Central Oregon Daily▶️ Little Did I Know: The science of ski wax

▶️ Little Did I Know: The science of ski wax

▶️ Little Did I Know: The science of ski wax

▶️ Little Did I Know: The science of ski wax

This story originally aired Jan. 21, 2022. 

If you’re a skier of the downhill or cross country variety, you’ve likely run into days when your skis weren’t properly waxed – making for a bad day on the snow.

But wait, isn’t snow basically ice? Ice is supposed to be slippery and the ski is supposed to be slippery, right? I’m confused.

Thankfully, with “Little Did I Know,” I get to talk to people that know a lot more than I do.

“Snow stuck to the bottom of the skis is a bummer, for sure,” said Sunnyside Sports co-owner Mike Schindler. “You know, there’s a couple of causes of it, but in essence … it’s snow crystals not coming out of the ski base, getting stuck into the ski base and then just like a snowball — once that happens a little bit, then it’s kind of this runaway train.”

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Thankfully, I’ve learned to keep a bottle of liquid wax and even a chunk of solid wax in my backpack to help keep a great day from turning into a multi-hour slog out in the woods.

“The idea with wax is that you’re keeping those snow crystals, as you’re sliding over the snow, it’s basically melting the snow just a little bit. Gives you a surface to slide on and different temperature waxes help that occur better in different temperatures,” Schindler said.

Getting a wax tuneup gets the wax into the pores of the skis, whereas the liquid and solid waxes you have at home are just basically a Band-Aid.

“Think of it just more of as a lubricant, because it’s not going into the base itself. It’s just keeping those snow crystals from being able to attach physically to the pattern of the ski,” Schindler said.

Now, the kind of skis I have have a fish scale pattern on the bottom in order to add grip. They’re deceptively called “no wax skis.”

“No wax base is a very bad term because you do need to put some sort of wipe-on wax on there. So they’re talking about no kick wax, which is unfortunate because people go, ‘Oh. No wax ski. Sweet. I never have to do anything to it.’ Which is what you would think, but that’s actually not not true.

Downhill aficionados know how temperature can adversely affect their day on the hill, especially on those early winter and spring-like conditions.

“It’s probably the hardest because the sun will just cook one aspect. So that snow is slush. And then around the corner it’s 20 degrees snow. And so you kind of have to figure out, maybe just go for something in between and know that you’re going to be slow on one end and maybe a little faster on the other,” Schindler said. “Things ice up, too, right? So you get that warm snow to ice up and then it turns to just ice ice.”

Thankfully, there are some new technologies that are helping make your day in the snow a bit more consistent.

“There’s some really great spray-on waxes now that you just brush off, which are very much easier to use. You’re not ironing or having necessarily a bunch of specific equipment. So, I’m actually probably the most excited about some of that new stuff that’s making things easier rather than making it more complex.”

In the end, having your skis properly waxed isn’t as much about speed as you would think.

“Waxing does make skis faster, but for me, it’s more of it makes the ski ski uniform. And so you can actually get better technique knowing that the ski is going to slide a certain way and be consistent and you can actually have a lot more fun,” Schindler said.

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