Posted December 6th, 2009
It’s that time of year again, when, according to Andy Williams or anyone who has received royalties from a beloved Christmas tune, it is the most wonderful. Many others share that view as well, but when Christmas day is just one day off, wedged between two of the
most hectic work days of the year, and I still have to drive to Maine and back, hearing that wretched song on the radio makes me want to throw a wretched fruitcake at it.
But I don’t want to be the Grinch to your Andy Williams, so I’m not going to complain about how working in retail has sucked the joy out of my holiday experience like a black hole decorated with blinking Christmas lights and life-sized plastic Santas. Instead, I am going to share some basic concepts regarding cross-country ski waxing, as a sort of gift to you, the reader.
The first concept to understand is that there are two main types of wax—kick wax and glide wax—and they do completely opposite things. Kick wax, or grip wax, sticks to snow and is used exclusively for classic style cross-country skiing. Glide wax prevents snow from sticking and is used for alpine skiing, tele skiing, skate skiing, snowboarding, and yes, classic style cross-country skiing. The fact that classic cross-country skiing uses glide wax can boggle minds, especially when it comes to “waxless” skis. It may sound crazy, but waxless skis need wax, and no, I haven’t been drinking too much of my Cousin Lenny’s special eggnog. Because waxless skis use “fish scales” to grip the snow, you don’t need to worry about kick wax, hence the misleading term “waxless.” But don’t you want to have optimum glide over the snow after you’ve kicked? Don’t you want to prevent snow from sticking to the base of the ski? Sure you do, and that is why glide wax is so important, so from now on, think of waxless skis as “less wax” skis.
The second concept to embrace is camber. Unlike alpine skis, tele skis, or a snowboard, all of which are single cambered, classic cross-country skis are double cambered. If you take your alpine skis and squeeze them together, you will notice that will little effort, the skis will flex and the bases will contact each other from tip to tail. Now try it with your cross-country skis. The skis will flex, but a small gap will remain in the center of the skis. That small gap is the kick zone, or the wax pocket, where the kick wax goes, or where the fish scales are found. The sections that are touching are the glide zones, where the glide wax goes. If you squeeze harder, the gap will close and the bases will come together. It is this double-camber design that allows cross-country skis to grip when you need them to grip, and glide when you need them to glide, and why your weight is so important when choosing the correct ski length.
A ski sized properly for your weight should work like this: When you are standing on both feet, evenly weighted, the kick zones shouldn’t be touching the snow. When you transfer weight to one foot during the kick phase, you’ll overcome the initial camber and the kick zone will contact the snow and provide that essential grip. If you’re not heavy enough to overcome that secondary camber, the kick zone won’t contact the snow and you won’t get any grip. If you’re too heavy for a ski, you’ll glide on your kick zones and wear off your kick wax. If you have waxless skis, you will scare the wildlife into thinking that a large zipper is coming to get them.
Concerning waxless skis, which have glide zones just like waxable skis, you should apply a coat of liquid glide wax from tip to tail, right over the scales, before every outing. Just like airing up your tires before a bike ride, a quick coat of wax will allow you to move forward with less effort. The glide wax on the fish scales won’t affect the grip, but will prevent snow from sticking.
When it comes to waxable skis, keep the glide wax on the glide zones only. Liquid works well, but because waxable skis generally have sintered bases, which are porous, a hot wax, which penetrates into the base and lasts a lot longer, is best. For the kick zones, you need to select the appropriate kick wax based on the temperature and condition of the snow. This can be tricky, so the best thing to do is err on the side of cold. Start by corking in a colder, harder wax. If it doesn’t work, you can apply a warmer, softer wax right on top. Eventually you’ll get it right and you’ll have great kick, great glide, and a great sense of accomplishment.
Speaking of accomplishment, I hope I have accomplished what I set out to do, which was to give the gift of basic waxing concepts. If I have, I just might have to listen to that Andy Williams classic with a new ear and give fruitcake another chance.