Guide to Hot Waxing Cross Country Skis
Here at Gear West, we live and breathe cross country skiing in all forms. Flying through the snow under your own power and enjoying the outdoors and scenery is a great way to enjoy winter. Part of the sport is maintaining your equipment. All skis (classic or skate) have glide zones and benefit from wax. Glide wax improves efficiency and keeps you moving across the snow.
Hot waxing is the best way to get the most out of your skis. You don't need to wax your skis every time you go out, but if you are an avid skier we recommend waxing once a week or when the temperatures undergo major changes. More on that later.
Many shops including Gear West can wax your skis, but learning how to do it yourself can be rewarding and help you fine-tune your skis for specific conditions. It will also save you some money over time. So here's what you need to know if you're getting started.
Our guide: Brian McCollor (a.k.a. Speedy)
Speedy has skied since the 70s on Minnesota trails and has seen the sport evolve from wood skis to modern equipment we sell today. He's the head coach of the Orono high school ski team and has also helped several young skiers qualify for Junior Nationals. He has waxed thousands of skis in his lifetime.
Here's what Speedy recommends for getting started.
The goal is to hold the ski in place while we work on the base. Forms come in many different varieties. Here at the shop we use a wood form made by a guy whose son works at the store (he also makes them for you to purchase). We have forms from Swix, Vasa, Toko, and more but anything that holds your ski in place will do. You can clamp forms to an existing workbench, or get a complete table and form set up from Swix. Choose your warrior and set up shop in your basement, garage, storage room, or wherever you have space. We also recommend putting a tarp under your set up to catch wax shavings. The travel profile from Swix is great option for anyone who doesn't want to set up a waxing studio in their basement.
I've owned the same iron 20 years. A nice iron is worth the investment. I like it because it has a beveled edge and efficient base. I lead with the bevel edge and run it over the ski from tip to tail with some pressure on the iron. Temperature control is also important. All waxing irons now have a relatively accurate temperature setting, dial or digital, that will improve the process. Check out Gear West's selection of waxing irons here. Nicer irons will come with more accurate temperature readings and thicker bases, which better hold and regulate temperature.
Scraper and Groove Pin
The 3 mm scraper is more flexible and works when your ski base isn't totally flat. You need just one to get started. All groove pins are the same, we often have options from Swix or Toko.
Stiff Nylon Brush
You'll also need a stiff nylon brush. It takes off excess wax. Many people will eventually buy more than one brush. They can make a difference, especially if you want a ski that goes fast right away. A brass or copper brush then a polishing brush would be the next step but are not necessary for getting started. (Here)
There are two ways that you can go about finding the right waxes. The first is the most simple option. Buy two waxes that work almost always.
Here in the Midwest:
Start Green for when it stays below 14 degrees. (Here)
Rex Blue for warmer temps 14-28 degrees. (Here)
Another approach to wax:
The second is finding a line you like. You can do this by talking to people (like me) and experimenting. In this fluoro-free era, I personally like the Rode Wax line because it's fairly economical and performs well. Each wax line with have different "colors" that correspond with different temperatures. Develop familiarity with one and don't be afraid to mix and match colors.
I also tell people to wax a little colder than the actual temperature. Snow temperatures lag behind the air temps, so consider waxing for last night's low. I'm still using start green when it's 25 degrees out.
I also recommend waxing your skis when there is a big change in temperature. It might be warm and you're running Rode Violet R30 when a blizzard blows through and it's -10F overnight. The warm wax will feel especially draggy, and it's time to apply Start Green.
How to wax:
Step 1. Set your iron to the temperature listed on the wax container. Each wax will have a slightly different melt-point.
Step 2. Hold the wax to the iron then allow the wax to drip on the ski. If you're waxing classic skis, avoid waxing the kick zone.
Step 3. Smooth the wax by running the iron over the entire ski. You want to make sure the entire base is covered, then wait ten minutes or until the wax firms up. We want to be careful not to overheat the base of our skis, and keep the iron moving. A good rule of thumb is that you should always be able to lay your hand on the ski base immediately after ironing. If it burns you, it's too hot! Turn the iron down and keep er movin'.
Step 4. Groove scraping. I like to scrape the grooves while the wax is still warm. It makes less of a mess.
Step 5. Use your 3 mm scraper and run it from tip to tail. Push with both thumbs distributing even pressure on the scraper. Direction is important. You want to remove wax from tip to tail. This applies to ironing, scraping, and brushing. Make a second or third pass if you're still seeing lots of wax on the base.
Step 6. Brush. Once the wax is mostly gone, use your stiff nylon brush to get off the excess. By this point, you should have a ski that looks relatively polished.
This covers the basic process of hot waxing your skis. There are a variety of brushes, types of wax, and more that you can add to your collection as you learn more. Don't be afraid to experiment with different waxes, temperature, and types of snow. We're always here for questions and recommendations.
We have a lot more about cross country ski waxing on our gear blog, including a post about using liquid glide wax. You can also check out our entire offering of ski wax service here. If you're doing events, we also have wax recommendations here.
Happy skiing (and waxing),