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SKI TECH: Base Basics

This article was written by Frank Lundeen and previously published in Master Skier Magazine:

Ski bases, we’ve all spent so much time waxing and working with them, but do you really know what happens to your ski base as you are waxing or gliding over snow? There are a number of important base basics which will help you understand waxing secrets that top wax technicians take for granted.

In order to understand why certain waxes should be used in certain conditions, one must first understand what happens as a ski base glides over snow.

Snow can sometimes be challenging to figure out. It is constantly changing and places different demands on our skis. Different snow types impose different types of drag or resistance on our skis. These different types of resistance include dry friction, varying degrees of abrasiveness, various pollutants (i.e.: dirt, etc.), and excessive moisture which results in suction. Every time you ski, your skis encounter various combinations of these resistances. Luckily we can change our ski base characteristics to match the snow characteristics.

This may all sound complicated, but it is really quite simple.

For example, if the snow is wet and suction develops, we need to make our ski bases repel water and get the moisture moving and out from under the ski base. This is done by using a fluorinated glide wax and/or a flourocarbon to repel water and using an aggressive structure to allow the moisture to move and get out from under the ski base. Doing this will counter act the wet suction drag imposed on the ski making your skis fast in these seemingly slow conditions.

Another seemingly impossible condition to have fast skis in is extreme cold, especially extreme cold new snow. This is a simple concept to understand. A snow flake is sharp, pointy, and aggressive. The colder these snow flakes or snow crystals are, the more aggressive (harder) they become. Now imagine a soft, plastic ski base gliding over these extremely sharp and aggressive (hard) snow crystals. A soft plastic ski base simply will not glide over these aggressive snow crystals. In order for a plastic ski base to glide over something so sharp, hard, and aggressive the ski base also needs to be extremely hard. In order to achieve optimum gliding speed in extremely cold conditions, repeated layers of cold, hard glide waxes are required to counteract this extreme dry friction imposed on the ski.

Pollutants in the snow such as dirt, as well as residue from grooming equipment exhaust, tree sap, etc. can adhere to your ski base. Once a ski base is dirty, it will be slow in any condition. Obviously the challenge here is to make your ski base as dirt repellent as possible. Using waxes containing Molybdenum Disulfide (“Moly” for short) will help your ski bases stay clean. “Moly” is simply a modern day replacement for graphite waxes. “Moly” has the dirt repelling and anti-static characteristics of graphite with greater durability and lubricating characteristics.

The most common resistance to your ski base is a lesser case of dry friction where the snow is clean with temps ranging from the teens to 30’F (-11’C to -1’C). In these common conditions the key to having fast skis is to simply make your ski base as slippery as possible. This is easily achieved using today’s highly fluorinated waxes and fluorocarbons.

Other helpful hints which will make your skis faster include always brushing thoroughly so all wax is removed from the surface of the ski base. If you can see wax remaining within the structure of your skis base while brushing, your skis need to be brushed more. After brushing the ski base should be visually clean of all surface wax, yet appear very shiny.

A shiny ski should be a fast ski!

Generally speaking a shiny ski will be a fast ski. For the best possible shine, polishing brushes and pads will create an unbelievable finish. This will result in faster skis, especially in the first kilometers of skiing.

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