If sliding on snow is your winter pastime, you’ve almost certainly carved a few turns by now, whether up in the Cascades or on the nearest hilly street thanks to our late December blast that turned all of Western Washington into a winter wonderland. But if several laps into the season, your skis or snowboard just aren’t gliding with that effortless feeling and the white carpet below feels more like tree sap, there’s at least one likely culprit: wax.

“The wax is what helps propel you forward,” says Andrew Black, a ski tuner since 2010. “You’re actually melting a layer of snow underneath your ski. If you have no wax, that melting isn’t happening and that’s where you get the stickiness from.”

Any ski shop can put a hot wax on your planks or board and some ski areas can even do a quick wax while you grab lunch. But waxing your own skis is a skill worth acquiring, whether you’re looking to save a few hard-earned bucks or just get more intimate with your gear.

What you’ll need: a cup of water, rubber bands (for skis with alpine bindings), a diamond stone file, a multi-edge ski tuning tool, a stick of ski or board wax, an iron (specialty waxing irons exist; if you use a clothes iron, it will become your de facto waxing iron), a scraping tool, a waxing brush, a brass brush (optional), citrus wash and a roll of paper towels. Warning: This is a messy job best done over a drop cloth or on a floor you don’t mind getting very dirty.

To get set up, put the skis or board face down on a work bench, ski waxing bench or hobby horses — somewhere that you can apply force to the gear. For skis, use a rubber band to tie the brakes back.

Black recommends sharpening the edges of the ski or snowboard before waxing in order to keep any filaments out of the wax. He starts with the diamond stone file dipped in water. If you have multiple files, work from coarsest to finest, just like sanding a table. His technique is to hover the file just above the surface of the base as he works his way up and down the edge.

Advertising

As you smooth out any burrs on the metal that lines skis or a board, Black says, “You want to hear the edge grind.” But don’t overdo it. “You’re not sharpening a knife,” he cautions.

Next, flip the ski on its side for an angled tune with the multi-edge ski tuning tool. For the Pacific Northwest’s wet and heavy snow, Black recommends a sharp 90 degrees for a one-time tail-to-tip grind. To be sure your edges are fully sharpened, try the “fingernail test”: Gently scrape your nail along the edge to see if it leaves a trace. If a thin amount of nail scrapes off, you’re ready to wax.

Before waxing, clean the base off with citrus wash and paper towels to remove any pesky filaments and other impurities you don’t want to accidentally iron into your equipment. Now is the time to use a brass brush to “open up the pores,” as Black describes it, though this step is optional. Afterward, give your skis or board one pass with the iron at 130 degrees Fahrenheit to warm up the base.

Now comes the fun part: Take the solid stick of wax in one hand and press it into the iron you’re holding with the other hand. Drip the melted wax up and down the board, ideally nearest the edges, tip and tail. For midwinter downhill skiing and boarding, Black goes with a basic all-temperature wax. (Waxing for cross-country skiing is an entirely different beast and Nordic alchemists have a veritable Pantone wheel of wax colors for different temperatures.)

Then, iron in the wax with nice, slow passes, keeping a close eye to make sure no area of the base goes wax-less, and evening out the wax to avoid any peaks or valleys — save those for the mountains. This task is the most sensuous of the waxing experience. I spend so much time looking at the fancy decal on the top side of whatever hyped ski brand I’m rocking that season and so little time looking at the underside, which frankly is doing all the work. If you’re feeling truly inspired, turn the lights down low and cue some Barry Manilow.

On a more practical level, Black reminds, “It’s like ironing a shirt — don’t leave the iron in on one place for too long.” 

Advertising

Let the wax set for 20-30 minutes, then it’s time to scrape off the excess. If you’re like me, you’ll wax overzealously on your first try and end up with a ski covered in pink goo like something out of a sci-fi B movie. There’s no downside other than extra time and effort with the ol’ scraper. Position the scraper edge touching the base behind the edge that you grip, so that effectively you drag the scraper along the length of the ski or snowboard and drive the wax into the base while removing the extra little waxy shavings that will inevitably end up all over you and the floor.

Most scraping tools have a corner cut so you can run them along the edge to clean any wax off your edges. Finish off the job with a ski waxing brush, which can be made of any soft bristle from nylon to horsehair, and brush off the last stubborn bits of wax. 

Now you’re ready to get back out there for at least a half-dozen more days on the hill, give or take, depending on how aggressively you ski or ride, before it will be time to do it all over again.

More Outdoors Stories

More