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How to Choose Ski Wax
Wax is important for two reasons. It improves glide and protects your ski/snowboard base from oxidation that will degrade its properties and shorten its useful life. There are several forces that work against you:
- Wet friction - overcome by wax and brushing.
- Dirt friction - overcome by anti-static (moly) additives to wax.
- Static friction - overcome by anti-static (moly) additives to wax.
- Kinetic friction - overcome by wax and brushing.
The ski/snowboard base is porous and will soak up wax; the wax will bleed out of the base as you ski and lubricate the surface to enhance your glide and protect your ski base against these frictional forces that can contribute to oxidation. But remember that you ski on your base, not your wax, the wax only lubricates. You need to scrape and brush all the wax off the ski base surface. Sharp snow crystals (especially for fresh snow) will dig into the surface wax and slow you down.
Everyone starts with a hydrocarbon wax. This is the most basic of waxes. Recreational skiers will use this alone; racers and high performance seekers will use wax with additives.
All synthetic waxes use a hydrocarbon base to which various additives are incorporated.
- Hydrocarbon waxes: These waxes are primarily made up of three types of hydrocarbons: paraffin, microcrystalline, and synthetic waxes that are combined together in various proportions. Paraffins are soft, candle-like waxes, that have low coefficients of friction allowing the ski to glide easily over the snow crystals. Microcrystalline waxes are a branched type of hydrocarbon that are more durable than paraffins and do not wear off as fast. Synthetic waxes are slightly branched hydrocarbons that also make the wax stronger.
- Molybdenum (moly) or graphite additive: The molybdenum additive counteracts electrostatic effects that slow you in cold, dry snow; it also repels dirt in warm snow. Molybdenum is better than graphite, and considered a speed additive as well.
- Fluorocarbon additives: Fluorocarbons are hydrocarbons where some or all of the hydrogen atoms (attached to the carbon backbone) have been replaced with fluorine atoms. Fluorine is very hydrophobic, meaning that it repels water molecules. Fluorocarbons give increased glide in moist and wet snow conditions by reducing the attraction between the water and the base.
Wax Temperature Ratings
RaceWax temperature rating numbers can be for air temperature or the snow temperature. For most skiers an air temperature rated system is much easier to use. Racers may consider multiple factors: snow temperatureand the effects of sun/shade/wind on flat or steep sections of a race course.
For RaceWax hydrocarbon waxes there are 3 basic types:
- Warm rated (Red or Yellow) hydrocarbon is best above 25 F. It is a great wax to ski on but is also used for conditioning a new base and is the best wax for hot-wax-scrape-cleaning.
- Cold rated (Green or Blue) hydrocarbon is best below 25 F.
- Universal all-temperature (White) hydrocarbon is a good one-wax system for non-racers. No wax is truly universal but for recreational skiers, the performance difference will not be noticeable (fractions of seconds).
- If you do ski in the ultra cold or ski very aggressively and you tend to get dryness in your bases (especially under the bindings) you may want to consider using the Swix CH3 powder as an additive to your wax of choice to harden and fortify it. Just apply your wax, spread it with the iron, sprinkle on CH3, then iron them in together.
Race Day Considerations
Factors that affect wax selection include:
- Temperature: For most waxes, use the air temperature as a starting point in the selection process. Most race days vary in temperature between the morning and afternoon; select a wax for the coldest temperature of the day.
- Snow crystals: New snow is sharp. For this wax colder.
- Humidity: The wax selection may change depending if the wax is wet enough to make a snowball. Consult the a manufacturer Wax Wizard or chart for details.
- Wind: If the air is dry it will decrease the moisture in the snow making conditions drier. If it is foggy, the moisture will increase; brushing will be important here.
- Sun: If the critical flat sections of the course are in the shade wax colder, and if they are in the sun wax warmer and brush thoroughly.
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