News: Waxless vs. Waxed Skis

Every year we get questions about waxless vs. waxed cross country skis as newbies enter the ski scene and try to figure out what’s best for them. Both types of skis have their merits, and we’re happy to sell you either after you determine which best suits your needs, so let’s take up a bit of space to explain the differences and then you can make an informed choice…
First off just to confuse you waxless skis aren’t completely waxless. All cross country skis require glide wax to periodically be applied to the tip and tail of the ski, which helps the ski glide smoothly over snow (this is also called hot-waxing). Most local skiers ask us to apply glide wax to their skis at the beginning of the ski season and if they ski enough they come back to the shop once, twice, or more during the season to have us reapply the glide wax. Applying glide wax isn’t really that difficult and only requires an iron (a ski-specific iron is best), wax, a scraper, buffer, and another small tool or two, and ideally a stand to cradle your ski while applying the wax. We sell stands, irons, the small tools, and of course the wax, and some customers opt to set themselves up and do the glide waxing themselves. We’re happy to help you either way – we can get you ready to do your own glide waxing at home or we can do it for you in the shop.

Then there’s grip wax. This is the wax that’s applied to the central portion of the ski – the part that contacts the snow when you push off with your leg to propel yourself forward. As the name implies grip wax grips the snow crystals under your ski so that you don’t slip while you push forward. Because snow crystal structure varies greatly at different temperatures (and because in Winnipeg we experience wildly different temperatures) different grip wax is required to grip properly in different temps. Grip wax is usually applied before every ski session. It’s pretty easy to apply grip wax (we’ll save the details for another post) and requires only a few basic tools that cost very little, and grip wax is conveniently rated according to air or snow temperature, so using grip wax isn’t a big burden. It doesn’t take that long either (maybe 10 minutes or so).

With that said, some folks just don’t want to deal with grip wax if they don’t have to, and the good news is that you don’t have to. Waxless skis have a ridged or fish-scale pattern under the mid-section of the ski where grip wax would otherwise be applied. The ridges engage with snow crystals in a similar way that grip wax does and provides traction as you push off to move forward. Waxless skis require no prep, except for seasonal or periodic glide waxing.

So what’s best for you? Well there’s no definitive answer but we’ll offer some guidelines: If you just don’t want to deal with grip wax (e.g. if you want to ski NOW, not 10 minutes from now) then obviously waxless is the way to go. If you’re going on long back country ski trips and don’t want to worry about re-applying grip wax trailside as your wax layers wear off then waxless is also a good choice. Waxless skis also perform well in temps near freezing, where it’s harder to get grip from conventional grip wax. Ski temps in Manitoba are usually well below freezing but it’s occasionally nice and warm and waxless skis are great for a warm, sunny, toqueless outing.

Waxless skis also sometimes offer an advantage when you’re skiing in between tree-covered and exposed areas where the snow temperature fluctuates greatly. In such situations dialing in the perfect grip wax application is difficult whereas waxless skis may perform more consistently. Some competitive skiers have actually used waxless skis in such situations and performed very well against their more traditional, grip-waxed competition.

On the other hand conventional grip waxed skis usually offer the best opportunity to tune your skis to work optimally in whatever your current conditions might be. Generally speaking grip wax hooks up with the snow better than a waxless ski, and using a wax that’s specifically rated for current snow conditions provides a more consistent feel thru whatever the conditions are no matter how they change from day to day (because you’re changing the wax from day to day to suit the conditions). Put simply, grip waxed skis are a bit more work but are usually a bit faster. In other words it is to some extent a matter of performance vs. convenience, though in our opinion neither peform poorly and neither are inconvenient.

For whatever reason(s) most of our customers are in the market for conventional grip wax skis, so that’s what we stock the most of, and of course we have plenty of grip wax in stock to suit any condition. We do stock some waxless skis too, and if we don’t have exactly what you’re after in stock we’re happy to order anything in for you from either Salomon or Fischer. Bindings of your choice can be mated to either waxed or waxless skis.

So, did our explanation help? If you have more questions feel free to pop by the shop anytime and we’ll address your specific needs and get you on your way. If you’re already good to go then see you on the trails!

Leave a Reply