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Waxing for Extreme Cold Conditions

Fri, Jan  18, 2008 - By Ian Harvey

In extremely cold conditions (snow temperatures below 10F), a great disparity in the gliding performance of skis is often found. Whenever there is a situation where there is one overriding characteristic of the snow that is slowing the skis down, such as dry friction, friction from dirt, or suction, a greater difference in performance is generally found. This is because in such conditions, a person can not expect “universally” prepared skis to perform. The skis need to be prepared specifically to address the factor that is dominant in slowing the skis down.

There are two main types of snow found in extreme cold: very aggressive sharp and strong crystals and fluffy feather- like and dry flakes. Although the first is much more common than the second, the solutions are similar.

A common scenario is that a snow storm comes and brings with it lots of moisture which translates into air temperatures between 25 and 35 and big wet snowflakes which stack up quickly creating a big snowfall in a hurry. Much of the time, such a storm is followed by a high pressure area and dry cold weather. The water in the newly fallen snow gives the cold something to work with. As the snow gets colder, the crystals get sharper and stronger until all moisture has been locked up and the crystals are extremely sharp, strong, and aggressive to a ski base.

This “Alberta Clipper” scenario, as it is known by in the Midwest, creates one main challenge to the skier who wants fast gliding skis. Dry friction caused by sharp strong crystals dragging along a relatively soft plastic ski base slows the skis down dramatically.

To illustrate the situation, think about gluing sharp shards of glass to your floor and then dragging a soft rubber mat across it. There will certainly be a lot of resistance and there will also be much damage to the mat’s previously smooth surface. Then think about how much easier it would be to drag a large plate of glass across the glass shard-laden floor. There would be far less resistance and damage. This is because the glass plate is hard enough to that the shards can not dig into it.

We need to try to make our ski bases as hard as possible. The only way to do this is to iron in multiple layers of a very hard glide wax. The specific wax that the layers are being done with is not so important – the only requirement is that it be extremely hard. Then the final layer can be used to give the ski the wax of the day.

Additionally, this snow has very little water in it. Structure in ski bases exist to manipulate a water film that exists between ski and snow. In such extreme cold, there is no free water in the snow. For this reason, generally, a smooth ski base is required. The only exception to this is if the snow is transformed. In cold transformed snow, a linear structure like a well worn medium rill is very fast as it seems to have a “ball bearings on rails” effect. The skis progress is channeled, the skis are faster and more stable.

The other type of snow that is not as commonly found occurs when the snow falls at an extremely cold temperature. Because there is very little water in the air in extreme cold, the snow falls like feathers. When cars drive around and this type of snow is falling, the snow is blown way up into the air by the rush of air created by the car. The snow is super light and fine and more than anything extremely dry. I liken skiing on this type of snow to trying to ski on talcum powder. It isn’t so sharp or aggressive, but it is super fine and there is simply no moisture in it. The skis feel dead and very slow. The key here is to try to make the skis “break away” earlier (at a slower speed). Skis generally have a speed at which they break away or suddenly feel faster or more free. The slower the speed is at which the skis feel this way the better. In this talcum powder- like snow, the skis really don’t feel like they break away at all. I have found that adding in an extreme cold additive to a hard glide wax or even using it by itself and using skiing with a ski with a glassy smooth base finish yields the best result. Often times, a cold additive can improve the break away speed of a ski.

In all of these cold conditions described, the glide wax needs to be brushed especially well from the surface of the ski base. Starting with a copper brush and then finishing with a horsehair brush gives the best result. The copper brush is soft enough that it does not create micro hair or structure the base and the horsehair brush is fine enough to eliminate the wax from the microstructure on the base. If waxing inside, the skis will need to be horsehair brushed again trailside, once the skis are really cold. This is because when the skis get really cold, the base material contracts and squeezes a bit more wax onto the surface.

Very cold corn snow is also common, but much less difficult to address. These are fast conditions except on steep climbs or other slow areas where the skis might feel like they are sticking to the snow. In these conditions, even in snow temperatures around 0 F, often times a cold condition fluorocarbon over multiple layers of hard glide waxes is the best solution. Corn snow is not as aggressive as new snow and therefore acts “warmer”. Also, recommended structure is a well worn fine to medium linear (depending on the size of the crystals).

Hopefully you find these tips regarding glide waxing in extreme cold conditions helpful enough to allow you to concentrate your efforts on keeping your head, hands, and feet warm!>/p>