Winter 2023/2024 Season Review with David Chamberlain

We had a bad winter – but I can’t remember a time when the spirit of cross-country ski racing in this country has ever been stronger. 

Gear West planned an ambitious year of ski services before the dismal 23/24 winter began. Luckily most all the ski venues and event organizing committees around the country kept ahead of the lack of snow and were able to provide top-notch competitions.  Gear West attended many of them.

This season we brought on board Joe Haggenmiller (DXC program director) to help with our GW JNQ wax services.  Speedy (Gear West’s founding staff member, coach, and dad of his three talented skiing young adults), Joe and I worked four very successful service weekends at JNQ events. The three of us made a great team and the weekends gave us a chance to connect with coaches and athletes at all these events. Most importantly, we produced great skis for our athletes who were skiing in very difficult weather conditions. 

For me, helping junior athletes with their skis at race events is hugely rewarding and the highlight of my winter. We had a very successful season and Gear West will continue to evolve race service offerings for next year.

Additionally, a unique span of cross-country ski events happened in North America this year and I was fortunate enough to attend several.   Beginning in January, I spent four days at US Nationals in Soldier Hollow supporting skiers on a 3k man-made loop.  For the Minneapolis World Cup in February, I was the head wax tech for Sophia Velicer from the Chinese Taipei Ski Association.  We all know how great that event turned out to be.  At the American Birkibeiner, Joe and I teamed up again to run our Gear West wax service.  We pumped out service skis everyday, all week long! We also worked with Alayna Sonnesyn over the weekend to help her reach the podium in a very strong women’s field.  I spent a week in British Columbia helping the Para team wax skis for their Biathlon World Championships in March.  Recently Joe and Speedy spent a week in Lake Placid helping the wax crew at Junior Nationals and Gear West’s Sam Nelson traveled to Ontario to help the Midwest crew that raced at Canadian Nationals. It was a busy year of Gear West service indeed.

Another positive within this disappointing winter weather was our testing of the new fluoro free waxes. Our concern has been that warm, transformed snow conditions would bring slow skis no matter the combination of  fluoro-free waxes. The random warm condition on race day had produced a lot of hand wringing about the right combination of ski flex, grind, hand structure, waxes and topcoats.

Pure fluoro powders and topcoats were always a sure thing (fast skis in warm weather) and we have not had a chance to test alternative stone grinds and waxes on heavily transformed snow until this year.  Although current warm weather waxes still do not produce the absolute top end speed of pure fluoro topcoats, I can report after a season of warm temps, the news is not all bad. It is possible to have very fast skis with the right combination of ski, structure and wax.

Below, I highlight a few products and ideas that stood out when testing at events:


  1. Swix TSP Powders – These powders have consistently proven to be winners in many different conditions and temperatures. We found throughout the season that iron temperatures are very important when applying the powders. We have been ironing in the powders at 200C for best results.  The strongest powders in the line seem to be TSP5, TSP7 and TSP10.  TSP10 has been especially solid in many different conditions and can often run outside of its printed temperature range.  Brushing these powders out thoroughly is important. We use a steel rotobrush that has been de-tuned with sand paper and fibertex.
  2. Liquids – Non-Fluoro liquids continue to evolve and impress in certain conditions. We have had very good luck with liquids from Swix, Rode, Rex and Star this season.  For below freezing conditions we often like TS7L and Rode Med. For conditions above freezing, Swix TS10L.  The Toko HP liquids and Rex NF21 have also stood out on occasion.   These liquids can be used alone or layered over paraffin and powder.  Often, 2 thin layers applied on top of each other will produce the best results.
  3. Turbo waxes – Applying wax to a roto wool, and roto brushing onto the race ski is a concept that has been around awhile. Ulla and the new Swix Turbo waxes are the most visible on the market now, and are designed for this purpose. However, any block of wax can be applied this way.  We have seen Swix Marathon and Marathon black give very good results when applied in this manner.  The trick is to use a wool with sharp barbs that grabs the wax and applies it directly to the ski.  Waxes applied this way can be as a topcoat over paraffins and powders or added as a single layer.  We have also had luck using these as a base for a liquid topcoat. 
  4. Application tests- When product tests are completed and the fast powders, paraffins, liquids and blocks are identified for the conditions – application tests are the last step to try various ways of applying these waxes. I do this with the Para team at international events.  In my opinion it’s most important with the new fluoro-free waxes.  At the Para Worlds in British Columbia last week we tried an application of marathon where we scraped the ironed wax off and went straight to a roto wool, skipping the usual brushing.  It was by far the fastest in our test and we used it in the race with good results.   Many ways of using waxes are difficult to identify by forecast and conditions only – we need to test.   It is a fun, creative and successful way to do ski service.
  5. Wax rollers – Gear West has been using wax rollers in our service department for a several years and now they are brought to events on the road. The Swix wax roller and their affordable wax trays make it possible to create a tray collection of our favorite waxes. We keep these waxes in storage until needed. We then select the wax tray needed and roll wax quickly and smoothly.  This system adds efficiency to our service and makes waxing skis much, much easier.

We are also using trays for our favorite klisters.  When travelling to events we always bring a tray of Rode Special Violet, Swix K22, and Rode Multigrade.  These three klisters are often the foundation of great skis as we mix in other klisters onto the ski. 

  1. Ski grinds. Of course, the right grind is the foundation to a fast-gliding ski. In the no- fluoro wax era, having a correct and quality warm weather grind is most important. Our universal and warm weather grinds all use our Variotech technology on our Tazzari RP23 allowing us to vary the pressure and speed of the feedwheel as the ski passes over the stone.  The result are grinds that are lighter and more angled towards the front of the ski allowing for better ski feel while climbing.  The grinds then get progressively less angled and deeper towards the back of the ski where the moisture needs to be managed.  We have tested many variations over the last couple years and the results were evident this year in warm conditions.


Additionally, this year gave us the opportunity to test grinds at many different national and international events.  We were able to test skis and get feedback from the teams we work with as well.  A grinders job is to always keep up with the weather and tweak our popular grinds to get the most performance under changing snow conditions.  This is a continual process and allows us to always get %110 out of our machine.  Constantly learning and testing structure as it relates to ski flex and weather is a fascinating process; I will always continue to learn and apply knowledge to our customers’ skis.

In closing I will plug our summer ski picking trip and our grinding services.  A good race experience starts with a high quality ski. We take a lot of care during our picking trips to find the best stock of skis and hand pick every order. 

Check out the information and sign-up for a custom ski pick at

To use cooking terms, think of the your ski as the base produce and grinding as the spices you add to get the most out of your ingredients.  A good base structure is very important for ski performance. Just as important is the flattening and polishing that brings the base material back to a clean state.  This process must be done with care and patience and there are no shortcuts.  The offseason is a great opportunity to stop by the shop and discuss skis and grinds with us.

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