How to Wax Skis

How to Wax Skis
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Waxing your skis should be a regular part of ski maintenance.

You might be a casual recreational bunny-sloper, a pro racer, or a freestyle extremist, but you should always wax your skis. Even if you don’t ski very often or have the best ski gear, you should wax regularly. But you don’t need to pay for a professional to do the job, and you don’t need much equipment to do it right. The entire process can be done in your garage or driveway, and it doesn’t even take an hour of low-key manual labor—once you get the hang of it, it may take only a few minutes of actual work!

Everyone who owns ski gear should learn how to wax skis. Waxing your own skis can help you save money while also becoming a fully realized sportsperson. Consider it a basic skill. Here’s everything you need to know about how to wax skis.

Why Should You Wax Your Skis?

Waxing your own skis, if done regularly, can be a chore. Why spend so much time on this maintenance task? For a few good reasons:

Improve your performance

Here’s how skiing happens, according to science: As you ski, the pressure and temperature of your skis melt the snow beneath them, creating a fine film of water. Ski bases are made from polyethylene, which is highly porous. Ski wax acts like a lubricant that fills the pores and helps you glide. The better your waxing treatment, the faster and more maneuverable you will be.

Improve the lifespan of your skis

As you ski, the bases of your skis graze against ice crystals, dirt particles, and maybe rocks or other bits of debris. These wear down the material over time. Not only does ski wax reduce the harm these objects do to your beautiful bases, but it gets absorbed into the porous polyethylene material, preventing it from scratching, cracking, or flaking. With regular waxing, your skis will lead a longer, happier life.

Improve aesthetics

Wax deepens the colors of your bases and brings out that lovely glossy shine. A waxed pair of skis just looks better than one with scratched bases!

Save money

Shops and sports centers can charge up to $25 to do a waxing treatment. Depending on how often you ski, that can add up to quite a bill, and that’s a waste of your hard-earned cash. Waxing your skis (as we will show you below) is a simple job. You don’t need a professional to wax your skis when it’s easy to do it yourself. 

How Often Should You Wax Your Skis?

Even if you don’t ski frequently, you should still wax regularly. For the average recreational skier, this will mean waxing at least a few times a year. For avid skiers, it could be as often as once a week. Depending on the conditions in which you ski, here’s a good rule of thumb: wax your skis once for every three to eight days on the slopes.

If you don’t wax your skis as often as you should, your skis will let you know. There are a few signs to look out for. A “dry” base (that is, a base that has not been recently waxed) may look flaky. The colors will soften and whiten. The base will lose its sheen. Hopefully, you never reach this point.

An extreme sign that your skis are desperately in need of waxing is when white “hairs” appear in the P-Tex (the polyethylene base material used on skis). Interpret those hairs as your ski screaming for a waxing. Don’t take it out again until you give it the proper treatment.

How to Wax Skis: The Gear You Need

Before rolling up your sleeves and getting down to business, review this complete checklist of things you need to wax your skis.

Ski vise

A ski vise feels right at home in your garage or studio. The ski vise is actually a set of vises that clamp on the edges of your working surface (like a bench or table). You can then use the vises to secure your ski in a vertical or horizontal position, right-side-up or upside-down. This makes it super easy to wax or tune your skis.

Clean towels

Use these for the initial cleaning and drying phase. Don’t use rags, or anything that isn’t lint-free. You don’t want bits of string, fibers, or lint staying behind on your ski bases. So make sure your towels are freshly cleaned and dry.

Rubbing alcohol

This is technically optional. Again, the alcohol is for the initial cleaning phase of the treatment process. You could also use water. Just make sure your base is bone-dry before you start drizzling wax. That’s why we prefer alcohol: It cleans thoroughly and evaporates quickly, so you can start the treatment right away. 

Your favorite wax

Wax. For the waxing. Obviously. Make sure you have enough! If this is the first time you’re waxing your skis, we recommend starting with a red wax (more on wax options in a moment).

Plastic scraper

This is a simple and inexpensive but vital piece of equipment. You’ll use it to scrape off excess wax in the final phase of the treatment. This is critical because excess wax will collect dirt and debris and ice crystals, which will slow your skis. Make sure the scraper has keen, sharp angles. You may need to sharpen it first (you’ll need to buy a sharpener separately).

Set of brushes

Waxing your skis is an art form, and every artist needs a set of brushes. We recommend collecting a set of three. Each one increases in softness. During the brushing phase of the treatment, you will work through each brush in succession. The final and softest brush will really bring out the polish.

Here are the three kinds we recommend:

Wire

Wire brushes have the firmest bristles. You can use this brush to sweep away excess dirt and grime, as well as for the final brushing. Pass over your thoroughly scraped base with this bad boy before moving to the nylon brush.

Nylon

The bristles on this brush are made from a synthetic polymer. You probably brush your hair with a brush like this. It is slightly softer than the wire brush. 

Horsehair

If you are going to buy just one brush, we recommend you pick the horsehair instead of the wire or nylon. It has the softest bristles, so you might need to make a few extra passes over the base, but you will eventually get the same result.

Waxing iron

This is both the most expensive and the most specialized piece of equipment you will need to wax your skis. Because the ski waxing iron is often seen as a luxury item, many ski owners try to use a household clothing iron instead. 

But the result is not the same. Not only do you get the best results with a waxing iron, but a clothing iron could easily burn the wax or the base. A low-quality clothing iron might iron clothes just fine, but do you trust it not to damage your skis?

If you choose to use a clothing iron, keep in mind that many models have a “steaming” feature to help your cotton shirt relax. If so, the face of the iron will have holes. These could fill with wax and potentially ruin your iron.

Your best bet is to just buy a proper ski waxing iron. With the money you’ll save by waxing your skis yourself, you’ll pay it off in no time.

Types of Ski Wax

Every ski wax is made with a hydrocarbon base. But there is a wide variety of ski waxes with fun stuff added, like graphite or fluorocarbon. These are designed to enhance the performance of the wax. But only pro racers need to worry about that. Recreational and avid skiers should stick to a basic hydrocarbon wax.

The real thing you need to decide on is the temperature of your wax. Some waxes work better in colder climates, others in warmer climates. (Check out the best ski towns in America—you’d be surprised by the temperature ranges.) Choose your wax based on the average temperature of the area where you will be skiing. The types are organized by color:

Warm (Red or Yellow)

This hydrocarbon-based wax is best for skiing temperatures of 25 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. It works best in slushier ice. It is also the first choice for the first wax you apply to your brand-new base. 

Cold (Green or Blue)

For colder climates below 25 degrees Fahrenheit, this is the wax you need. It’s the best for dry and powdery snow. If you ski in more extreme conditions, you should consider supplementing your green or blue wax with the Swix CH3 powder. It’s easy to apply; just sprinkle over the wax you’ve drizzled on your skis (we’re getting to that) and iron the two together. 

Universal (White)

This is the most widely used wax. While racers and alpine skiers will favor green or blue waxes, this is the perfect choice for recreational skiers. It is effective in a range of temperatures, which means you won’t have to worry about weather changes before you go skiing. While no wax is truly universal, this is as close as they come.

How to Wax Skis

Waxing should be a normal part of your ski equipment maintenance. The waxing process is pretty intuitive and easy to remember. Here’s how to wax your skis:

Step 1. Set up your ski vise or similar apparatus

A ski vise is a lovely piece of equipment. It is a must-have for frequent skiers who need to keep their equipment well-maintained. But if you don’t have a ski vise, you can mount your ski on anything from a stack of books to a set of 2x4s. Make sure their height is even and the ski won’t wobble while you work. There is no need to secure your ski with bands, cords, or straps.

Step 2. Lock your ski brakes

You need to get your brakes out of the way to give you room to work. Press the ski brake down with one hand, like you’re stepping into the binding with your ski boot, so that the brake arms move closer to the top of the ski. With the other hand, loop one brake arm with a rubber band, stretch the band across the top of the heelpiece, and loop the other end to the other brake arm. Release the ski brake. 

The rubber band should keep the brake arms raised and clear of the edge of the ski. Once this is done, flip your ski so that the base is facing up, and mount it into your vise.

Step 3. Clean the base

You want the base squeaky-clean and free of dust before you start waxing. Every particle of dust caught between the base and the wax will aggravate the bond. For the wax job to have the best and most long-lasting effect, a thorough clean is essential.

If your ski is noticeably dirty, use the wire brush to scrape off any excess dirt, grit, or grime. Scrub every square inch of the surface from tip to tail. 

Pro tip: Whether cleaning, brushing, waxing, or scraping, always work the base from tip to tail—never tail to tip, or back and forth.

Once you have cleaned off any dirt, bring in the clean towels and rubbing alcohol. Do not pour the alcohol onto the base and then wipe with a dry towel. Instead, apply the alcohol to the towel until slightly damp, then wipe your base vigorously. Make sure you are using a lint-free towel. If your wipes leave behind bits of lint or fiber, you need a different kind of towel. Lint will do the same thing as dust particles and erode your wax faster. 

Even if your base looks dirt-free, clean it with alcohol anyway. There may be dust particles you didn’t see, and it is better to be safe than sorry. Wait until the alcohol treatment has dried before moving to the next step, which shouldn’t take much time. 

Step 4. Drizzle the wax onto your ski

If you have a wax iron, heat it up until it is just warm enough to melt the wax (140 degrees Fahrenheit usually does the trick). You want it warm enough to render the wax block into a running liquid. If the wax begins to smoke, the iron is too hot. Let it cool down before starting again.

Once you’ve reached this point, pick up the wax iron in one hand, the wax block in the other, and bring them together over the base of your ski. Hold the wax block just to the iron and let it melt onto your base. Run the dripping wax all the way down the length of the ski, drizzling it in a zig-zag pattern all the way down the base like you’re “pinballing” back and forth between the long edges of the ski. This pattern means the wax will cover more surface area, which will make it easier to apply. 

For good measure, you can apply one last straight line of wax down the center of the ski. When in doubt, it’s better to have a bit too much wax than too little.

Step 5. Spread the wax

By now, you have a line of wax drips all the way down the surface of your ski in a zig-zag pattern. It’s okay if the wax is beginning to whiten as it cools. You’re not racing the clock.

Now imagine your waxing iron is a butter knife and your ski is a piece of toast. Starting at one end of the ski, put your wax iron face-down on the base and run it down the entire length of the ski. Don’t be afraid to move forwards and backwards with the iron, as long as you keep the iron moving. The iron should melt and distribute the dripped wax across the entire face of the base, right up to the edges. If your wax coverage isn’t quite there, apply more wax drips. By the end, you want a nice, even coat of wax down the entire ski. 

Keep the iron moving steadily. If you move too slowly, you could burn the wax. If you move too fast, the wax won’t have enough time to heat up and adhere to the base. You know you’re doing it right if you leave a trail of molten wax 3-5 inches behind the path of the iron.

Pass your iron over the base 3-4 times. Afterward, the heat will have passed all the way through, and the top of the ski should feel warm to the touch. The surface of the base should appear glassy and the color tones should look darker and richer.

Wait at least an hour before moving to the next step. Ideally, let your ski sit overnight. That will give the wax a chance to cool and get absorbed into the base material. This is the best time to wax the base of your second ski. Then you can find something else to do while you wait for the next step. Or come back the next day for Step 6.

Step 6. Scrape, scrape, scrape

Once the waxed ski has thoroughly cooled, pick up the plastic scraper. You’ve probably heard the saying, “A sharp knife is a safe knife.” The meaning is that a dull knife is actually more difficult to control and increases the risk of injury. In a sense, the same is true for scrapers. While a scraper isn’t likely to cause a wound, you want yours to be sharp. A dull scraper will require you to use more pressure when scraping and could cause you to slip and hurt yourself. 

So make sure your scraper is sharp. If you’ve had yours for a while, look into getting a portable sharpener. Make a few passes with your sharpener before starting. You can also use sandpaper to give your scraper a keener edge.

Holding the scraper at a 45-degree angle (relative to the base), scrape off the excess wax. Do not pull the scraper towards your body. Instead, push the scraper away from your body in long, overlapping strokes. Do not go back and forth, but scrape in one direction starting at the tip and ending at the tail.

In this manner, move steadily down the length of your ski. Make sure you are applying even pressure across the entire edge of the plastic scraper. To avoid uneven pressure, hold the scraper with both hands.

As you scrape, you will peel away paper-thin shavings of wax. Continue scraping until the shavings stop. The goal is to remove as much wax as possible.

Not long ago, your wax was in liquid form. And liquid has a tendency to ooze all over the place. So don’t stop when you’ve finished scraping just the base. Using the small sides of the plastic scraper, remove the wax from the side-walls and edges of your ski. Feel free to use only one hand for this bit. Do this last. 

Step 7. Brush, brush, brush

After you’ve flicked off the last wax shaving, you’re in the final phase of waxing your skis.

Brushing is essentially cleaning. You can also think of it as the second, more refined phase of scraping. The goal is to get those loose wax particles out of the pores in the base of your ski. 

Start with the wire brush. Apply pressure with both hands. Start at the tip of the base and push the brush away from your body in long strokes across the surface of the base. Repeat this motion with overlapping strokes, working your way to the tail. Don’t be afraid of being a little energetic. The time for delicacy has passed. Apply as much pressure as you want!

As you work, you will see small flakes or particles of wax flying away. After a few passes with the wire brush, repeat the same process with the nylon brush, and then again with the horsehair brush. The last one will really bring out the polish in your base.

You can brush as much as you want. There is no limit—you can’t brush too much. The more you brush, the more polished your base, and the smoother you will glide across the snow and ice.

If you are going to buy just one brush, we recommend the horsehair. But for the best results, you will need all three.

Waxing Methods

There’s more than one way to wax skis. We have listed them here from best to worst, and the best ski waxing methods are the most effective and lasting. 

Hot wax

The hot method is the best. It’s the ski waxing method we described above. Basically, it refers to the practice of applying the wax to your base by melting it into a drizzle. This method distributes the wax nicely, gives you complete control of how much wax you wish to apply, and the hot wax soaks into the base material beautifully. This should be how you wax your skis at home.

Cold wax

There are at least two ways to apply cold wax to your skis. The first is simply to scrub the wax block against the base of your ski in a circular motion until you get a nice film residue. Then run the waxing iron over the film. This can only be done with softer waxes, like white. 

For harder waxes, like green, you can zest the block into a powder, which you then sprinkle over the base like fine snow. Make sure the entire surface of the base is hidden by powder. Then run the iron over the wax.

As you might have figured out by now, cold waxes can be extremely time-consuming. You also have less control over how much wax you apply, and it can be distributed less evenly. 

But no matter which waxing method you choose, you will still need to use the iron to spread the wax. “Cold” does not refer to how you spread the wax. It refers to how you apply the wax to the base: as a drizzle (Hot), or as a powder/rub (Cold).

Rub-on wax

So you’re at the park and you need a quick wax. You can have a rub-on wax in your backpack, which you can apply with a sponge to your base like a chapstick. To be clear, this is not the same kind of wax you use when treating your skis with a hot or cold wax. It is a creamy and extremely temporary solution. It’s a quick fix, not a substitute for a regular waxing treatment. 

How to Wax Skis: Best Practices

Your skis will need several waxing treatments over the course of their lives. Depending on how actively you use them, you might wax every few weeks, or even every few days. However, these tips will help prolong the benefits of each waxing treatment. Follow these steps to get the most out of each time you wax your own skis:

1. Keep your skis clean and free from dirt

Your skis will inevitably get dirty, even if they spend most of their lives on a recreational bunny slope. Particles of dirt and rubble irritate the surface area of the ski—especially the base—which wears it down over time. 

To give your skis (and your wax) as long a life as possible, remove all excess grime immediately at the end of the day. A wire brush is a good investment for this task, but a hand rag or hose will also do in a pinch.

2. Keep your skis away from open flames and heaters

Let’s say you’re camping in the alpine. After a long hike, your toes are cold and soaked in your boots. Idly, you plop your gear, including your skis, near or (heaven forbid) over an open flame. No matter how high-quality your wax might be, close proximity to a heat source will melt away any waxing treatment, or at least wear it down rapidly.

3. Store your skis in a dry, warm place

Basically, keep your skis and all ski equipment indoors where temperatures are regulated. Even the garage is better than the porch or car. Exposure to the elements and dramatic temperatures will greatly shorten the lifespan of your skis, to say nothing of any wax treatment. Save the battle with the wilderness for the slopes.

4. Find a wax you like and stick with it

There are lots of choices for wax out there. Toko, Holmenkol, and Swix are popular brands, but the differences are nominal. It’s really up to you which one you prefer. However, brands may not mix well with each other. So it’s probably a bad idea to use Holmenkol one week and Swix the next. For best results, use the same brand consistently.

Conclusion

Waxing your skis might seem like a tedious chore you’d rather leave to someone in the shop. But it’s a basic skill for a skier. And the more you ski (or the more you want to ski), the more important it is to learn how to wax skis yourself. You’ll save money while familiarizing yourself with your equipment. You’ll prolong the lifespan of your skis, increase their performance, boost their speed, and keep them looking good. So take it from us, wax your skis regularly. You might even learn to like it.