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Bailey + Eric: Waxing Poetical

Not really. But it felt like a juicy peach just waiting to be picked. Eric, of the Bailey + Eric AMBASSADORKS is a Ski Tech at Continental Ski + Bike in Duluth Minnesota. He handles lots of customer's skis during his work day, and then gets to handle his own skis (and Bailey's) at night. Which means, he's had lots of time to consider the waxing world and all that it implies.


With that, let's get to it.




 


bailey + eric

Eric, A Ski Tech.


Well, we still don’t have snow here in Duluth, but Bailey and I have been skiing! Spirit Mountain - a nearby ski hill - has been able to make snow overnight and recently opened a 600 meter loop at the base of the mountain. There’s still no snow in the forecast, and we’re starting to worry that our tune-up race, the Sisu, in January is going to get canceled, but for now we are making the most of what’s there and getting out as much as we can.


Despite the lack of “real” snow, ski service has been steady at Continental Ski & Bike, the shop where I work. Twice a week I’m running the machines - stone grinding both Nordic and Alpine skis - and the other three days I’m kept busy waxing and mounting bindings. Who knows how long it will last without snow, but for now all is well. Duluthians are an optimistic bunch- we’re always just one big snowstorm away from some of the best Nordic in the country.


Working as a ski tech, I get a lot of questions about waxing skis, so I figured I’d take some time to talk glide wax in this post. Nordic glide wax & structure is a HUGE topic, and trying to cover everything in a short blog post would be too much, but I’ll do my best to share a few insights that I’ve picked up over the years working as a ski tech, and to share what I do to maintain our skis.





 


bailey + eric

Keep Calm and Wax On.




The first thing that I tell folks who are new to waxing their own skis is don’t get overwhelmed. It’s easy to get lost on online forums that are filled with contradictions and differing opinions on what works and what doesn’t, but at the end of the day waxing is a pretty straightforward process.


  1. You start by ironing on a layer of wax to the base of the ski. While hot, glide wax seeps into microscopic pores in the p-tex (ski base material), then hardens into place when it cools.

  2. Once that wax has cooled, you scrape, brush, and then polish off all the excess wax, leaving a nice shiny base with a visible structure. Always work tip-to-tail, and keep the iron moving to avoid burning the base. Glide wax preserves the base of your skis by keeping the p-tex from “oxidizing”, and- when done right- waxing can make your skis move faster across the snow.


Like anything in life, the more you do it the better you’ll get, and it’s the failures- the “bad” wax days and burnt bases- that make the successes all the sweeter. There’s nothing as confidence-inspiring as nailing the wax on race day, nothing quite as thrilling as flying past people on a pair of fast skis that you waxed yourself.




 


bailey + eric

Which wax, when?




Now that fluoro waxes are out of the picture, picking and applying the right glide wax is, in some ways, a little less straightforward. Brands like Swix and Toko offer different tiers of wax for different temperatures, but what differentiates one wax from the other is a trade secret - and will become more clear with some of your own trial and error.


Most glide waxes, regardless of brand or price level, come marked with a recommended temperature range. This is a great place to start, but nailing the wax is not quite as simple as checking the temperature on your phone and matching that number with the proper wax.


Snow temps often lag behind air temps, and everything from wind, cloud coverage, humidity, and terrain can have an impact on the quality of the snow. Certain glide waxes are supposed to work best in fresh, “clean” snow, while others are marketed for old, “dirty” snow, but at what point does clean snow become dirty?


Keeping track of all these variables is overwhelming and, frankly, sometimes impossible, which is why experimentation and experience are so important. Elite-level Nordic ski team techs will be out testing numerous skis before each race to see which structure/wax combo is gliding best that day, and while it’s hard to match that level of dedication as a recreational skier, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to test different waxes while training.


If a wax feels particularly good some morning, take note of what you used and what the conditions are like and try to remember that for next time. I have found waxing friends' skis to be a good way to learn, and their feedback after races has been huge in guiding my process.


The bottom line is that while there’s nothing wrong with scraping the internet for advice on how to wax fast skis, especially when getting started, the only way to understand “what works when” is to get out and ski for yourself.



 


bailey + eric

Don't Forget To Brush Your Ski!



One of the most common mistakes I see at the shop is people leaving too much wax on their skis. It’s amazing how many lifelong nordies bring their skis to Continental for a race wax with old glide wax caked to their base. Excess wax will make a fast ski slow and cover up the structure, so be thorough when brushing!


After scraping, I like to start with:


  • Using a brass brush to remove excess wax. Brass is aggressive enough to remove wax, but not so aggressive as to scratch p-tex and ruin structure.

  • Once I’ve finished brushing with a brass brush, I do a few passes with a roto-horsehair brush.

  • Followed by a finishing pass with a roto-nylon polishing brush. I’ve experimented with roto-wool brushes too, but haven’t really been able to notice a difference on my own skis.


Hot take: Roto-brushes that mount onto a drill are well worth the investment in my opinion, as they save time and produce a more consistent finish. I like to think that the added friction helps the wax bond to the ski.



 


bailey + eric

What I do to our skis.


We pulled this from google so we could show you a handheld infrared wax future. This isn't Eric and those aren't nordic skis.


During the season, I wax our skis about once every 1-2 weeks. I have gravitated towards Swix’s

Performance line of wax for our day-to-day skiing, but throughout the season I test various

combinations of Swix Top Speed and Marathon wax in preparation for race day.


When applying a top coat, I iron on a thin layer, let it cool, then reheat the wax using Continental’s infrared wax future*. I find that reheating the wax in this way and then letting it cool again before scraping/brushing/polishing makes for a more durable top-coat and a better finish. A similar result could probably be achieved by re-heating a couple of times with an iron (just be super careful not to burn the base), since most of you don’t have access to an infrared wax-future.


I haven’t talked much about structure in this post, but that is something else that I will be focused on with our skis. Snow conditions in the upper Midwest are (typically) cold and dry, so I stone ground a tight linear pattern onto our skis at the beginning of the season, and plan on passing them through the stone grinder before the Birkie again to make sure they're flat for the race.


I am just starting to dabble with hand structuring, so depending on conditions for the Birkie and my confidence in my structure choice, I might add a hand-structure for race day on top of the final top coat. We’ll see.


*Not gonna lie, had to google this ourselves. Whoa.

 


the closer What We're Thinking About.

We've STILL got plans to do a movement analysis with Bailey and Eric's early-season skate technique to help them achieve their skiing goals for the BIRKIE. Should be fun and helpful for anyone looking to learn more about skate skiing and the ways technique can impact your skiing journey.

Takk

Jenn + Kevin





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