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Waxing skis as wrong as 'tarring a plastic boat,' says researcher

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June 14, 2010

Newly-presented research reportedly proves that modern skis perform better without wax

Newly-presented research reportedly proves that modern skis perform better without wax

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For the past several years, debate has been brewing amongst cross-country skiers as to the merits of ski-waxing. Back when all skis had a wooden base, adding wax was essential in order to get them to glide across the snow. Many skiers still swear by waxing today, even though skis now have supposedly “no-wax” polyethylene gliding surfaces. Waxing can be a tricky process, though - if you use a wax with the wrong temperature rating, you can end up sticking to the snow, or slipping back and forth in one spot. It’s also time-consuming, and requires the skis to be periodically stripped of their built-up wax layers. Now, a researcher from Mid Sweden University (MSU) claims to have proof that modern skis work better without wax, and says that “those who claim otherwise are practicing voodoo and not science.”

Leonid Kuzmin is currently defending his doctoral thesis at MSU’s Department of Engineering and Sustainable Development. He made his initial claims about the evils of ski wax several years ago, and has since researched the topic farther for that thesis. He believes that the combination of high wear-resistance, low friction, and the ability to self-lubricate make ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) bases better without wax. He stated, “That’s why it makes no sense to destroy a fantastic product with a less suitable material like glide wax.”

But why are waxes allegedly inferior? Mainly, because dirt particles and other contaminants get stuck in wax. In a 2006 study, Kuzmin compared a number of waxed and unwaxed skis with a white gliding surface. After use in wet snow conditions, more dirt was visible on the waxed skis. He also found that the layer of water between ski and snow was more uniformly-spread with no wax. But what about cold, dry snow, where a hard wax is preferable to one that’s soft and sticky? In a 2008 study, he determined that the addition of hard wax could still not match the hardness of an unwaxed base.

Waxing skis as wrong as 'tarring a plastic boat,' says researcher

It is Kuzmin’s belief that the practice of ski waxing persists for a number of reasons. They include promotion on the part of wax manufacturers, the difficulty of assessing glide on a surface as constantly-changing as snow, and a “strong and persistent wish to see the ski preparation as an art and magic, but not as a technological process and science.”

“It’s a myth that you need to use wax on skis,” he stated. “Modern ski bases provide better glide. It’s enough to treat the surface of the ski mechanically, using a steel scraper, for example, to achieve good glide. This also minimizes your cost as well as the time you spend.”

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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7 Comments

O.K. then my skis must be ANCIENT as I stick to the snow like I was glued to the snow if I don't wax them! :-)

mrhuckfin
14th June, 2010 @ 06:28 pm PDT

I mostly agree with this - I've been waxing and not waxing for years - I do think that there are conditions that can occur in terms of ambient temp vs. snow temp that cause some interesting surface of ski conditions to occur - particularly at the freeze point where water crystallizes on the ski bottom. I skate and classic - on my classic skis I base wax to provide a better adhesion of my kick wax in the kick zone - the article is really only about glide wax and you need kick or a good waxless ski - I have yet to find one that is as fast under race conditions as most of my wax alternative (and this isn't anecdotal, you can feel the speed difference immediately) I don't kick wax with Klister much under warm conditions any longer, prefereing to go with a waxless ski under those conditions.

For skate-skiing, I don't wax my bases anymore. I sometimes will put a thin film down on them of one of the skate base preps, which are really just plastics themselves.

Kevin Sprague
15th June, 2010 @ 11:31 am PDT

well... I think it is good that someone challenges the evolution of increasingly complex and costly ski wax products and procedures, but lets hope that the good Mr Kuzmin keeps his research unbiased from his own business promotion

http://www.kuzmin.se/pgs/scrapers_engl.html

and speaking of art and magic, which should one choose at $83 each?

Kuzmin Original - Most efficient at temperatures between 2 to -8 Celsius.

Kuzmin Cold - Most efficient at temperatures lower than -8 Celsius.

Kuzmin Plus - Most efficient at temperatures above 3 Celsius.

Jonas
21st June, 2010 @ 07:26 am PDT

From my experience which includes many ski marathons in various conditions wax makes a considerable difference especially in the extreme conditions both hot and cold. The example of wet dirty snow is possibly the only one where one could be better off with an unwaxed ski. Wax fills the space in between the polyethylene particles thus keeping the bases cleaner. It could be that these experiments were done with skis with extruded rather than sintered bases. That would make a difference but a sintered base will be faster than an unwaxed extruded base in any conditions. One certainly does not need the most expensive waxes in most conditions. When it is 4 centigrade and you are skiing a 70km marathon in a humid river valley fluorocarbon waxes make a big difference.

Frederick Hartray
7th June, 2011 @ 11:59 am PDT

...bulls**t... I've had several inches of snow stuck to the bottom of my skis on cold, wet days when I've not waxed for a few days.

Nothing like an "expert" to get it wrong...

DemonDuck
8th February, 2012 @ 08:10 pm PST

I believe that Mr. Kuzmin has not done sufficient field work. What he states may be true under only select conditions, that is freshly exposed plastic bases. This is really only found on either new skis or freshly machined skis. This fresh plastic is quite hydrophobic, however, as the plastic base is exposed to air and contaminants it slowly becomes hydrophilic (perhaps through oxidation) and then an ice layer forms and one builds up ice which slows the ski and can evetually lead to quite suprizing amounts of build ups. To combat this one has to either remove the layer of oxidized plastic or add a few monolayars of wax. If one is has a so called "no wax" nordic ski with perhaps a fish scale or crown pattern, the removal of a layer of plastic is highly difficult if not imposible. It is not suprizing that these are the skis that have the most dramatic build up of ice.

After a long career as a scientist, I worked several years in a nordic ski center and I can predict if a ski will pick up water by just looking at how a drop water wets.

I have also seen skis that brand new prior to waxing were very slow and waxing did not seem to help much until they were waxed and cooked in a hot box for a few days.

All of the racing teams I know of spend serious time and money on waxing, and it isn't uncommon for a racer to give credit to a wax tech for a win.

Publishing a small amount of data does not demonstrate that you understand the problem, only that you have done an incomplete investigaton of why there is this long history of waxing plastic based skis.

If one could develope a propriatary base that didn't need waxing there is a fortune to be made, do you not believe that ski companies would be advertising this if they could??

zohn
6th March, 2013 @ 04:57 pm PST

Without wishing to bump an old article, but I searched and found this and believe an update is required. To Zohn above, that's a very clear explanation and it ends with a beautiful 'what if':

'If one could develope a propriatary base that didn't need waxing there is a fortune to be made'.

This base now exists and is in development/testing as we speak and will change the snow/ski/wax landscape for everyone. Exciting times ahead. There's no announcement yet, when and where, but let me know if you're interested in finding out and I'll add you to the 'sneaky' list.

Mark Clean-Mountains
28th July, 2014 @ 04:57 am PDT
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