Do You Need to Wax Your Waxless Cross-country Skis?

Do you need to wax your waxless cross-country skis?

In a nutshell: yes!

Common sense might dictate: “Well, they’re waxless…why would I need to wax them?”

The truth is, the phrase ‘waxless’ is slightly misleading! This misnomer can create confusion and a fair bit of head scratching for new cross-country skiers and experts alike. In this article we are going to discuss the different types of waxes that exist and how they pertain to waxless skis. 

Why do we Wax Cross-country Skis?

There are two fundamental reasons why we wax our skis: to increase the speed and agility with which we glide across the snow, and to protect the base of our skis from premature wear and tear. When it comes to cross-country skis in particular, there is a third reason why wax is necessary: we need grip and traction to sustain forward motion as we move across the snow.

To the naked eye, the base of your ski probably looks smooth and even. Take a closer look with a microscope, however, and you’ll see that the base is porous, comprised of many microscopic holes. By filling the pores of the base with wax you are protecting them from erosion. This protective layer also enables you to glide across the ice quickly and elegantly – a double victory!

Because of the constant friction that is generated during skiing, you must continuously re-apply the wax to the base of your skis. The frequency of re-applications depends on the intensity and duration of your ski session and the condition of the snow.

First Things First: Understand the Difference Between Glide Wax and Kick Wax

When it comes to cross-country skiing there are two types of wax: glide wax and kick wax. It is necessary to understand the specific functions of both types of wax in order to appreciate the term ‘waxless skis’.

I’ll start with a story that will highlight the importance of choosing the right wax. Many years ago I bought my first pair of Salomon skating skis. The sales associate informed me that they were pre-waxed. What that meant for me was ten uses before I would have to wax them again. Awesome! After consistent use, I invested in a wax stick for my skis. I didn’t pay too much attention to the label, focusing more on the color-coded temperature range of the wax I purchased.

I took the skis out on the trail that day and I remember clearly what a frustrating experience that was. Gliding was simply not happening. Every movement was jerky and I felt like I was going nowhere. It’s safe to say I was the slowest skier in the group that afternoon. I headed back to the lodge discouraged and curious about where I had gone wrong. The answer proved to be simple: I had incorrectly used kick wax rather than glide wax on my skating skis! This is a rookie mistake, sure, but one that many experienced skiers will admit to having made. I’ll give you a spoiler as to what I learned: all skis, waxless classic skis included, need to be waxed – the questions is how and which wax to use. I’ll explain that in more detail below. Let’s go!

Kick Wax or Glide Wax – Which to Use?

To understand which wax to use you’ll want to figure out whether you’ll need your wax for skating or classic cross-country skiing!

In classic cross-country skiing, you press each ski down and kick against the snow, alternating from left to right, in order to sustain a forward-moving motion. The middle section of the ski base, which you push down onto the snow, is called the kick or grip zone. The areas of the ski base outside the kick zone (tip and tail regions) are for gliding, not pushing. A classic cross-country ski, therefore, has both a gliding zone and a grip or kick zone. Compare this with the skate technique where you push against the edge of your ski to move forward in a quick succession of motions. The skating cross-country ski has no kick zone- the entire base of is a glide zone.

The difference between the kick zone and the glide zone necessitates the need for two distinct waxes. Kick wax is used for better grip and traction for classic cross-country skiing and glide wax is used to support gliding for both classic and skating cross-country skiing.

With the above insights in mind, it’s clear why I couldn’t glide that day many years ago when I waxed my skating skis for the first time! The whole base of a skating ski is for gliding. Therefore it only needs glide wax.

Now Onto the Main Event: Why You Need to Wax Waxless Skis

Time for a recap!

The rules for waxing a cross-country skiing are as follows:

  • Glide wax is used for both classic and skating skis. It is applied to the entire base of a skate ski and the glide zone (tip and tails only) of classic skis. This rule applies to both wax and waxless classic skis! Easy right?
  • Kick wax is only used for classic wax cross-country skis. It is applied to the kick zone of the ski, alternately referred to as the wax pocket. Skating skis never require kick wax and neither do no-wax classic skis!
  • If you own classic wax skis and want to avoid the use of kick wax, tough luck! Your skis simply won’t perform if you skip the kick wax. Your only option is to invest in no-wax classic skis.

With these insights in mind, it comes as no surprise that first-time buyers of classic cross-country skis will usually start their quest with one key question in mind: wax or no-wax?

The Main Differences Between Wax and Waxless Classic Cross-country Skis

The difference between wax and waxless classic cross-country skis is in the kick zone. The kick zone of a waxless ski contains a built-in structure that makes kick wax redundant. Traditional models have what could be described as a fish-scale pattern etched into the base. Recently, however, new technology is gaining traction among cross-country skiers. This new technology involves teflon-infused synthetic mohair skin. These skis are referred to as ‘skin skis’ and some skiers swear that they perform better in icy and fresh snow conditions alike.

Whether you choose the fish-scale or skin ski variety the basic function of a no-wax ski is that its built-in structure offers mechanical grip that makes wax unnecessary. Wax skis lack this structure, which is why they require kick wax for grip. Otherwise, you’ll slip back and never get anywhere.

When it comes to choosing between wax or waxless skis you’ll probably want some more insight into their respective performance levels. If you do some research you’ll discover that different skiers advocate different skis. It all depends on who you ask!

A general rule is that wax skis are faster, but only if they are waxed properly. That means that both kick wax and glide wax must be used appropriately. The glide is said to be smoother with a wax ski.

As someone who has tried wax skis, fish-scale no-wax skis, and skin no-wax skis, I can confidently say that I enjoyed every single experience. I didn’t notice any significant differences. I’ll admit that I’m no classic racing expert. I’m definitely more of a recreational skier and this impacts my personal perspective on the matter. Also, the performance of the ski always depends strongly on the snow conditions and your skiing level. Best is to try out yourself under different conditions.

If you do go for wax skis just remember that you need to properly apply your kick and glide wax in order to get the most out of your skiing experience.

Waxless or Waxable Skis – Which One is Right For Me?

At the end of the day, choosing between waxless or wax skis comes down to personal preference. If you’re a beginner or a recreational skier, I recommend buying waxless skis. They are less of a hassle and they make the learning curve a bit easier to navigate. It removes the kick wax application step so you have more time on the trails!

However, if performance is your primary driver and you are motivated by speed and agility than I recommend choosing traditional wax skis. Be advised that these skis will require the extra kick wax application step. That shouldn’t be an issue if you’re a die-hard skiing fan, though!