Waxing Your Skis - a Beginner's Guide

If you have waxable skis, you will have to apply the proper kick wax on them before you hit the trails. Unfortunately, many beginners are intimidated by the waxing process, and find that it's a hit-and-miss affair which involves a lot of hocus-pocus.

Moreover, there are web sites, books, and articles which explain how to use hot irons and waxing benches to meticulously spread the right combination of various types of glide waxes on your skis every time you go out. Unless you are a real cross-country ski fanatic, or involved in serious competitive skiing, you don't have to worry about all of this.

For the most part, you're only concerned with the application of grip wax in the kick zone. This is the area under the ski from about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in front of your foot to the heel (see illustration).

If you have brand new skis, you may want to lightly roughen up the kick zone with some 120 grade sandpaper. This will help the kick wax adhere to the ski, and you should only have do this when the equipment is new or when the kick zone becomes too slick. After you finish with the sand paper, make sure the kick zone is clean and free of any glide wax. You're now ready to proceed with the normal application of kick wax.

Selecting the Right Kick Wax

The next step is to decide the type of kick wax you should be using. The kit you purchased with your skis should include several different types of kick waxes. These usually come in tins that are colour coded, and are rated for temperature ranges for both new snow and transformed (old) snow. Unless you are going out shortly after a fresh snowfall, you'll generally be concerned with the temperature range given for transformed snow. With this information, select the kick wax that is suitable for the snow and temperature conditions you expect to encounter on the trail.

When figuring out what kick wax to use, you should be concerned with the temperature of the top layer of snow. This can sometimes be quite different from the air temperature. Moreover, temperature of the snow usually changes throughout the course of a day. Factoring in these variables can sometimes be challenging for beginners. Fortunately, in the National Capital Region, we have solution for this problem. The NCC website for the Gatineau Park gives the recommended kick wax for the current snow conditions and temperature several times a day. You also get this information from a recorded message by calling 819-827-2020.

Here are few points to consider about the information and kick wax recommendations provided by the NCC:

  • The NCC typically updates the trail condition reports and wax recommendations several times a day. Check the time the report was issued and make sure you are getting the latest information available before you head off to go skiing.

  • The NCC web site may sometimes recommend a special wax that's not included in your starter kit. When this happens, look at what the NCC site is reporting for snow temperature, and choose from your collection of kick waxes accordingly.

  • It's also possible to use the information provided by the NCC for the Gatineau Park as a guideline when you go skiing on Greenbelt trails. However, conditions may not be exactly the same, and on some days there's a good chance the snow temperature may be a touch higher on Greenbelt trails.

  • The NCC web site is also a great learning tool. When you get a chance, try monitoring the changes in kick wax recommendations as the day unfolds, and study the relationship between air temperature and snow temperature at different times of the day, and under different weather conditions.

  • The recommendations on the NCC web site can also serve to guide you on the various kick waxes you might want to buy over time. This approach means you'll probably end up with a collection of 5 to 8 different types kick waxes.
  • There are a few other points to keep in mind when selecting your kick wax. As a general rule, lower snow temperature requires harder kick wax, warmer snow temperature requires softer kick waxes. If you find that your skis are starting to lose traction with the kick stride, try applying a softer wax (one that is designed for the next higher temperature range). Conversely, if clumps of snow start sticking to the bottom of your skis, try a harder wax (for the next lower temperature range).

    If you are going out on the trails for any amount of time, you should get in the habit of bringing the recommended wax as well as waxes suitable for the neighbouring temperature ranges. When necessary, you should also bring whatever additional waxes that might be needed if you anticipate a major temperature change during the day (check the hourly weather forecast for the day in question).

    Applying the Kick Wax

    Once you have decided on the proper wax, it is fairly easy to apply. Tear off the top edge of the tin and simply rub on (crayon on) the wax onto the bottom of the ski in the kick zone. The idea is to apply a relatively even layer of wax that isn't too thick. If you are working with one of the softer waxes, it is possible to get little gobs of wax clumps on the ski. Try to avoid this.

    When the kick zone is covered with wax, use the cork, or synthetic foam cork, that came with the wax kit to rub the wax smooth. Note that a synthetic foam cork is actually easier to use than a real cork. You should rub vigorously enough to generate a bit of heat, especially with the initial application of kick wax. Once you have finished "corking" the kick zone, you repeat the entire process by adding another layer of wax. Two layers of kick wax may be enough, but three is even better. Now you are ready to go skiing.

    If you have been out on the trail for a few hours, and feel that your kick wax is starting to wear thin, you should add another layer or two. Again, use the cork to make sure the wax is nicely spread out over the kick area. If the snow is starting to warm up, as is likely to be the case on sunny afternoon, you may want to apply a softer wax
    Swix wax kit with synthetic foam cork.
    (one that is designed for the next higher temperature range). As a general rule, it is fairly easy to add a layer of softer wax over harder wax. Within limits, it is also possible to do the opposite, but it can be a little more difficult.

    It's a good idea to apply fresh kick wax every time you go skiing. This means removing the old wax with the scraper that came with your wax kit (or that can be purchased separately). Sooner or later, you'll want to do a thorough cleaning of you skis with a wax remover solvent that is sold especially for this kind of job (although naptha, the white gas used for camping stoves, also works well). Be aware that if applied outside the kick zone, these solvents will also strip the glide wax off your skis.


    The standard kick waxes will work well most of the time, but you'll need to use klister when the snow turns into ice or when the temperature is above freezing and the snow becomes wet and mushy.

    Klister is a thick liquid glue that comes in a tube, and is very messy to work with. Squeeze a bead of the stuff along the length of the kick zone, and then use the plastic application tool that came with the klister to spread it evenly over the kick zone. Be careful not to apply too much or spread it too thick. Your objective is to get a nice thin layer over kick zone. It is best to work with klister at room temperature because it is difficult to spread at colder temperatures. You'll need a solvent to clean up afterwards. Be warned, it's messy to work with.

    Glide Wax for Your Skis

    Glide wax is applied to those portions of the ski in front and behind the kick zone. Needless to say, it is designed to improve the gliding performance of your skis.

    People involved in serious cross-country skiing racing can be fanatical about using a hot iron to apply the right combination of glide wax almost every time they go out. On the other hand, many beginners and recreational skiers rarely, if ever apply any glide on their skis. There is even a well known Swedish study which found that glide wax picks up enough contaminants from the snow that it actually hinders performance, although these findings are hotly contested by many experts. Whatever the case, there seems to be some consensus that skis will go faster without any glide wax when the snow is very dirty.

    So what should you do? When buying a new pair of skis, it is probably worth getting a professional hotwax application. When glide wax is appled in this manner, it is fairly durable, and may last the better part of a season for occasional skiers. If you get out regularly, you will probably want to get a second application at the mid-point in the season.

    You can also apply a liquid glide wax directly on the plastic base of the ski yourself. It is common for people to use liquid wax to tide them over between hotwax applications. However, liquid wax is not nearly as durable at hotwax application, and should be reapplied every time you go out. If you do use liquid glide wax, let it dry for 10 to 15 minutes, and then buff it down with a good thick rag. This will make it nice and slippery.

    The bottom line is that while it doesn't hurt to give some consideration to glide wax, your initial priority is to make sure that you are properly applying the correct kick wax. Once you have mastered the kick wax, developed a good cross-country technique, and improved your fitness, you may then want to focus more attention on glide wax considerations.

    © Michael McGoldrick, 2006.

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