Wax On, Wax Off: How to Wax Your Skis and Snowboard

December 21, 2015
Ski Waxing
Learning how to wax your skis is as easy as 1-2-3. Photo: Pat Bagley

Want to ski faster and help your gear last longer in one fell swoop? Wax your skis and snowboard on a regular basis.

Nate Harvey, the retail manager at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham, N.H., likens waxing to getting regular car tune-ups. “You’re enhancing performance today and preserving your investment,” he says.

Wax creates a buffer between your skis and the snow, reducing friction so you can glide faster. What’s more, waxing—or “tuning,” as it’s also called—doesn’t have to be complicated. You can do it yourself in as little as 30 minutes. Here’s how.

While you can make your own tuning apparatus with household supplies, it’s safer to invest in a kit tailor-made for the task. Tuning kits start as low as $35 and typically last multiple seasons. You’ll want a kit that includes:

1. Wax. For most skiers and snowboarders, “Any universal glide wax will do,” says Will Tole, the retail and race competition manager at Sunday River Resort in Bethel, Maine. In time, you can progress to waxes formulated for specific snow temperatures.

2. Waxing iron. These have low temperature settings designed for skis and snowboards. Don’t use a clothing iron; you could destroy your equipment.

3. Base plate and two vises. You’ll use these to secure your skis or snowboard while waxing.

4. Rubber bands or brake retainers. These will keep your brakes protected from errant wax.

5. Scraper. You’ll use this credit-card-sized piece of Plexiglas to remove excess wax after it cools.

6. Brush. A medium bronze-wire brush will help you eliminate excess wax shavings after scraping.

Once you’re fully equipped, you’re ready to start waxing. Find a safe space that’s about room temperature and keep in mind that wax drippings can ruin a carpet. Basements or garages are good places to set up.

1. Preheat the iron. For the proper temperature setting, consult your kit’s directions. In general, you want to keep the heat low.

2. Clamp it down. Secure the skis or snowboard to the baseplate.

3. Move the brakes out of the way. Using the rubber bands, pull the brakes away from the base of the ski or board.

4. Remove the old wax. Push the scraper along the base, tip to tail, to remove old wax and brush off the shavings.

5. Drip the new wax. With one hand, hold the iron 2 to 4 inches above the base. With the other hand, hold the wax near the iron and let the wax drip onto the base. If you have a Nordic (cross-country) ski with a fish-scale texture on the base under the boot, apply wax in front of and behind the patterned area. For skate skis, snowboards, Alpine skis, and backcountry skis, which don’t have scales, let the wax drip all over the base, from tip to tail.

6. Iron the wax. Gently move the iron from tip to tail, spreading the wax over the base.

7. Let the wax cool. Wait about 30 minutes for the wax to dry. Consult the wax directions for specific drying times.

8. Remove excess wax. Use the scraper and brush to clear any excess wax. According to Tole, many people forget this step, winding up with skis and boards that stick to snow instead of gliding over it.

Too many people neglect waxing altogether, says Lionel Herring, owner of the ski shop Happy Tunes in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. “Ideally, you should tune after every time you ski,” he says. “Whatever time the base spends unprotected, it starts drying up.” Since a post-ski wax isn’t always practical, Tole recommends waxing after every five ski sessions.

Don’t let the iron get too hot and keep it moving over the base. “If you leave the iron for too long in one spot, you’re going to burn [the base],” Tole says.

Whether you’re waxing, ironing, scraping, or brushing, always work in the same tip-to-tail direction. Training your base to go in one direction means your skis will travel faster across the snow.

After the last run of the season, let your equipment dry, then apply wax to protect your gear while it’s in storage. No need to scrape off this wax. “It seals the base, just as you’d put rind on a wheel of cheese,” Herring says.



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Jennifer Van Allen

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.