Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wax, You Idiots!

In comes another customer with sporty clothes, a decent physique and a middling expensive skate ski with a base as smooth and polished as the rough side of exterior plywood.

"I just haven't had time," she said. "They've never had anything done to them, but I only went out a couple of times on them last year."

So she's been out there trying to push a moldy sponge over a rough sidewalk and calling it skate skiing.

I decided quite awhile ago that, as long as I don't have to push it around, I don't care how crappy someone lets their ski get. And if they ask me to clean up after their neglect, especially urgently (we want to go skiing NOW!), they'll find out how expensive it is to have servants.

None of this applies to the average wide, waxless touring ski. I do get a chuckle out of it when someone brings in their scabrous planks, which have obviously been worn while crossing roads and stone walls, and asks for a hot wax. But the idea of seriously waxing a wide touring ski, even one lovingly coddled, is about like fitting a spoiler to a tugboat.

The longer I do this high-performance Nordic thing, the more I believe that a ski is just a device for delivering wax to the snow. Light weight is important, so you devote less of your energy picking them up and setting them down, and more of it to moving forward, but a well-waxed mid-grade ski will almost always out-glide a neglected high-end ski. The only time a neglected ski will glide well is when things are so screechingly icy that rocks would glide.

People get confused by the term "wax", because it applies to a couple of different substances. In classical skiing, there's grip wax and glide wax. Grip wax is often called kick wax. If, long ago, the kick potion had been called Grip Sauce, or Traction Gunk, and the term wax had only been applied to slippery things to make gliding easier, Nordic skiing would probably be thriving wherever the ground turns faintly white for even a short portion of the year.

That opportunity passed before we knew it would be missed.

If you have a high performance ski, even if it's just a sporty touring ski, it will work better if you saturate the glide zones with wax. And skating is a completely different activity if the skis don't glide because the bases are dry and scratchy. You're not just working harder, you're working differently. Your balance changes when the skis grind to a halt instead of gliding forward. You work the core muscles and pole across a wider range of angle as you twist to apply more force. You even increase the risk of overuse injuries as you continually try to re-accelerate a draggy ski.

It's a bit like those cyclists who grind a 30 rpm cadence in a huge gear and call it "a better workout." Yeah, until their kneecaps explode off the front of their legs. So, non-waxers, enjoy your rotator cuff injuries and tendinitis of the elbow. Ironing, scraping and brushing is a lot less strain. So is skiing afterwards.

No comments: