The unbearable weight of getting ski wax right

Let’s play Cross-Country Ski Wax Bingo! Skis that won’t grip! The Great Easter Klister Disaster (“First it’s in the tube. Then it’s on the dog”)! Grip-zone covered with five centimetres of hard ice! Looking enviously at people who remembered to bring their kicker skins! There are, of course, things you can do to prevent wax disasters. The first thing to remember is: a trip to the mountains is not a race. While the Norwegian national cross-country team might select their grip wax after analysing snow in their expensive trailer-laboratory, the solution for the rest of us will be different. The simplest thing is often the best. All we want is something that works. Preferably for a few days. So let’s leave the lab work to the racers and the pros. At Åsnes, we know a thing or two about waxing skis for the backcountry, too. Here’s what we know.

Waxing and prepping fjellski:


First of all – you don’t need a gigantic Swix suitcase full of unnamable kit. And don’t be intimidated by that wall full of waxing products in the sports shop. We’re going to the mountains, we don’t have a race to win. The one with the biggest smile at the end of the day gets the trophy. Your resealable plastic bag with some blue Swix, klister and a cork puts you well on your way. A small selection of waxes, maybe something glidy and a few tools that you’ve learned how to use increases your chance of success. To make the experience of preparation a little easier, we’d like to recommend a little coffee (or something a little more lively) and good music in the background. Conversation and wax discussion is helpful too. Let’s discuss gear:
Oh, and you’ll want some Swix base cleaner and some fiberlene paper for cleaning up. We are not savages. God tur!

Waxing: the magic formula

Decades of experience with expeditions, ski production, trial and error and endless collective discussion and dorkery has brought us to a method that works very well for us. Not everyone does it exactly like this. But if you follow the procedure set out below, at least you won’t be doing anything actively wrong!

Our preferred system in brief

1. Put a hard (cold) glide wax in the glide zone as a base. “Top” it with glide wax right for your conditions. 2. Warm up, apply and cork in in a good proper layer of Swix Polar in the grip zone to be your base wax. 3. Apply and cork in the day’s grip wax. Or klister if conditions are klistery. 4. Use mohair or a synthetic/mohair mix short skin when conditions are difficult, or the hill is steep. Don’t put skins on anything softer than Blue Swix. 5. Put on appropriate glide and grip waxes when the warm, wet snow arrives in the spring. 6. Take a bag with a scraper and some wax options with you – if conditions change, and you find you have no grip or you’re icing up, you’ll be glad. If all else fails, a skin will get you home.

Waxless skis

1. Put a hard (cold) glide wax in the glide zone as a base. “Top” it with glide wax right for your conditions. 2. Put some liquid or spray glide wax into the pattern to prevent icing and to improve your glide. 4. Use mohair or a synthetic/mohair mix short skin when conditions are difficult, or the hill is steep. 5. Use appropriate glide and grip waxes when the warm, wet snow arrives in the spring.

On a wax-free ski, you can put glide wax on the entire sole if you want. It serves to reduce icing. The problem, though, is that it’ll be a pain to scrape and brush the wax out from the waxless pattern. You want to get it all out. However, it reduces icing to a certain extent when the entire sole is well saturated with wax.

The easiest thing is to put glide wax on to the glide surfaces of your waxless skis (the un-patterned bit). Then you can use liquid glide wax or skin wax on the pattern and the skins if necessary. Skin wax on your skins stops them from accumulating ice.

1. Start with a clean ski

When skis are new from the shop, they’re usually prepped from the factory. This is to stop bases from getting damaged in transport, largely, and to prevent bases from drying out or getting dirty. We recommend doing a comprehensive new-ski prep when you get a new pair. You know where you are; it makes things easier in the years to come. You can repeat the process before each season, or follow our recipe of what to do at the end of the season.

Gå over stålkantene

On alpine touring skis and cross-country skis for the backcountry, it’s important that steel edges aren’t too dull. Before grinding them, go over them with a brass brush or gummi stone and remove surface rust. You can sharpen steel edges yourself if you have the tools. If they’re too dull, we recommend having them sharpened on a machine by someone who can do this. Dull steel edges affect cornering properties and edge grip in hard conditions

You really don’t want to find wax from the previous season when you get your skis out on the first snow day of the new one. Clean your bases at the end of the season and preparation will be much easier.

Åsnes Academy Expert Panel

If you discover you skis are covered with old wax, start by getting out the scraper and removing it. Make sure to get it all off. In our experience, Swix’s Citrus base cleaner is pretty good at this. Rub and repeat until you have a naked base. Wipe off with Fiberlene cleaning paper.
If you have new skis, start by scraping off storage wax or factory-applied glide wax with a plexiglass scraper. Scrape the grip zones of your old skis if they have old wax on them. Pay attention to the centre groove.
Then brush about 15–20 times from tip to tail with a medium bronze brush to get all the old glide wax out of the gliding surfaces. Be sure to wipe away dust and anything else that remains after you have brushed. The skis should now be free of almost all wax.
Then spray base cleaner along the entire length of the base. Let it do its thing for a few minutes before wipe it off with Fiberlene cleaning paper, tip to tail. Wait until the ski cleaner has dried properly before going on.

2. Glide wax – the power of wheee!

Doing glide wax can actually be pretty good fun in the right circumstances – coffee, beer, friends over, some good music on… start plotting routes, day trips and logistics. You need your skis stable and, preferably, clamped. An old ski box with holes for the bindings and the shovel is better than nothing if you know what you’re doing. Keep the iron moving. You don’t want to spend more than five seconds on a single ski. Stay in a single place and you’ll burn the base; get the ski too hot and you can damage it internally. The temperature should be 110° for yellow wax and 120° for red.
Start by turning on the wax iron. Touch the glide wax block against the iron. Now you can either hold the block to the iron to drip a zig-zag pattern of melted wax in the glide zones, or you can use the block to crayon a layer of warm wax straight on to the base; this can make it easier to iron in.
Let the glide wax harden. You can put the skis out in the cold to make it harden faster. This takes ten minutes at least.
Scrape out wax from the centre groove. Then scrape excess wax from the bass with a plexiglas scraper, front to back, until you’ve got as much as you can off.
Finally, brush the sole with a medium brush until its shiny and smooth. You can polish the base at the end with a very fine fiberlene pad and the cork if you want to get your bases shiny and pretty.

Thin layers of glide was make less work. It’s easier to put down two layers of thin glide wax in two passes rather than scrape and brush out a thick layer. You also get more wax into the base this way.

It’s better to use glide wax that’s “too cold” for warm conditions than glide wax that’s “too warm” for cold conditions – harder glide waxes don’t slow you down in warm conditions as much as soft glide waxes can slow you down in cold conditions.

You can put new wax for changing conditions straight on to the wax you have on at a pinch, as long as your bases are not clearly dirty.

Åsnes Academy Ekspertpanel

Instant glide

A simpler method, which can easily be used out in the field or on a multi-day trip, is instant glide wax. This is a liquid glide wax you apply to the glide zone and then cork in. These can be bought in most sports shops and usually have an integrated cap and a built-in applicator, rather like a roll-on deodorant. Liquid glide waxes have a shorter life than hard wax glide waxes. While they’re not a replacement for hard glide wax, you can take one with you into granular spring snow as a top-up, or for extremely cold days when you just want to protect the sole a little…

Here’s a good example of a 100% PFC-free and biodegradable wax for bases and impregnating skins.

Grip zone

Also known as the wax pocket. This is where your grip wax goes. You don’t want to get glide wax in this area – grip wax doesn’t adhere to glide wax. It’ll come straight off.

There’s nothing stopping you from gently rubbing fine-grit sandpaper on the grip zone before you apply base wax, if you like. This is common for racing skiers to do, anyway. You may prefer a simpler approach, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Glide zone

The front and rear thirds of your ski bases: the smooth parts of the sole that bear your weight in the glide phase of the classic ski motion.

3. Base wax

Your choice. Racing folks like purpose-made base binder to bind their grip wax. Here, we prefer a hard grip wax like Swix Polar to do that job. Most of us only need to put base wax on once or twice the entire season. Even so it’s not necessarily the end of the world if you go entirely without – it just means stopping more often to reapply grip wax.

Before you apply the base binder to your wax pocket, gently rub the grip zone with fine sandpaper (100 or 120 grit). Your base wax wax will adhere better, and this your grip wax will too. It ends up being less work out in the wilds.

Åsnes Academy Expert Panel

The good news is that as long as you do the priming properly, you don’t need to apply base wax every time you go out for a tour. Regardless of which option you choose, it must be applied with heat. Apply a thin layer, let it harden, and cork it in. You can even use a cool iron if you like. Once this is done, let everything harden and cool down for 5–10 minutes. That’s it done for the whole season! Not that much work, really. After this, it’s just scraping and putting on the day’s grip.

4. Grip Wax

Grip wax goes on according to the conditions of the day: the thermometer and the age of the snow. Blue Swix on colder days; Red Swix on warmer days. How much, length-wise, and how many layers you put it on, depend on how far you’re going and how much you think the snow’s going to rub it off. The key to getting it right is simple:

Begin with something too cold and hard. Then apply something appropriate to the temperature. Start with a colder wax to bind and follow it up with a warmer wax. Experiment; find out what you like. The lower the temperature on the tin, the colder it can go. Swix Polar makes a great “base wax” being the coldest of them all.

Åsnes Academy Ekspertpanel

If you have old wax on your skis, just cork it to reinvigorate it and spread it uniformly again. Start from there. If the weather’s become milder, put on the wax of the day. If it’s colder, scrape it off: wax that’s too soft can absorb water melted through friction and freeze into ice. No one likes ice stilts. Add two thin layers of wax. Cork towards the centre from each side. Finally, add a third, final, layer that you don’t cork in too much. One of the most important things to remember is that it’s important to keep your layers of wax or klister thin. You can apply different kinds of grip wax in several layers, too – just always start with the coldest, hardest, wax at the bottom.

5. Klister

Finally we turn our attention to klister [ominous organ music]. All we can say is that despite its reputation, klister can be absolutely amazing. We can ski under a perfect blue May ski, in rotten snow, with perfect grip and wonderful glide, without icing up. Even the wax experts from the Norwegian national team love klister. Klisters come in tubes and sprays. Although sprays may seem tempting, and are probably the easiest to use, we would recommend going for tube klisters. They give the best results. Maybe give your skis a little gentle sanding before putting klister on if you can. Apply it in a herringbone pattern in a thin layer on the grip zone. Rub it in well – thumb or scraper first, and then a cork. When using universal klisters, apply colder klisters first. Thin layers are the rule here, too. Let each layer harden for 5–7 minutes before you add another. Also remember that klister’s hard work in the cold – room temperature is best. Keep the tube in your inner pocket

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