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By Jerome Jang NCCP Level 4 coach
It’s all about the glide:
What makes skiing different from walking or running is that skiers, especially skate skiers, glide. So getting good glide is of paramount importance. The elite skier is able to produce more force and is able to direct that force in a vector that produces optimum glide. They may not be skiing at a higher cadence than the less elite skier, but they get further with every stroke of their legs because they get better glide. So the following is the ultimate guide to glide waxing. May the glide be with you!
Those who have been reading my offerings (see past coaches corner articles) already know some of the factors that affect glide. A quick review: The gliding ski rides on a very thin layer of water. Not enough water for lubrication and you don’t glide well. Too much water and you get suction. Temperature and relative humidity are the prime determinants of how much water available. Low temperatures and low humidity mean less water is produced when the ski rides over the snow, therefore not enough lubrication and more electro static forces affecting the ski. High temperatures and high humidity mean too much water which leads to suction between the snow and the ski surface and more hydrostatic forces slowing the ski down. Other factors that affect glide are mechanical friction and rubbing: Sharp new snow crystals penetrates the wax and produces more friction and rubbing, hence less glide. So those in search of optimum glide need to take account of snow temperature (that is what the snow is actually experiencing), air temperature (there is often a time lag between what the snow temperature will be from what the air temperature is) relative humidity and snow structure.
Not every ski is the same. I’ve written an article for Lanctote (the Canadian distributor for Fisher, Swix, Uvex and other fine products) for their 2012 Spring newsletter directed at their retailers on selecting the perfect ski. There are cold condition skiis, warm condition skiis, klister skiis etc., etc. and the first job is to select the best ski for the conditions that you have. If you have only one classic ski or only one skate ski, then select the ski for the majority of the conditions that you will encounter. If you are able to have more skis, consult someone qualified and knowledgeable on how to select skiis for specific conditions. Once you have a ski suited for you, then you need to prepare the ski running surface for absorbing wax. Keep in mind that the inexpensive bargain basement skiis with hard extruded plastic bases may not be able to absorb wax no matter what you do to it. Good bases have high molecular density material that are full of interconnected pores into which the wax can penetrate into. However even the best bases may become closed with improper treatment over time. There are only about three different ways to open those pores again.
One is to stone grind the bases. Find a reputable ski shop that specializes in cross country skiis. The grind put on a pair of cross country skiis is very different from that of a downhill ski or snow board. Someone who does not know what they are doing can easily ruin or take years of life off a cross country ski. Ask around racers or coaches; the good shops will have experimented with their grind patterns and pressures and tested the skiis on snow afterwards so they know what patterns work for specific skiis and specific local snow conditions. They don’t just follow the grind recommendations of the manufacturer. There are literally hundreds of different grind patterns. The one you want if you have just the one pair of skiis is the one that you ski the majority of the conditions in. You can then adjust the structure for warmer or colder conditions if necessary with hand structuring tools. The reason for stone grinding is to flatten the ski base, expose fresh open pores in the base, and impart a structure to the base. Generally a fine cold snow structure is best (unless you ski mostly in warmer wetter conditions). Then you can add structure as you require with various structure or rilling tools like the swix nordic riller or the toko nordic structure rite tool. The less water available for lubrication, the smoother the ski base need to be. So extremely cold dry conditions will require a extremely fine structure (polished ski base surface) in order to maximize capture of the lubricating water, while warm humid conditions will require, more coarse structure so as to channel excess moisture away from the running surface. With time and experience, comes better being able to match the structure to the conditions.
Another way to open the pores is to metal scrape or base peel the oxidized base away. You are working with sharp tools that can easily damage your base. Have a professional show you how and practice on a old pair of skiis first. The last and least satisfactory way (in terms of result but a fairly safe option) to open the pores, is to use progressively finer sand paper from 80 grit to 400 grit to smooth, flatten and expose new base material. You are now ready to glide wax your skiis. Note that the high end racing skiis come with glide wax already applied to the base so as to protect the base from oxidizing and tokeep the pores open, allowing you to start applying glide wax without the above preparation.
First you must saturate the gliding portions of your skiis with glide wax. There are a lot of different glide waxes out there, most formulated for specific conditions. There are cold glide waxes with special additives for creating extra friction so as to produce enough water for lubrication and hardeners so that the sharp snow crystals don’t penetrate and dig into the wax. Warm glide waxes with fluorinated additives that make the water bead up and run off the base and foreign dirt and material not stick to the base. There are powders and hardeners that can be used to top dress the skiis final glide layer. Unless you know what you are doing, you can spend a lot and not necessarily get better glide. So the following is the basics, and if you want to learn more, take a waxing clinic from qualified professionals.
A new or ski with newly opened bases need to have soft wax applied so as to saturate the base. It takes many applications of glide wax for the glide wax to fully penetrate the base. It took almost one season and over 24 separate applications of glide wax (never letting the bases become dry of wax) over that season for my new skiis to reach it’s full glide potential. That is melt a thick layer of a soft (say a swix CH 8 or CH 10 or yellow) glide wax onto the skiis, let it harden then remelt with the wax iron and repeat as many times as you can stand it (at minimum 3 times) without scraping the wax off the skiis. Every time you reheat the wax, it penetrates a little further into the microscopic pores of the ski base. A word about ski irons. Unless you only plan to use soft glide waxes for warmer conditions, invest in a good ski iron. A clothes iron can fluctuate plus or minus 10 or 15 degrees C. That can be the difference between a smoking iron (the wax is heated so high that it smokes and the wax composition is changed completely) and a wax that does not melt. Not to mention the damage that you can do to your ski base and the glues and resins that hold your skiis together and the health risks involved in breathing in small particles of melted wax. A good wax iron is much more precise and will be adequate for the harder glide waxes (you need about 150 degrees C for say the swix LF3 or CH3 or green glide wax). If you are planning on working with some of the hardeners or pure fluorinated products, you’ll need a digital wax iron which controls the temperatures even more precisely (plus or minus a degree or so). Ski bases and the glues and resins that hold it together start to melt at above 180 or so degrees C. The FC78 swix powder does not melt until about 165 degrees C and the FC 7 and FC8x at around 160 degrees C, not a lot of room for error. More ski bases have been prematurely destroyed by excessive heat than anything. Always use the coolest setting that will melt the wax you are working with and keep the iron moving so as to leave only a inch or so of melted wax behind. Do not overheat! Unless you know what you are doing, use lots of wax to act as a cushion between you iron and the ski base. A shortcut to saturating your ski base with soft glide wax is to use a hot box. Basically a hot box keeps soft glide waxed skiis at a controlled temperature (at or slightly below the wax melting temperature) for 3 or so hours so that the wax have time to penetrate into the pores. For those of us that don’t have a hot box or access to a ski shop with a hot box, we can simulate it over the summer by applying a thick layer of good soft wax on the glide portions of the skiis and then letting it sit in a dry hot attic or somewhere else that heats up to 110 to 120 degrees C during the hottest part of the summer. Don’t overdo this as it can warp the skiis!
After saturating the ski base with a soft glide wax plastic scrape as much of the soft glide wax off as possible then apply a harder glide wax (swix CH 6 or blue) onto the skiis, ironing on only once or twice. This acts as a cap or sealer to the soft glide wax underneath so that it will last longer. Scrape off. Now you are ready to glide wax for the conditions of the day. Harder glide wax for colder conditions and softer glide wax for warmer conditions. If the conditions are more humid (over 85% ), you will want to try a slightly warmer than otherwise indicated, similarly you will want to try a slightly colder glide wax than otherwise indicated for drier conditions (under 55%). For skate skiis or for longer distances on classic skiis, you will want to wax towards the lower temperature recommendations for the glide wax. For example if the snow temperature is minus 4 and you are waxing for skate skiing or for a longer classic ski, you’ll want a glide wax that is recommended for at least minus 4 to minus 8 degrees C for better durability and speed. After waxing with the final glide wax and before putting on powders (hardeners for extra cold conditions, or fluorinated wax for humid or dirty conditions) fine tune the structure on the base. That way you can expose the structure when brushing out your skis. Remember to brush with a stiff nylon brush followed by a horse hair brush with cold wax after the slo has cooled downto the conditions. The pores of the skiis will contract in the cold and you need to brush out the excess glide wax. Brushing with the nylon brush will produce static electricity that need to be released by brushing with the horsehair brush.
A good glide wax application will have you gliding much further with less effort. Have a qualified and knowledgeable professional show you how. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. And ride the glide!
Recent Articles by Jerome Jang
- Selecting the Perfect Ski
- Choosing a Classic Ski
- Cold Weather Waxing and High Floro Waxes
- Glide Waxing Colder than Conditions Indicate
- Energy Systems in Training
- Rest, Recovery and Regeneration
- Equipment Expense and Payback
- Sticky Snow
- Equipment Selection and Care
- Training Plans
- Technique Secrets Revealed