By Jim Galanes
From the 1996 MidWinter issue of New England Nordic News [This is the third part in a series of waxing information Jim has written for Star wax, and generously shared with NENN.
What makes wax kick?
Hard wax works by penetration. With hard waxes the sharp snow crystals
momentarily penetrate the wax during the kick and are brushed free as the ski
glides forward. When there is free water, snow penetration or adhesion of the
wax is difficult. Softer klister waxes are then needed to get kick. With the
klister waxes the rounder snow crystals adhere to the wax during the kick and
are brushed free during the glide forward. On ice it is hard to have good grip
because of the large size of the snow crystals; as the size of the snow crystals
decreases, it is easier to get kick. This is why the softer klister waxes are
necessary for these conditions.
With all waxes if the skis slip, the wax is too hard. If the wax is too soft,
the snow crystals penetrate deeply and do not brush off, allowing the ski to
build up ice.
Each wax has an optimal temperature and snow condition range, though they will
work beyond their optimal range. Waxes must have a relatively broad range in
order to get kick over a race course that may have a variety of snow conditions.
The farther away from the optimal range, the waxes will either be too slippery
or will ice up. There is also over-lap between the waxes for each condition.
Waxing can be made as simple or as complicated as you like. We highly recommend
waxing as simply as possible. Combining many different waxes makes it difficult
to determine which wax is interacting with the snow. Cardinal Rule of Kick
Waxing: Do not mix two or three waxes, when one would work just fine.
Hard Wax or Klister?
A rule of thumb: Hard waxes are used in all fresh fallen and fine grained snow
conditions; klister is used in coarse grained snow that has gone through a melt
and freeze process. Although with modern grooming equipment this snow is tilled
repeatedly, and the crystals become smaller and more fine grained. At the
colder temperatures below -3 to -5 centigrade, a binder-hard wax combination may
work best. In these conditions if klister is used, the fine grained ice
particles penetrate the klister and stay there. This results in a buildup of ice
in the wax, making the skis slow and slippery. As a rule of thumb when the
temperature is below zero centigrade, and the snow has been tilled a lot, first
try binder and hard wax.
There are also conditions where it is necessary to use both klister and hard
wax. This transitional condition normally occurs at temperatures just below
zero centigrade, where there is a mixture of coarse grained and fined grained
snow. In these conditions apply the klister first, heat in and smooth the
klister, let the klister fully cool for 5-10 minutes, then cover with a hard
The recommended ranges on each tube of wax are based upon air temperature. These
ranges are the optimal ranges for each wax: remember some of these waxes can be
extended well beyond their optimal temperature range with good success. For
racing it is also important to consider humidity. As mentioned earlier, in high
humidity conditions it is necessary to wax warmer than indicated. In low
humidity conditions a colder wax may be called for.
Hard waxes are used in new fallen and fine grained snow, and over a hard wax
binder or klister binder in coarse grained snow conditions below freezing. The
thickness of the wax is very important. With the colder special blue and green
waxes a couple of layers should be enough. In warmer blue and violet
conditions, a slightly thicker layer of wax may be used. Again in the warmer
waxes, red special, red and yellow klister, very thin layers are all that is
necessary. Too thick a layer in these new fallen, warm snow conditions will
result in snow buildup that will not break loose.
As a rule of thumb, softer waxes are usually applied over harder waxes. Of
course there are exceptions to this rule. In some new and fine grained snow
conditions, a softer wax is needed to get kick on the lower or warmer points of
the course, and a hard wax will keep it from icing at the higher colder portions
of the course (see below "Hard wax over a softer wax").
Applying Hard Waxes
The application of hard waxes is relatively easy. Simply crayon the wax on the
base using light even strokes. To increase the durability of any kick wax for
racing, the first layer should be heated in using an iron, torch or a hot air
gun. The ski should then be cooled fully and polished with a cork. Apply a
couple more layers cold and then polish smooth. When using the cork, hold the
cork firmly, use light even pressure on the cork to smooth the wax. If the wax
does not smooth easily, the layer was either too heavy or applied too roughly.
When using the softer violet and red waxes, it is much easier to apply if the
wax is cold. I generally either apply these waxes outdoors, or have tubes of the
wax sitting out doors staying cold until I am ready to use them. They crayon
much better this way.
Hard wax over a softer wax
The reason for covering hard wax over a softer wax is to have a softer wax that
will kick on the warmer sections of the course and a harder wax that will keep
it from icing over in the colder, drier sections. It is important to maintain
the two characteristics of the waxes. Apply a base layer of a slightly harder
wax than will be used. Crayon the wax on, heat it in, cool it fully, then
polish with a cork. Apply a thin layer or two of the softer wax (for example,
red special). Cork each layer smooth. Cool the ski fully. Cover with the
harder wax (for example, blue) outdoors on a cool ski. Use very light layers so
the wax will easily cork smooth. Apply two to four layers of cover depending on
the wax and the needs of your skis. Be sure not to cork too hard or too long to
avoid mixing the waxes. Cooling the skis well in between the layers, and not
generating too much heat with the cork is very important in this process.
Binder (Orange Base Wax)
Orange binder is used as base wax for other hard waxes in old, abrasive snow
conditions. The base binder contains rubber compounds that will improve the
durability of the final wax by reducing wear. Base binders will slow the wax
slightly, especially if it is not covered well with the wax of the day.
For base binders to work effectively and not slow the ski, the application is
very important. Base binder is perhaps the trickiest of all waxes to apply
well. The simplest method of applying base binder is to freeze the wax first.
Put it outdoors for five or ten minutes before you are going to use it, or even
put it in your freezer. Starting with it frozen allows you to crayon on the wax
as you would any other hard wax. It is important that base binder be applied
thin and even.
After you crayon on the binder, it can be corked smooth, using a cork dedicated
only to binder, or ironed in. If you cork the binder smooth, it will need to be
heated into the base with an iron or torch to improve its durability. After
heating the binder in, cool the ski completely, and cork it, using light even
strokes, to make the layer smooth and even. If the binder layer is smooth, the
final covering process will be much easier.
Another method for applying base binder is to pass the binder through a torch to
warm it, then lightly dab it on the base. Do not heat the wax up so much that
you get big globs of wax on the base. Then, using a torch and a folded piece of
fiber paper, heat the binder and lightly wipe the binder to smooth it and cover
the base with an even film of wax. After ragging the wax, completely cool the
ski and cork the layer of binder into a smooth even film.
When the binder has fully cooled, you are ready to apply the wax of the day.
This process is best done outdoors so the wax stays cold. Crayon the wax over
the binder in an even layer. Cork the wax smooth; do not cork the ski with too
much pressure so as not to heat up the binder. The first layer of kick wax
should be heated into the binder. This will improve both its speed and
durability. Then apply a couple of more layers of the wax of the day outside.
[Jim Galanes is now living in Anchorage, Alaska, where he has started the GOLD
2002 program, with the goal of winning medals in the 2002 Olympics, as well as
ensuring long term success in cross country ski racing. His program has already
attracted a broad range of athletes from juniors to masters skiers. Check the
http://www.arctic.net/xc/elite/program.htm for more info on Jim's program.]