Kick and Glide
Glide Waxing: Beyond the Wax Charts
By IAN HARVEY
People frequently ask me whether flex, structure, or wax is the most important factor in having fast skis.
In fact, the skis are the most important factor. Some skis would be slow if you coated them in Fluorocarbon, weighted them with a heavy rock and dropped them off a cliff. Other skis are just pain fast. Ski speed depends on the base material and, especially, pressure distribution. In my experience, the fit of the ski is not nearly as important as whether you have a good pair of skis. In the elite international ski world, men and women frequently share and swap skating skis. If they are fast skis, that's fine. If the skis are fast for a light person, they'll be fast for a heavier person. Some skis get raced on twice a day during world championships and Olympics. Of course, it is nice to have a pair of skis designed for someone of your weight, but the biggest issue is whether or not they are fast.
Let us assume a person starts with a fast pair of skis. Even so, missing the structure (especially in extreme dry cold snow or wet snow) or the wax will dramatically slow the skis. If you want fast skis, you can't assume that one is more important than the other; ignore either and your skis will be slower, especially in the conditions where that factor is important.
So let's talk about glide waxing fast skis. Without wax -- ignoring for the moment the fact that glide wax also preserves bases -- ski bases would remain the same regardless of crystal type and water content of snow. And, of course, snow varies greatly. Waxing our skis allows us to make the bases harder, softer, more dirt resistant, more water repellent, more resistant to dry friction, and more resistant to static build up.
In very cold dry snow, the biggest enemy of speed is friction caused by extremely sharp and dry snow crystals dragging along the base. If we make our bases very hard with a very hard wax, then the skis will glide faster.
In very wet new snow, suction created by water molecules affixing themselves to the base of the ski is what slows skis down the most. In such conditions, we need to wax with a product that is highly water repellent. A water repellent wax causes the water to ball up, which means it covers less of the ski surface, and that means more speed. (See figure1.) Examples of water repellent waxes include any highly fluorinated glide wax and any fluorocarbon wax.
In dirty snow, the prime concern is avoiding dry friction between the dirt and the base and having the dirt affix itself to the ski, which makes wax and structure useless.
In dirty snow, the prime concern is avoiding dry friction between the dirt and the base and having the dirt affix itself to the ski, which makes wax and structure useless. Molybdenum waxes are very dirt resistant. Fluorinated glide wax and fluorocarbon waxes that contain Molybdenum are appropriate on dirty snow. Molybdenum also id an excellent conductor and as such is useful in getting rid of static electricity.
Wax charts generally are accurate in recommending the correct wax. It is important, though, to understand why certain waxes are recommended for particular conditions.
Figure 1 illustrates the difference in how water drops interact with a ski base treated with a normal glide wax versus a Highly Fluorinated or Fluorocarbon wax.