Why You Need to Wax Your Skis or Snowboard

People often ask us why they need to wax their skis or snowboard. “Isn’t snow already slippery?” A fair point, but it takes two surfaces to tango and the one you can control is the base of your gear.

You need to wax your skis or snowboard for two simple reasons: 

  1. Speedier gear: Even if you’re a beginner, you’ll enjoy a smoother slope experience if you wax; you’ll also appreciate some extra speed when you’re ready to graduate from snowplow turns to parallel turns—or from skidding turns to carving turns on a snowboard.
  1. Healthier gear: Wax can’t save you from gouges caused by exposed rocks, but it will seal bases to prevent them from drying out—kind of like applying a moisturizer to your skin. Dried out bases are prone to delaminating.

We talked to Joe Kahn, a longtime snowboarder and master tech in our Bellingham, Washington, REI store to get some waxing wisdom. (Snowboarders: Everything we’ll talk about in this article applies to you, too, but we’ll say “skis” from here on out to keep things short and sweet.)  And when we say “wax” we’ll be talking about “glide” waxes that go on the full length of alpine skis and the tips and tails of cross-country skis. “Kick” waxes that go in the center of cross-country skis are a separate subject.

How to Choose a Ski or Snowboard Wax

Wax is the intermediary between snow and your ski bases. Snow changes all the time, yet you can’t change the material in your ski bases. The solution is to change the wax on that base material to one that’s calibrated to the conditions when and where you’re skiing.

  • Rub-on wax: For a quick-and-easy performance bump, you can use an all-conditions rub-on wax. It won’t be nearly as effective or long lasting, though, as hot waxing your bases.
  • Hot waxes are sold for specific temperature ranges, which is the key factor in determining how the snow and the waxed surface of your base will interact. You can find a wax’s temperature range on its packaging or in online product information. You can also simplify your choice by going with a “universal” hot wax. It will last longer than a rub-on wax, but it won’t boost performance as much as a temperature-specific wax.
  • High-performance wax: Options for advanced skiers can get more complicated than this—waxes with high levels of fluorocarbon (as opposed to hydrocarbon) are an expensive variation that can help in wetter snow.

In general, the best advice is to focus on matching the temperature forecast to your wax and the wax price to your budget.

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How Often Should You Wax Your Skis or Snowboard?

Professional ski racers might apply new wax between every run. Conversely, some people never wax. There’s no one right answer for how often you should wax, but here are some guidelines:

  • Rewax if you ski in a new region where the snow is drier or wetter than your regular ski area.
  • Rewax more often if you ski regularly in powder; it wears wax away more quickly.
  • Rewax more often if you have an “extruded” base vs. a “sintered” base. You can’t really tell by looking—check your skis’ specs to be sure. Sintered bases have more pores in them, so they retain wax for longer periods of time.
  • Rewax if you see a pronounced chalky-gray residue on your ski bases.
  • Rewax whenever it feels like the snow is getting sticky.
  • Rewax at the end of ski season to keep bases from drying out; keep that moisturizing layer thicker, too, by not removing excess wax with a scraper until the start of next ski season.

Should You Wax Your New Skis?

  • Brand new skier? You can leave on the light coating of universal wax that all skis come with for your first few lessons. It will keep speeds down yet still keep the base healthy.
  • Experienced skier: Immediately rewax your new skis, putting on a thick coat of wax chosen for your anticipated snow conditions.

Shop Waxing vs. DIY Waxing

Most newer skiers let their local ski shop handle the waxing work, because shop techs have the expertise to select the right wax and the wherewithal to apply it correctly. If you’re willing to do a little practice and get a few basic tools, though, you can hot wax at home. Learn how by reading Glide Waxing Your Skis or Snowboard or you can sign up for a hands-on waxing class at many REI stores.

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