Defining the Wax Pocket
By Jim Galanes
From the 1996 Late Fall issue of New England Nordic News [This is the first part in a series of waxing information Jim has written for Star wax, and generously shared with NENN.

The correct length of camber, wax pocket and how long to wax is very important in the performance of classical skis. Many skiers today attempt to race on skis waxed very short, and some very long. Initially the skis that are waxed very short may feel as if they have enough kick when you are warming up on them, but later in the race when you begin to fatigue the skis no longer kick as well. Those who waxed too long will have great kick but very slow skis. The objective is to determine the optimal length wax pocket for your skis and the snow condition.

In most snow conditions a wax pocket should be between 45-50 centimeters for klister skis, and 50-55 centimeters for powder skis. The camber pocket on most skis generally runs from the heel plate on the ski and forward approximately 20-30 centimeters in front of the binding. In classical races kick is the most important component of waxing. Top skiers will most always sacrifice a little glide to ensure that they have the best kick possible.

There are several tests that will help you determine your optimal kick zone. The old stand by, the paper test is relatively reliable. Remember any test you do should be viewed as a good starting point. Issues like strength, endurance, snow conditions, ski stiffness and skiing technique will also play a role in how long or short you need to wax.

Paper Test: Mark the balance point on your skis. Place your skis on a flat smooth surface, about 6-20 centimeters. Stand on both skis with toes on the balance point placing equal weight on each ski. Have an assistant slide a piece of paper under the binding area of each ski. Move the paper as far forward and back as possible and mark that point on the sidewall of the ski. Finally fully weight each ski separately with the paper under the binding. For powder skis the paper should not slide at all, and for klister skis the paper should slide 10-20 centimeters, back and forward of the balance point . Again, if the skis you selected are close to the right stiffness for you, the camber pocket should be about 50-55 cm for powder skis and 45-50 cm for klister skis.

Flex Select: New to the market is a simple, yet precise testing bench that may more accurately help you determine the proper ski for you. This testing bench can measure the closing pressure of the ski, determine your wax pocket at half of your body weight, measure the length and height of your camber pocket, as well as evaluate the over-all flex characteristics of the ski. All of these measurements can help you determine proper ski flex and select a ski for a given snow condition.

Ski Test: Using either the paper test or the Flex-Select bench to mark the camber pocket will provide you with a reasonable starting point. Remember that you did the test on a hard surface; most snow conditions are nowhere near that hard. You may have to vary your forward wax line plus or minus five centimeters. In warmer conditions - extra blue wax and warmer - you may need to wax shorter and thicker, while in cold dry fresh snow - blue wax and colder - you may need to wax longer and thinner.

Skiing in a variety of conditions will help you fine-tune your wax pocket. Apply kick wax in the camber pocket as determined by one of the above mentioned tests. Ski for a few kilometers and evaluate the skis' performance, the kick and glide. Look at the wax for wear: if you have waxed too long, the wax will begin to show signs of wearing where it is out of the pocket and the skis may feel slow. If the skis are not wearing or are slipping, first wax a little thicker. If they still do not kick after waxing thicker, then wax a little longer, perhaps 3-5 centimeters. When you feel you have very good kick, ski for a while so you can develop a feel for the wax. Then begin shaving the wax with a spatula a couple of centimeters at a time. Every time you shave the wax use a crayon to mark the location. Ski for a kilometer or two and make a note of the kick and glide. Keep repeating the shaving process until the wax still has very good kick and the skis get faster. Stop the process when the kick is no longer acceptable. Your wax pocket then is the last mark where you had very good kick. After some trial and error you should know if the pre-selected wax pocket works for you.

Preparing the Ski for Kick Wax:
Base flattening, structuring, and glide waxing are covered in the V2 Star Ski Tuning and Glide Waxing Guide. The same ski preparation process should be followed here. On classical skis it is important not to glide wax in the kick zone as it will reduce the durability of kick wax. Light sanding of the kick zone will improve the durability of the wax. In powder conditions sand the kick zone with 150 grit sandpaper. Sanding can go in both directions up and down the ski. Sand until there is a uniform texture in the kick zone. In more abrasive hard wax and klister conditions use 120 grit sandpaper. The objective is to open up the base, and to rough the base slightly. You should not sand across the base or rough the base so much as to create long hairs. This will only make it difficult to apply a smooth film of wax.
[Jim Galanes is now living in Anchorage, Alaska, where he has started up the GOLD 2002 program, with the goal of winning medals in the 2002 Olympics. His program has already attracted a broad range of athletes ranging from juniors to masters skiers.]