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SKI TECH: A Spa For Your Skis (part I)

by Andrew Johnson

I don’t know about you but I’d rather ski than spend hours and hours in my wax dungeon prepping skis. One tool I’ve found that helps me achieve this all important balance is a hotbox.

Before I continue I feel I should make a few disclaimers. When I started writing this I Googled the word “hotbox”. It was an interesting exercise. I feel I must clarify that the hotboxing I’m talking about has nothing to do with smoking illegal substances in an enclosed area, a children’s game involving two throwers and a base runner, a Canadian television series, a pizza chain, a game involving a thrown disk and a small square scoring box, an appliance used to heat up food, a 1972 movie staring Andrea Cagan, an accessory used to heat water for pressure washers, or any type of derogatory term for anyone. Alright...I feel better now.

A hotbox is basically a low temperature oven for skis. The idea is to heat it up, iron a layer of wax onto your skis, and then place them inside. The skis can be left in the hotbox for hours on end. The warm temperature keeps the wax soft and gives it more time to penetrate into your ski bases. Waxing with a hotbox allows your skis to absorb more wax at each go than ironing alone can deliver. More wax in your ski means more protection for your base and a wax job that lasts longer. You benefit because you spend less time applying wax and your skis benefit because they spend more time absorbing it.

Another advantage to hotboxing is that a properly controlled hot box is safer for your ski base than constantly running a hot iron over it. P-tex (the material your ski bases are made of) can begin to melt at temperatures as low as 85° C and becomes pretty much liquid at 135° C. (several scientific studies have shown that liquid ski bases are not fast) Melted, burned, or overheated bases seal and will cease to accept wax. The slightly scary part of all this is that most waxes require an iron temperature somewhere between 110 and 150° C.

Before you freak out and stop using your iron altogether remember this. Higher temperatures are safe as long as you keep enough wax between the iron and the base of the ski, keep the iron moving, and don’t make too many passes with it. The idea is to heat the wax to those high temperatures, not the base of your ski. Obviously ironed ski bases absorb some of the heat from the wax and the iron. The key is to keep them from getting too hot. The downside to relying solely on ironing for wax absorption is that you can’t keep the wax warm for very long or you end up overheating your bases. A hotbox keeps the wax warm enough to absorb into your base but cool enough to keep from damaging your skis.

There are several local shops that offer hotboxing service and both Toko and Swix make hotboxes you can buy. I’ll warn you that the price tag on the Toko or Swix models would make your jaw drop. If you don’t believe me walk into any ski shop and tell them you’d like to special order one. You’ll actually see the dollar signs in their pupils. I checked with one local shop and found their current hotboxing services start at $19 and go through $40. While this is a pretty good deal it isn’t exactly convenient to haul your skis into the shop and plop down $19 every time you want to give your skis a little extra love.

The good news is you can build your own hotbox fairly cheaply. [insert collective gasp and screams of terror] Yes, I know, there are a plethora of horror stories about home made hotboxes on the internet. I’ll also agree that building a hotbox isn’t for everyone and you could damage your skis by doing it incorrectly. However, I also believe with a little foresight you can avoid these problems and build yourself an efficient and effective hotbox. In part two of this post I’ll outline how I built my hotbox and how I have avoided the major pitfalls associated with home made hotboxes.

Stay tuned…

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