Before we dive into a full daily maintenance routine, it makes sense to explore a tangent that deserves its own discussion. From why you can’t wax every day to questions about how to wax for training versus racing, this is a particular area of struggle for many, many athletes. With a little hindsight and a few potentially new concepts, waxing can be reduced to a simple process that further minimizes the role of equipment in your success equation.
For starters, we need to revisit the cornerstone of successful racing ski management – how you use multiple pairs of skis for the same discipline. Erase the idea of “training” and “race” skis from your mind; Instead, think of your skis as Pair 1 and Pair 2. This change in mindset will benefit you immediately and make a colossal difference on race day. Skis break in the more you use them, and the more similar your skis are in feel and responsiveness, the better you’ll ski. Warming up on wet, slow skis and then jumping around the racetrack on springy, responsive skis is a one-way ticket to a DNF. You can develop a favorite pair that you run with regularly, but you need to make sure all pairs see the same snow weather.
Beyond this relatively simple solution, we need to address a number of potential hurdles to routinely waxing your skis or getting the most out of every effort when waxing. You may not know which wax system to use or feel like you don’t have the right tools. In any case and at each intermediate stage, you will be able to find excuses not to epilate, or at least not to do it regularly. If you don’t wax regularly and put in maximum effort the night before a race, you’re setting yourself up for failure. These potential obstacles require some tweaking, but can be fully resolved when broken down and addressed individually.
Choose a wax brand and system to use
Wondering which system or which brand to use? Pick one or two and get started. Do you find yourself short or without your first choice? Hopefully you’ll have a suitable alternative. “I regularly use two or three different brands of wax,” notes Ryan Mooney, technician for US Ski Team athlete Paula Moltzan. “I like to pick what I think is best, and it’s super helpful to know at least two systems so I’m never caught without something I can be sure will work.” Think of waxes as different viscosities of motor oil. If your car calls for 5W-20 and you only have 10W-30, your engine will appreciate having the wrong oil rather than none at all. This analogy with oil is relevant and the message rings clear: a wax close to what you need is better than nothing.
What about ways to make the process a little easier – things like a liquid or spray wax application, or rolling some wax with a wax pot and just scraping it off? For the most part, these alternatives are acceptable in moderation but should not be the first choice. Liquids show great promise and are certainly practical, but there is not enough data to recommend a wholesale change. The biggest concern is durability. Just like your motor oil, you want your wax to protect the sole from cold, aggressive and abrasive snow. While liquids lack the heating and cooling cycle of traditional shoe polish that actually makes the plastic base material more brittle, we have no evidence of the level of protection they provide over the long term. The wax pot can be a great way to quickly apply a super even coat of wax and can actually make it easier to work with harder waxes (think durability). But to take full advantage of it, you still need to iron the wax, scrape and brush.
So if the answer isn’t simpler, how about going for the more expensive waxes and overlays? This is a question that has two distinct areas to address. The first is a quick discussion of fluorocarbon additives in wax. The FIS announced a ban on fluorinated waxes in 2019, but this ban has not yet been implemented everywhere. While it’s debatable whether fluoros are always the fastest option (and some test data suggests they aren’t, at least not always), there’s no doubting the science. who supports the ban on the basis of personal health. Part of the success equation is the fitness and health variable. Using something that is known to cause health problems does not minimize this variable – it brings it out.
That said, the other area to address here is consistency. If you train with generic entry-level wax from your chosen company and then ramp things up with higher-end waxes and overlays, you are deliberately creating a situation where the consistency for which you worked so hard goes straight out the window. So, are you spending more and training with those expensive top waxes, or are you potentially compromising your efforts by training and racing with the most economical wax? “For many athletes, finding common ground can make sense,” Mooney offers, “but for athlete development, I would recommend the consistency of waxing the same level of wax every day.” Exceptions may exist here, such as switching to a more hydrophobic wax to combat new high humidity conditions and maintain training pace on race day. However, these exceptions are few and far between.
The last area to talk about when it comes to waxing is the tools you use to do the job. It’s easy to get sucked into crippling FOMO when or if you spot a shiny new tool. Stay strong and focus on working with what you have rather than not waxing because you feel like you’re missing a high-end brush or iron. You can get perfectly usable tools for any budget – using them is what will set your efforts apart. However, if you can, there’s one place Mooney suggests putting more money: your iron. “Ski bases aren’t as bombproof as many people think, so having a high-end iron that more accurately maintains a tight temperature window means you’ll get great wax application without burning the base.” Features like digital control and a thick base plate help ensure even and consistent heat, so if you’re upgrading, be sure to prioritize those.
As we pay more attention to the effort to minimize equipment in the larger equation of ski racing success, you’ll want to keep in mind that at almost every level the winner of the race is the athlete who made fewer mistakes than the second. finisher, not the person with the best wax application. And what is the key to making fewer mistakes? Train like you run.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which covers daily ski maintenance.