A regular coating of fresh wax makes skis last longer and go faster. We recommend waxing your skis at least once a year, but if you hit the slopes regularly, waxing once a month or more can make a big difference in ski performance. Most shops charge at least $25 for a fresh coat, but it’s a fun and surprisingly easy activity you can do at home.
Why Waxing Works
Ski bases are made from polyethylene, a strong, lightweight, porous material. As you ski, the pressure and temperature of your skis melt the snow, creating a fine film of water. Depending on the snow conditions (like temperature and humidity), this film of water can either make your skis faster or slower. Drier snow is usually faster while wet snow can slow you down. Wax acts as a lubricant for your ski bases, filling the pores and helping your skis glide over the snow.
The Gear You Need
Wax: The type you’ll need will vary based on snow temperature, which is why ski racers and their technicians pay very close attention to the snow conditions to anticipate the best wax for performance. But for recreational skiers, it’s often unnecessary. Unless you plan on waxing your skis before every outing, we recommend a general all-purpose wax like the Swix LF8 ($33). Swix also has a great online tool that analyzes the general snow conditions in your area (based on NOAA data) and pairs you with the best wax for your local mountain.
Iron: Any iron will do in a pinch, even the one you use to smooth your clothes. But a ski-specific model like the Swix Economy ($60) is best. Unlike household irons, which often have holes in the bottom for steaming, this one is completely flat and holeless, so it won’t get gunked up with wax. It also has a digital readout, which is helpful when trying to maintain a consistent temperature.
Scraper: Simple and cheap, a plastic scraper ($8) is used to remove most melted wax from the base of the ski.
Vise Set: Vises aren’t totally necessary, but they will make the waxing process a lot easier by holding your skis securely in place. Swix makes a nice set ($160), which clamps to any workbench or table. If you don’t want to spend the money, setting your skis on two stacks of books will work, too (just not as well).
Brushes: Brushing is the last stage of the waxing process. While the scraper takes off most of the wax, a brush works its way into the ski’s porous base material and removes the rest. A complete set of brushes includes one made of metal ($26), one made of nylon ($21), and one made of horsehair ($23). Like sharpening a knife, start with the aggressive metal brush and work your way down to the finer horsehair one. If you only want to buy one brush, we recommend getting a nylon one as it’s a good happy medium.
How to Wax, Step by Step
1. Before you can wax, you need to get your brakes out of the way. You can do this by hooking a strong rubber band on one brake arm, pulling it over the top of the heelpiece, and hooking it on to the other brake arm.
2. Next, flip the ski upside down on the vice. Secure the binding’s toepiece in the vice to hold everything in place.
3. Use a clean, dry rag to wipe off the base. If you have a metal brush, you can use it to brush any debris out of the base.
4. Heat up the iron to the correct temperature. Most waxes will list the ideal temperature on the box. If yours doesn’t, 140 degrees Fahrenheit is a safe bet. Next, place the wax to the iron and allow it to drip onto the base of the ski. I like to create an S pattern down the entire length of the ski. When in doubt, use more wax rather than less.
5. Working tip to tail, iron the wax onto the ski using short, back-and-forth strokes down the ski. Make sure the wax is melted over the entire ski from edge to edge. It’s important to keep the iron moving to avoid burning the base. Once the base is covered, remove the ski from the vise and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This lets the wax fully penetrate the base, so the more time you let it rest, the better. While you’re waiting, wax the other ski.
6. After 30 minutes, put the initial ski back on the vise, and use the scraper to remove as much wax as possible. Again, start at the tip and work your way down the ski, holding the scraper at a 45-degree angle. This can take some work, but don’t be afraid to put your back into it—you won’t damage the base of the ski. It may take a few passes to get all the wax off.
7. After the scrape, go over the base several times with your nylon brush to remove any leftover wax fragments, still working from tip to tail. Once you do a few passes with the nylon brush, switch to the horsehair brush and repeat the process. Brushing is a bit like buffing a car—the more, the better, and you can never really do too much.