Here’s a true statement: You’re about to get faster on the slopes, with more consistent turning and carving performance, and this guide is going to show you how.
It comes down to wax, and how you apply it.
Before we start, let’s talk about what this guide is and is not. What you’ll learn here are the essential, no-nonsense steps to waxing a pair of skis or a snowboard. You’ll get practical advice to make your board or skis as slippery and fast as possible with the least amount of effort. That means we’re not going to launch into deep, technical tuning discussions when all you need to know are the actions you can take right now to maximize the gliding and turning performance of your downhill gear. (And if you’re an aerobic freak and Nordic skier, know that this information applies to glide zones only, and that you should consult a Nordic tuning expert if you have to apply grip wax.)
This is step-by-step, hands-on advice. So let’s launch into it.
Step 1: Know Where You’re Going
On the slopes, you know to look where you want to go. You know that your body and momentum will follow your vision. So you pick a line, and commit, and that’s how you connect your turns all the way down the mountain. See the list of best ski resorts in the US.
Repeat until you’re smiling so hard your face hurts.
The same principle applies here. Before you melt a single droplet of wax into the P-Tex base of your skis or board, you need to know what the finished product is going to look like. What you want to get to is a wax-saturated base that’s shiny with a micro-thin sheen of wax. That’s all. No more, no less.
Keep that image in your head.
Step 2: Choose Your Wax
Unless you’re competing in a World Cup event, don’t overthink it. Look at the weather forecast and get a feel for the temperature range at the slope. Choose your wax based on the expected temperature.
If you really can’t make up your mind on what the weather is going to do (or the weather forecasters are all on vacation), choose a Universal glide wax.
One more thing: Glide wax choices range from affordable to what might seem like outrageously expensive. Know that, unless you’re in a competition, a hydrocarbon-based (HC) wax is all you need. It’s also the most cost-effective.
Optional, for speed freaks:
Waxes containing fluorocarbons (sometimes labeled as LF for low-fluorocarbon and HF for high-fluorocarbon) can provide better performance in wet snow. But in addition to a greater monetary cost, they also have an impact on your health and the environment; research shows that they bio-accumulate. So think before you apply, and make an informed decision.
Step 3: Clean and Prep
For prep, clamp your skis or board to a stable surface. There are special vises for this, or you can make your own. If clamping downhill skis, get the brakes out of the way with a rubber band or ski strap – you want an unobstructed base for when you get to ironing in your glide wax. Also, the more stable you make your board or skis on your work surface, the better. You’ll be less likely to run out of hands.
Moving on, you wouldn’t wax and buff your car without washing it first, would you? The same goes for your skis and boards.
We’ll keep cleaning simple. To clean a P-Tex ski or board base, use a nylon ski brush or Fibratex (Scotch-Brite) pad to remove any dirt or external contaminants. As a general rule, always brush from tip-to-tail.
If the base is really dirty, you can apply some rubbing alcohol to remove stubborn dirt. But see if brushing and rubbing alone work, first. If you do use rubbing alcohol, let it evaporate completely before moving onto the next step.
Optional, for speed freaks:
Get a beginning-of-the-season or mid-season tune. An expert tech can optimize the structure of your P-Tex base and remove tiny imperfections, as well as offer some tender loving care for your edges. It’s extra performance if you want a no-regrets, no-holds-barred experience on the slopes.
4) Wax On:
This is where hot wax meets a waxing iron meets plastic.
The idea is that you’ll melt wax on the iron, dripping it onto the P-Tex base from above. Then you’ll pass the iron directly over the P-Tex to melt the wax into the base. The wax will spread out, coating the base in an even layer.
It’s not more complicated than that. You’ll find that soft waxes melt faster than hard waxes.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Ventilate your work area. This is especially important if your wax contains any fluorocarbon compounds (LF or HF).
- The key to doing this well is to use the minimum temperature required to melt the wax. That means no smoke.
- In order to prevent base damage from overheating and blistering, keep the iron moving at a slow to moderate speed when it’s in direct contact with the P-Tex base.
That’s what you are, for learning how to wax on your own. Seriously.
Now go grab some coffee, fire up some Youtube, and chill with your favorite extreme sport or silly pet trick videos. Just let your board or skis cool completely for at least 30 minutes, indoors, before you move onto the next step.
For the curious:
Scraping wax too soon, while it’s warm, will pull wax out of the base. And putting your precious work outside to cool faster will cause the micro-pores in the base to close, pushing wax out.
6) Scrape and Brush:
You’re approaching the land of P-Tex sliding goodness and deep, predictable carving performance on the snow. It’ll just take a little bit of elbow grease to get there.
Now that the wax has had a chance to cool and settle deep into the base, you’re going to remove the excess. It’s time to make that wax layer micro-thin. To do that, you’ll scrape and brush. The scraper will take off the bulk of it, and the brush will get you the rest of the way there.
Scraping is simple. Work from tip-to-tail. Use just enough pressure to remove the bulk of the wax.
Brushing is just as easy. Again, it’s a tip-to-tail exercise. Use your nylon brush and work in short to medium strokes with moderate pressure. If you’re listening to music, do this for at least three punk rock songs or one extended Pink Floyd recording. Five to ten minutes should be enough.
Optional, for speed freaks:
You can get scientific with your brushes; like anything worth doing in life, you have options. Using a coarser brush will remove wax faster, and can help you brush off a hard glide wax. It can also be good for revealing more of the base structure, which can be good for wetter snow, to help break suction.
A softer brush can be used for fine finishing work, or for removing softer wax.
The things is, a nylon brush will get you 98% of the way there, most of the time. Still, some ski and snowboard techs swear that you can never brush too much, and they’ll lovingly polish a base for hours.
Read a guide what to think of when buying a ski wax brush.
Maybe you’re OCD, and brushing for an hour makes you happy. Or maybe brushing turns into Zen meditation. Just know that, when you get past the ten minute mark, you’ve likely entered the land of rapidly diminishing returns from a performance standpoint.
So that’s it. Those are the no-nonsense steps to waxing your own boards and skis. And the more you do it, the better and more consistent they’re going to feel under your feet. The harder it’ll get to take that smile off your face.
To recap, here’s a list of the gear you’ll need to do your own waxing. We put it at the end of this guide so that you’d be able to make an informed buying decision before rushing out to the ski and board shop to fill your shopping basket.
- Ski or board vise (highly recommended)
- Ski wax (required)
- Waxing iron (required)
- Plastic scraper (required)
- Nylon brush (required)
- Fibratex or Scotch-Brite pad (highly recommended)
- Rubbing alcohol (optional)
- A sweet music mix (optional)
Also this: We’ve dug into this material so you don’t have to. But maybe you’re a curious bird. Maybe you want to know more. If so, we’ve got you covered with some references. Just don’t get so caught up in the details that you forget to wax your gear and get out there and have some fun in the snow.