cross country skiing planet

Waxing your Cross-Country Skis: A Simple and Effective Guide

Intimidated by the whole waxing deal? Don’t be! Today I’m going to shed some light on the waxing process for cross-country skis and put the myth that waxing is complicated to bed for good! Unless you are a cross-country addict or involved in competitive skiing, you likely don’t have to worry about all the nitty-gritty. Recreational skiers can get out on the trails armed with these simple and effective pointers.

Today I’m going to reveal a simplified waxing system that will get you on the slopes in no time. Choosing the right wax and correctly applying it is far from rocket science and any cross-country skier can take ownership of the process rather than relying on ski hill staff.

Skating or Classic? Identify Your Skis

Firstly, you need to identify what kind of cross-country skis you have! There are two types of ski waxes, and they fulfill similar, but slightly different functions, for both classic and skating cross-country skis.

Glide wax is the wax you will encounter more frequently. All cross-country skis require glide wax. Glide wax is applied to the entire base of skate style skis. It is applied to the glide zone (the tips and tails) of waxable and no-wax classic skis.

Kick wax is only necessary for waxable classic cross-country skis. It is applied solely to the kick zone, also referred to as the wax pocket, of the ski. The wax pocket is loosely defined as the middle section of the base under the bindings. If you have skating skis, you simply don’t need kick wax. We’re going to go into further detail on kick wax in the following section.

I have Classic Skis – What is a Wax Pocket?

Waxable classic cross-country skis feature both a glide zone and a kick zone. Should you have a waxable classic ski, you will need both glide wax and kick wax as per the section above.

But where is the wax pocket? Where do you apply the kick wax? If you answered ‘the kick zone under my ski’, you’re on the right track, but that is not the whole story. When you have a ready-to-wax ski in front of you, you must identify the wax pocket, or kick zone, of your specific sets of skis. The exact boundaries of the wax pocket vary and have a lot to do with your individual weight, skiing style, and the length of the skis. If kick wax is applied incorrectly, the quality of your skiing will be negatively impacted. Generally speaking, a wax pocket is the section on the bottom of the ski that begins 30 centimeters in front of your toe and ends at the heel.

Many new skis feature markings for the wax pocket, or kick zone. Even if this describes your skis, your work is not done. You have to do some trial and error to identify the individual wax pocket on your skis. It will usually closely resemble the parameters given by the markings, but with a few inches of variation. If you have a ruler on hand, great- if not, guesstimate 30 centimeters. I recommend using your wax stick to draw a simple marking at the front and tail end of the wax pocket for reference.

If your skis are brand new, I suggest roughening up the wax pocket, or kick zone, with 120-grade sandpaper. This allows the kick wax to better adhere to the ski. This step is only required for brand new skis or ultra-slick skis that lack grip. After a light sandpaper treatment, you can proceed with the kick wax application.

Choosing Your Kick Wax

Waxes are typically color-coded for ease of use. The colors are rated and correspond to different temperature ranges for both new snow and old (transformed) snow. If you are hitting the trails directly after a snowfall, the temperature range isn’t as pressing of a factor. However, when it comes to old, transformed, snow the temperature range is wider. Educate yourself on the current approximate temperature of the snow and find a kick wax suitable for the conditions you’ll encounter on the trail.

A simple rule to keep in mind is that lower snow temperatures require harder kick wax whereas warmer snow temperatures require a softer kick wax. Should you find that you are losing traction apply a softer wax, designed for a one category higher temperature range. If you find that snow is sticking to the bottom of your skis and impeding your movements than choose a harder wax, one designed for a one category lower temperature range. Always go with a less sticky wax if you are torn between two waxes. You can always correct course as you go.

Waxing Your Skis: A Simple Process

When you have selected you wax, and you’re ready to go set your ski face down to begin the waxing process. Applying wax in layers will yield far better results than scooping it all on in one swift application.

Crayon or rub the wax stick onto the base of the ski, focusing on the wax pocket, or kick zone. This is your first layer. Once this region of the ski is covered use the synthetic foam that came with your wax kit to smooth the wax on and spread it out evenly. Don’t be afraid to work those arm muscles! Really work the wax into the ski. This generates heat and allows the wax to spread more effectively. This whole process is called “corking” your skis. Follow up with another couple of layers. If you are planning a longer excursion than you will want to apply more layers.

If you’ve done this process correctly, it shouldn’t even look like there is wax on your skis at all. If you press your finger against the wax pocket and leave a gentle fingerprint, then you’re on the right track! You’ve properly waxed your ski.

Testing Your Wax

Now comes the moment you’ve been waiting for: getting out on the snow! Patience, however, is required. Give your skis about 15-20 minutes to cool to the outside temperatures before testing them out. I recommend testing your skis on flat terrain as well as on both an inclined and downhill portion of the track. This will give you insight into how your skis are gripping across a range of surfaces. If your skis lack sufficient grip, then wipe the snow and ice particles and pat the skis dry before applying more wax. You will want to extend the wax pocket, or kick zone, by a few centimeters. Smooth it with the foam cork and give it a few minutes to cool. If you have repeated this process once or twice and it is not yielding better results than the conditions might necessitate stickier wax.

To apply your stickier wax, simply follow the same procedure as detailed above. Ensure the base of the skis are dry and free from snow/ice particles and crayon the wax over the existing wax layer in your wax pocket. Test this stickier wax on the trail. If you are still lacking traction, then extend the wax pocket forward once more and fill it in with a layer of the stickier wax.

If you still lack sufficient grip, guess what? You might not be the problem! This tells us one thing: while that white matter on the ground may look like snow and feel like snow – it’s not true snow! Surprised? I don’t blame you! It is easy to overlook the fact that the snow we take for granted actually consists of a very specific crystalline structure. This crystalline structure allows our wax to grip in the first place. The crystalline structure of a snowflake disintegrates over time. This also happens when a patch of snow is over-skied. Environmental pressures further degrade the structure, causing it to break down and become rounder. The rounded snowflakes simply won’t adhere to the grip wax, and no amount will change their minds!

But for all you skiing enthusiasts out there, another option beckons: Klister!

What is Klister?

Klister is a way, way stickier version of the stickiest conventional kick wax. Because it is so potent, you want to reduce the surface area of your grip zone within the klister pocket. A klister pocket is merely a reduced wax pocket, usually smaller by a few inches. If you are a highly skilled skier and have an effective technique, then you can reduce the klister pocket even further. If not, however, just reduce your standard wax pocket by two to three inches in length.

I recommend using spray-on klister wax, or a bottle with a sponge applicator, as these products make for a more seamless application process and create less opportunity for a mess. Klister wax expands when it warms up, increasing the likelihood of the product overflowing from a conventional twist-off container. Liquid and spray-on klister wax doesn’t need to be warmed up prior to application. This reduces time and allows you to apply the wax both indoors and outdoors.

Just like your regular kick wax you want to spread it onto the ski in a thin layer. Use the sponge applicator to smooth it on and spread it around evenly. Balance your skis against a ski rack and allow them to cool down and freeze. When the klister wax is properly applied and cooled down sufficiently, it should not come off on your fingers. Rather, a faint fingerprint should be all that is left in the cold wax.

Testing Your Klister Wax

Klister doesn’t mess around. It has a strong grip, and if you’re not used to using it, the sensation may be unfamiliar. You might even fall down as you try to lightly glide across the snow on your first try. This is completely normal. Generally, klister wax will require about a kilometer’s worth of wear before it starts offering optimum performance benefits. Take it slow and steady for the first 15 minutes or so to allow the klister wax to get sufficiently broken in.

If you use klister wax, you’ll rarely encounter a lack of grip. The opposite usually holds true, and you may find that there is too much grip. If you find that snow and ice are building up on your skis simply remove the buildup and apply a less sticky wax directly over top of the klister wax (or any sticky wax that is gripping too aggressively). Smooth and spread on the less sticky wax directly over the existing layer and you’ll see a drastic improvement in your skiing ability.

One word of caution, however: always remove klister wax before packing your skis away for the day. If you fail to remove it, you’ll be looking at an unpleasant clean-up job as klister wax is tacky and very sticky. Luckily, the removal process is a pinch. Spray some wax remover onto the wax pocket of your skis. Allow it to soak in and break down the wax before using a soft cloth to gently massage the wax away.

Step by Step Kick Waxing Review

So you’ve been reading closely but want a quick primer to refer to? I’ve got you covered.

  1. Begin applying your least sticky wax, or whichever wax is appropriate for the temperature conditions, onto the wax pocket of your skis.
  2. Allow the wax to cool to match outside conditions and test it on a flat trail and on both uphill and downhill sections of track.
  3. If the grip is not sufficient, extend the wax pocket and smooth on the same wax as above.
  4. If the grip is still not satisfactory apply a stickier wax onto the original wax pocket. Extend the wax pocket with the stickier wax if the first attempt is unsatisfactory.
  5. If you still lack adequate grip than move on to the ultra-sticky klister wax.
  6. Apply the klister onto the reduced-size klister pocket located on the ski base.
  7. Allow it to freeze and take your skis out on the trail.
  8. If you find that you have too much grip at this point, just remove the snow and ice buildup and layer on a less sticky wax directly over the frozen klister wax layer. This is considered a masking layer and will do wonders for helping you strike the perfect balance and glide with ease.

Applying Glide Wax

Glide wax can be used for both classic and skating skis. I recommend using a foolproof liquid wax and sponge applicator rather than hot wax. Glide wax is not compulsory for casual or recreational skiers, but it improves your glide while offering valuable protection to the base of your skis. Glide wax is a line of defense against rapid breakdown of the base. I like to consider glide wax a “performance enhancer” that will make skiing that much easier.

Glide wax can be used on waxless skis and skating skis alike, but you can also apply a thin layer to your downhill skis! While it is not as powerful as hot wax, it is a great DIY option that will preserve the longevity of your skis.

  1. In order to apply your glide wax, you will want to shake the container to disperse the glide wax within the solvent.
  2. For classic skis, apply it to the glide zone. The glide zone is at the tip and tail of the skis, about 30 centimeters from your toes to the tip and from the heels to the tail. For skating skis, apply the glide wax to the entire base.
  3. Press it onto the ski and massage it in, spreading and distributing it evenly.
  4. Allow it to dry. The choice is yours whether you want to buff it or not. This does not drastically affect the quality of your glide. Just ensure that the wax has had time to adhere to the skis before setting out to enjoy the trails.

There you have it: a simple and effective primer on both kick and glide waxes. Follow these pointers, and you’ll be waxing your own cross-country skis and setting off on your great winter adventure in no time!