. The warm waxes saturate the bases well, while the cold ones help refine the surface, as microscopic hairs of base material are encapsulated and scraped away. That's the theory, anyway, and the scraper seems to prove it. Scraping away an application of cold wax, even while it is still warm from the iron, you can see black base residue in the shavings. Then they introduced Base Prep waxes, which supposedly combine soft, saturating components with hard, surface conditioning components. I do see base residue coming of when I scrape these waxes, so it helps me believe what I want to believe. I want to believe that a single formulation takes care of the bulk of the waxing, so I don't have to remember how many times I've applied each specific wax, as I did before. I can just lather on many coats of BP and then top it off with a couple of layers of whatever wax will be skied on. If I feel ambitious I might throw on a coat of CH4 late in the procedure, but it isn't supposed to be necessary.

All this just reinforces the notion that lots and lots of wax makes skis fast. A Peltonen tech rep a few years ago gave a clinic in which he described (among other things) the exhaustive waxing the factory team did to skis before glide testing to select for the racers. Dozens of coats went onto the skis to be tested. Dozens more went onto the survivors of the first culling. At each reduction i the fleet, more wax was applied to the skis carried forward.

"Recreational skiers wanted to buy the skis we rejected, because they'd been waxed so much they were faster than most people's skis already," he said.

Once the skis are prepped, keep up the good work by rewaxing them at least after every two or three outings. Change waxes as the temperature changes, to get the most out of your skis and your own effort.

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