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Finicky waxing and lessons learned

Holiday Classic

Wed, Jan  2, 2008 - By Mike Muha

Lucky I arrived at the Holiday Classic two hours before race time. Race Director Nick Baic had a thermometer in the snow that read 31 degrees; the air temperature was similar. A moist snow was falling. I knew kick waxing was going to be problematic for this 9km race and the first Michigan Cup race of the season.

Attempt #1: Silver and Yellow

My first waxing attempt was Toko Base Green (ironed in) with a mix of Toko Carbon Silver and Carbon Yellow:

  • Carbon Silver (32F) - "for very wet snowfall, on icy tracks after strong sunshine and in the transition period from dry to very wet."
  • Carbon Yellow (30-32F) - "for use in damp snowfall, on icy tracks and in gritty, loose old snow"

I put on the skis and went to the stadium, a large open area groomed for the start, finish, and laps. I had great glide. I had no kick. I tried climbing the little knoll leading out of the stadium with no success.

Attempt #2: Yellow

The buzz around the wax barn was "Toko Yellow." Maybe they knew something I didn't. I scrapped off most of the kick wax and applied Toko Yellow.

I had slightly more kick. I still had to herringbone the knoll, but I decided to keep going just to see if the wax would start working better as the skis got colder. The course curved sharply to the left then climbed a short hill. Suddenly, my kick was great! Suddenly, I iced.

After kick off the snow stuck to the bottom of my skis, I was able to slide down the hill onto the other end of the stadium area without falling on my face.

Attempt #3: Yellow and Rex Power Grip Purple

So, Yellow is too sticky out on the course. What can I mix in to make it a little less sticky? I decided to try some Rex power Grip Purple ("for normal, but also for icy, coarse, and extremely hard tracks (+3...-5°C)." I had used it in a race last year and it seemed to have lots of kick in a wide temperature range.

Of course, it's almost impossible to apply because it globs out of the tin and doesn't spread easily. I used a klister paddle to mix a little into the Toko Yellow (after I'd scraped some of the Yellow off), then used a synthetic cork to smooth it out the best I could - which was not very good. My fingers tips were warm enough to spread the Power Grip better, and another corking provided an appropriately smooth surface to the wax.

Out on the course: iced again. Not as bad, but bad enough.

Attempt #4: Cover in Toko Red

I had the kick, I just need to get rid of the icing. Perhaps what I needed was a colder wax on top of my warmer waxes. The cold wax might prevent icing, and the cushion of warmer waxes underneath would still provide kick. Enter Toko Carbon Red:

  • Carbon Red (28-30F) - "For use in large-particle, firmly pressed old snow and damp new snow."

I decided not to remove any wax, but to simply cover the existing wax with the Red. I lightly crayoned the Red over the other wax, then gently corked. The idea is not to mix the harder wax with the waxes below, but to simply smooth it over top of the softer waxes. Pressing hard generates heat which helps mix the wax; a light touch keeps the wax cool and separate.

Much better! I had kick. I had glide. I had a little bit of icing when I stopped and turned around. Pulling some Toko Carbon Red out of my pocket, I added another thin layer. The icing stopped. I had my skis dialed in for the conditions!

I buzzed around a section of the course and was very happy with my skis. Just to make sure, I pulled out my waxless Fischer RCRs. I skied around the course with a waxless ski on one foot and waxed ski on the other. Each had good kick, but the waxed skis felt every so slightly faster and handled better in the corners. I'm going with the waxables.

Is it getting colder out here?

There was a 30 minute extra wait for the juniors to finish their race before the seniors started. Many juniors struggled with icing; one was in tears within half a kilometer because of terrible icing.

Worse, during the junior race, the moist snow that was falling stopped. The temperature dropped by 5 degrees. A dry snow began to fall.

Conditions were changing.

I started icing a little as I skied around a few minutes before my start. Maybe it was the colder temps or maybe I wearing off the Red. I put on a little more Red to fix the problem.

Great waxing goes to hell

I had a great first 100 yards and was one of the first racers to the knoll out of the stadium but loose my stride when my pole accidentally glances off another skier's pole and misses it's plant. I'm instantly passed by four skiers. Up the first hill - no problem. Down into the stadium area, across, and up the following hill, no problem. Top of the hill: icing. I landed on my face as my left ski came to a halt just over the top of the hill. All the way down the hill, the left ski was very grabby and I tried my best to maintain control. Finally the snow broke loose and the skis glided again.

For the rest of the race, I had exceptionally fast skis on the flats and longer downhills. As soon as I climbed, my left ski would ice. If the ski was left on the ground, it was OK; as soon as I picked it up, it iced.

Hill climbing was a constant kick-glide, kick-stop, kick-glide, kick-stop. At the top of each hill, I'd slam the ski down and forward trying - successfully, usually - to kick the snow off. Then I'd pass people on the downhill who passed me on the climb.

Still, I had it better than some. Dell Todd crossed the finish line with one ski on the snow and one in his hand - it was faster than trying to ski with an iced ski.

Lessons learned

So what did I learn from this experience?

  1. Snow conditions in the start area can be very different from the conditions out on the course. If I had skied further out with my first mix of Toko Yellow and Silver, I would have learned about the icing problem sooner. Start areas are frequently in large open areas; the rest of the course may be on wooded trails and different elevations. You need to get out on the course. 
  2. Take kick was out with you as you test. For each of the first three waxing attempts, I had to go all the way back to the wax barn to adjust my wax. On the fourth attempt, I took a scraper, wax, and cork with me and adjusted on the trail. This saved lots of time. 
  3. Get to a classic race early. This is particularly important if waxing conditions are difficult! 
  4. Once your wax is dialed in, get off your skis! Kick wax wears off. If the wax is working, don't wear it out by skiing. Put the skis to the side and warm up on another pair of skis (if you're lucky enough to have another pair). 
  5. So you missed the wax - so did everyone else. Live with it...