take care of your gear and it will take care of you…
Your ski and ride gear doesn’t need a ton of maintenance. In fact, you can do no maintenance and still get out on the slopes and have fun. But not as much fun as you could be having if you put a bit of effort into gear upkeep. The most basic maintenance routine is described below. But if you really want to ramp up your experience on slope, read beyond the basics. Take in, assimilate, and use the information you find under the “Wax Is Wonderful” heading below. You won’t be sorry. Not one bit at all.
Gear Upkeep Basics
A little effort on your part over the course of the season can pay huge dividends. First off, your gear stays in better condition so it holds better value should you ever decide to part with it. And if you don’t, maintaining your gear will pay you back with more fun slope side. Here’s a few tips.
At Day’s End:
- Dry your skis or snowboard with a clean cloth to remove excess water, then let them air dry in an open space.
- Take a diamond stone file and lightly run it up and down the base and side edges to buff the metal and add a bit more sharpness.
- Pull the liner out of your boots, remove the footbeds, then let air dry in a warm, open space.
Every Few Weeks:
- Take a diamond stone file and hone the edges using an edge guide. Do this earlier if an edge has encountered a rock or other entity that ruins your perfect edge.
- Wipe down the ski or snowboard base with a Scotch-Brite or similar scouring pad to refresh the surface. Then give the base a fresh coat of wax. Do this earlier if the base looks whitish or grayish in color, or is simply not feeling as “slick” or is slow on the snow.
At Seasons End:
- Take a diamond stone file and hone the edges using an edge guide.
- Wipe down the base with a Scotch-Brite or similar scouring pad to refresh the surface.
- If DIY, wax the base. DO NOT scrape or brush. Take the wax block and run it down the side edges, covering all exposed metal with a thin layer of wax. Store in a cool, dry, space for the summer. At start of the season, scrape and brush to a high luster. You are ready to start the ski and ride season!
- If not DIY, bring skis or snowboard to Avie’s Ski / Sports and ask for a “Summerize” package.
Wax Is Wonderful
Snow and ice can be slippery stuff. We quickly remember that when we try to walk on it. So why is it that when out skiing and riding, the skis or the board all of a sudden feels “sticky” or “sluggish” on the snow?
Friction Is Your Enemy
Slap the base of a ski or snowboard on the snow, stick a bunch of weight on it in the form of a human body, and point it downhill. At the snow-ski/board interface, some strange things happen. All that weight compresses the snow. Forward motion under that weight causes friction as the snow compresses and the friction makes heat. The heat melts the snow under the base of the ski or board. Melted snow is water and water creates great friction which means you go slower. You still go downhill, but you go there slower. You find this out in real-time when you ski through a section of trail where snow-making is taking place. Because man-made snow has a very high water content, you feel like someone hit the brakes as you run over that patch of snow. That’s friction at work. Big time.
Almost always, no matter where or when you go skiing or riding, regardless how frigid the temperature, you will be melting snow under your ski or board base as you slide downhill. Friction makes heat and heat melts snow. The exception will be in powder. Skiing or riding in freshly fallen powder, as skis and boards are floating in that fluffy loveliness, friction is at a minimum. Wax still helps, but friction is less of an issue. But other than powder days, you are melting snow and that melt water slows you down.
Don’t believe it? Next time riding up the lift to the summit, check out skiers and riders sliding down the slopes. Behind them you will see their tracks on the snow. Those tracks will be glistening in the sun. Why? Because the ski base melts the snow as it passes over. Once gone past, that melt water freezes, leaving behind that glistening “contrail” coating of ice.
Wax Beats Friction
The base of a ski or snowboard is porous. See the “Skier Need To Know—Ski Construction” page for more on the composition and manufacture of ski bases. If you want your base to slide better you need to reduce that pesky friction. The way to do this is through wax. And here is where doing your own waxing pays huge dividends.
Saturate the Base
The first and best thing to do with a new pair of skis, or a pair you are now going to be upgrading to beat friction, is to saturate the base with wax. The base is porous, containing a series of holes and channels. If nothing is ever done to the base, those holes and channels fill with dirt and crud, making the downhill slide slower and slower.
Rather than let the base fill with crud, fill it with wax. For new skis, grab a bar of Base Prep wax or a bar of SWIX “red” [CH8]. Both are very soft waxes that will penetrate far into the base. In a warm area, apply a liberal amount of wax to the base, and spread it all over with a hot waxing iron. Let it cool to the touch, then iron over it again, being sure that wax covers the entire base surface. Do this 3 to 6 times, adding more wax where the base gets dry. If the ski is used, clean the base with a base cleaner to remove dirt and gunk, then do the above.
At the end of your faux “hot box” routine, scrape the wax off the base. If the wax is still a bit warm, that’s okay. Warm, not melted and runny. Pulling off the wax while warm will actually remove dirt and gunk, which is a good thing. If you are not applying a top coat of temperature specific wax—you can ski on the wax you used to saturate the base—then brush out the base and hit the slopes. This won’t be very different than skiing or riding on the “all purpose wax” applied by most ski shops. You may however, opt to apply a temperature specific wax topcoat. Read on to become convinced.
Once you get the base filled with wax, any wax you apply as a top coat will last much longer. The base will be black and shiny, and will stay that way. Having the base saturated also means you use less wax in the topcoat. If you start using some of the more expensive waxes that better fight friction, then using less is much more economical, as high performance waxes are pricey.
Temperature Specific Topcoat
With the base nicely filled with wax, it’s time to apply the topcoat. Before you apply the topcoat, you ideally will know the temperature of the snow when you ski. There is a deep science behind selection of wax for specific snow conditions. If you are a professional ski racer, this is hugely important because one one-thousandth of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing. For the rest of us mortals, getting pretty close is good enough. All we really want is to reduce the negative impacts of friction under our ski or snowboard.
SWIX makes a range of ski waxes, each having a different color and number designation. Each color/number references a certain snow temperature range. In very cold conditions, snow tends to be dry and abrasive. A hard wax is called for so that the wax will stay on the base longer, fighting friction longer. In very warm conditions, the snow tends to have a very high water content. Warm weather waxes tend to be soft, and will have a higher degree of additives designed to better repel water.
For New Englanders, SWIX “purple,” or CH7 wax, really is the “go to” for most of the season. Anyone waxing their own skis ought to have a bar or two of this wax on hand at all times. SWIX CH7 covers snow temperatures from 18 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Every ski waxer should also have a bar of SWIX “red,” or CH8 which covers a range of 25 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a SWIX “yellow” (CH10) which would be useful in the spring when temperatures range 45 degrees and higher on the slopes. Every ski waxer should also have a bar of SWIX “blue,” or CH6, for those times when temps tumble down into the teens. There is also a SWIX CH5 (aqua blue-green; 7 to 18 degrees F) and SWIX CH4 (green; -26 to 10 degrees F) for those that really want to round out their wax selection. The CH5 and CH4 can have a special role to play, as described below in the “Base Burn” section.
Application of the topcoat wax is simple. Apply the least amount of wax you can to cover the entire surface of the base once melted by the waxing iron. The most efficient way to do this is tap the bar of wax to the bottom of the hot waxing iron, then “crayon” it onto the base. Do this until the entire base is covered. This method uses less wax and so is more economical. Using less wax also means less to scrape back off, reducing time spent at the bench scraping and brushing.
Pick whatever wax color is most appropriate for the anticipated conditions and apply it. What if expected conditions will be on the borderline of one color, for instance on the warm side of CH7? Crayon in a meager amount of CH7 followed by a crayon smear of CH8. On the colder side? Crayon in some CH6. Mix and match to your hearts content. Blend up a mixture you think will be a winner. Regardless, it won’t and can’t be “wrong.” The only “wrong wax” is “no wax.”
Are you one of those skiers or riders that, at end of the day, have really light or white colored areas on the base? Generally in the center along the sides? That’s called “base burn.” It occurs when you spend a lot of time on edge in crusty, icy, abrasive snow conditions. If you do a lot of carving, you likely see a lot of base burn. No, it can’t be avoided. Unless you stop carving. In other words, it can’t be avoided.
While it can’t be avoided, it can be helped. This is where a bar of super hard wax, CH4 or CH5 for instance, will be handy if you are a “base burner.” Before you apply the topcoat of wax, drip a little bit of the super hard wax on the areas that are base burned. Iron it in and let it completely harden. Give a quick scrape to get the bulk of the excess wax off, but don’t brush. Apply the topcoat as usual. The extra hard wax in the area that takes the most abuse from abrasive snow will wear away slower, fighting that abrasion better. You should see a reduction of base burn in those areas where you applied the harder wax.
SWIX CH waxes are hydrocarbon-based waxes. They are relatively inexpensive, as ski wax goes, and do the job. However, if you want to reduce friction further while on the slopes, then you need to look into ski waxes with fluorcarbon additives. This would be the SWIX LF and HF designated waxes. LF wax tends to be about twice as expensive as CH wax, and HF wax about double the LF price, or 4-times the price of CH wax.
Is the price worth it? Try it and make your own decision. Pick up a bar of LF7. Apply as your topcoat and hit the slopes. You WILL feel an immediate difference. The skis, or snowboard, simply wants to go. Why? Because fluorcarbons repel water better than hydrocarbons.
If you race, you want to be using SWIX LF waxes. If you really, really seriously race, you may want to consider HF waxes, but they are very pricey. There are also powder-based fluorcarbon additives that can be applied after, or as part of, the topcoat. Powder applications wear off quickly, but if you want them for 1 or 2 races, then they are a more cost effective way to achieve that extra speed.
For most mortals, SWIX LF waxes will be a great upgrade, and a good stopping point in the world of fluoro-based ski waxes. So cost is a factor, and a possible downside. One further downside is that fluoro-based waxes tend to pick up and hang onto dirt and gunk a bit better than CH waxes. So a couple times a season it helps to clean the base with SWIX “Glide Wax Cleaner” (not a de-waxing agent or base cleaner, which removes all wax). This cleaner pulls off the dirty fluoro wax, but doesn’t pull wax out of the base. Cleaning the base is quick and easy, leaving a clean slate for your waxing topcoats once again.
In a pinch, use SWIX F4
Get in a situation where you don’t have the time to do a full waxing job with the waxing iron? Not a problem. If you have been maintaining the base all along and it is full of wax. And if you have a container of SWIX F4 liquid wax in your ski or boot bag. Apply the F4 as directed, then brush it out. No brush? No worries. It will take one run down the slopes to do that job for you. While F4 does not take the place of a good iron-into-the-base waxing job, it will help you beat friction during those times when that just isn’t possible.
Check out the links below to get started in making your gear last longer, perform better.
The three PDF brochures will get you started. Then check out this SWIX School link, which will give you the world of tuning, in spades. Also check out this Youtube clip—nice, easy “how to” for waxing, or visit this Toko site for more tuning and waxing videos. For a quick overview of waxing tools and supplies available at Avie’s Ski / Sports, see the “SWIX Tuning Center” page.
Have a tuning or maintenance question? Need help figuring out a dilemma? Want advice on something technical? Need a special tool? Send your query to: firstname.lastname@example.org