Ever found yourself lagging behind your friends on the slopes? Are those turns harder than you remembered? It’s probably time to wax your skis.

How Ski Wax Works

When skis travel over the snow their friction creates a thin film of water between the ski-base and the snow. It is actually this layer of water that you’re skiing on, not the snow itself. If your skis are unwaxed the drag of this water will slow your forward movement and make it more difficult to push the ski into a turn.

If wax is applied to the base of your skis, though, the water beneath them will form droplets and the skis will have a greater propensity to ‘float’. For you this means reduced drag, greater speed and easier manoeuvrability.

Choosing Ski Wax

Ski waxes are graded according to snow temperature. In colder conditions where the snow is new and dry and the sharp, six-point structure of snow crystals remains intact, harder waxes are used to prevent the sharp crystals sticking to the ski base.

In warmer conditions, where the snow is wetter and the snow crystals have become smoother and more rounded, a softer wax is used. Though it is not immediately apparent to the naked eye, softer waxes create a more uneven surface on the ski base which breaks the suction effect of the under-ski water layer.

If choosing ski wax according to the temperature of the snow sounds a little daunting, don’t worry. An all-purpose, or universal, ski wax will work fine for most recreational skiers, whatever the snow conditions.

Waxing skis for racing can be a complex and carefully balanced art involving finely tuned ingredients and multiple layers of wax. For the recreation skier, however, the process of waxing skis is considerably simpler and is outlined below.

What You’ll Need

• Some method of holding your skis flat and secure. There are special vises available from ski shops for this purpose, or you may have a work bench which you can use. A very simple alternative is to place the ski, binding-side down, over the backs of two hard chairs.

• An iron. Again, ski shops sell irons made especially for waxing skis. These have very accurate temperature control and thicker bases which reduce temperature fluctuations. A cheaper option, though, is the simple household iron. If you choose to use one of these, make sure it’s one without steam holes in the bottom as these will become clogged with wax.

• Ski wax.

• A plastic scraper. Although a number of household items can substitute, it’s best to buy a purpose-made scraper from a ski shop as these provide better performance and make the scraping process easier (they’re only a few dollars).

• A finishing brush. Purists might recommend the use of a brass-bristle ski brush followed by a nylon-bristle brush. A far cheaper alternative, and one that works just as well, is a Scotch pad (one of those green things you wash dishes with), available at any supermarket.

The Waxing Process

Before you begin waxing you’ll need to secure your ski’s brakes out of the way. You can do this by fitting a boot into the binding or by using a heavy rubber band to hold the brakes clear of the ski base.

Place your ski base-side up in your vise or across your chair backs and remove any old wax with your brass brush or Scotch pad. Don’t get carried away with this, you don’t want to scour away your ski base – a moderate rub along the length of the ski will do. Note: when waxing skis, all actions are performed starting at the tip of the ski and moving towards its tail – cleaning, applying wax, scraping, finishing.

Applying the Wax

If you‘re using a ski iron, set it to the temperature recommended by the ski wax manufacturer. If you’re using a household iron, set it hot enough to melt the wax, but not so hot that the wax burns or smokes as this will decrease the performance of the wax.

Holding the iron a few inches above the ski, press your wax against the iron and drip a line of wax along the length of the ski base. Now, working from the tip of your ski, place your iron against the ski-base and move it smoothly towards the tail, ensuring that your line of wax melts and covers the entire ski-base area. It is important during this process to move your iron slowly enough to melt and spread the wax, but fast enough to avoid overheating the ski. Skis are constructed of various layers of material bound by layers of adhesive and excess heat will damage this structure. Never leave the iron stationary on the ski-base.

Once the wax has been applied allow your ski to cool completely before scraping.


The aim of scraping is to remove almost all of the wax you have just applied to your ski, leaving only a thin film on the base. It is the most labour-intensive part of waxing and also creates the most mess. Placing a sheet or tarpaulin beneath the ski will reduce the time you spend cleaning up.

Take your plastic scraper and, again starting at the tip, hold it across the ski with the uppermost edge of the scraper angled towards the tail (never towards you). Drag the lower edge of the scraper along the ski, shaving off wax as you go. Continue this process until you have scraped off virtually all of the wax. Don’t worry, you haven’t just undone all of your work. The material of the ski-base contains pores which will remain filled with wax despite your scraping.


All that remains now is to finish the process with your brushes or Scotch pad. Rub the ski from tip to tail until you have achieved a smooth glossy finish on which no smears of wax are visible. Pay attention to your edges too. Drops of wax can collect here and should be removed with your scraper. Do this with care as you don’t want to dull your edges – you’ll need them on that early morning Ruapehu ice!

How Often Should You Wax?

The icier the snow, the faster your wax will wear away, but generally, for recreational skiing, you can get away with waxing every two to three ski days. You may find, however, as you lead the pack down the slopes and fly effortlessly into your turns, that freshly waxed skis are a pleasure well worth the effort of daily waxing.

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