Ski maintenance

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Contents

Waxing Skis

Tools

Waxing iron
Ski waxing irons are nice but any old junky clothes iron will work ok as long as you don't let it get too hot. The iron is definitely not suitable for clothes after this procedure! Specialized ski waxing irons have no holes and better temperature control.
Plastic scraper
A plastic scraper is used to remove extra wax without removing any of the base material. Metal scrapers will remove ptex as well and thus alter the shape of the ski bases. Plastic scrapers wear out with use and become less effective as the corners dull. You can resharpen a plastic scraper with sandpaper. Place sandpaper on a hard flat surface and rub the scraper on it to remove material from the edge and resharpen the corner.
Cork
Cork is optional for glide wax but essential if you want to use kick wax. The cork is used to heat up the wax a little and smooth out the wax surface. Pressure from the cork helps bind kick wax to the base.
Brass brush
A brass brush is used to help clean the old wax out of the ski base, and to remove excess wax from the base structure.
Nylon brush
Same use as the brass brush, but with softer bristles for softer wax.

Supplies

Glide Wax
Wax for colder weather is harder, wax for warmer weather is softer. Some people use a 3 wax system (cold, medium, warm) but others are happy with all purpose wax which is somewhere in the middle. Fancy fluoro waxes are for racers and they aren't worth the money for backcountry skiing.
Citrus Solvent
This solvent helps clean the old wax out of the skis.
Kick Wax
Also known as grip wax, kick wax is traditionally used in cross country skiing to provide the necessary grip for classic technique. It can also be used for backcountry skiing in flatter terrain. Compared to skins, kick wax has less grip but much better glide. Like glide wax, kick wax comes in a variety of hardnesses that are suitable for different temperatures and snow conditions.

Method for Glide Wax

  • For a basic hot wax, skip all optional steps
Optional Instructions
O Clean the skis with citrus solvent to soften the old wax.
O Brush the bases with a brass or nylon brush to clean out the old wax and open the structure.
Preheat the wax iron. With a ski wax iron, set the temperature specified for the particular wax you are using. Harder waxes (for colder snow conditions) require higher temperatures. If using a clothes iron, start with the setting for wool or some other low temperature. If the iron ever creates smoke, it's too hot and it's burning the wax.
Melt the wax by touching it to the hot iron. It will drip (onto your skis, hopefully). You don't need a ton of wax on your skis, just a little drip line down the center. Then iron the wax into the skis for a couple minutes. It's important to warm up the ski base so that the pores open up and absorb the wax, but don't stay in one spot too long so it doesn't get too hot and burn. If the iron smokes, it's too hot and the wax is burning. If the iron feels sticky on the ski then it's too cold.
Let the skis cool for 20 minutes.
Scrape all the wax off with the plastic scraper. You should try to scrape quite forcefully in long smooth strokes. If you don't have a ski vice, stand the ski up against a wall and scrape it top to bottom. You can reuse the excess wax you scrape off. If a lot of wax comes off, too much was applied to the skis. A new, sharp scraper works a lot better than an old dull one.
O Use a nylon brush to clear excess wax out of the base structure.
O Buff the ski base with a cork.

Basic Method for Kick Wax

Kick wax is a great alternative to skins for gentle climbs and flat terrain under the right conditions. Wax works well with cold new snow, but poorly on crusty refrozen snow or melting corn snow. Under these conditions, klister (a sticky paste) is needed, but it's generally not worth the mess. You can put skins on over top of all but the softest waxes without having the wax mess up the skin glue. Putting skins on over klister is a precursor to the apocalypse.

Theory

Unlike glide wax that penetrates into the ski base, kick wax sits on the surface of the ski base to contact the snow directly. When pressure is applied to the ski, snow crystals stick into the wax providing grip. However, when the surface of the ski is moving with respect to the snow the snow crystals just sort of bounce along the surface of the wax providing decent glide. The trick is to match the hardness of the wax to the hardness and sharpness of the snow. Softer waxes have more grip, but less glide and are generally used for warmer snow. Warmer snow conditions require softer waxes because the snow crystals themselves are softer and rounder, and they won't stick into a harder wax to provide grip. Harder waxes have less grip but more glide, and are for cold snow. Colder snow conditions have harder, sharper snow crystals than penetrate the wax more easily and can get stuck if the wax is too soft.

The temperature ratings given by kick wax makers assume that you are on light XC gear and can generate a good kick to make the wax stick. If this is not the case, use a slightly softer wax than recomended.

As snow ages, the crystals naturally round themselves off making the snow behave as it is was a little warmer, because of this effect, most kick waxes have two temperature ratings - one for old snow and one for new snow. If the snow has melted and refrozen several times, even the softest waxes won't work and klister is needed.

Method

  1. At the trailhead, decide which wax to use based on the temperature and snow conditions. This is the hardest part.
  2. Colour in the base of your ski with the wax. For backcountry skis, put the wax on the whole ski base, not just the part under the foot. The reason for this is that your skis don't have a wax pocket like double camber XC skis, and in soft snow conditions your weight will be spread out over most of ski. If there is a hard packed track, you get get away with putting wax only under the foot area, but any dips and rolls in the track will be tricky to negotiate.
  3. Buff the wax smooth with a cork or it will ice up quite badly.
  4. If you don't have enough grip, go back to step 1 and add more wax. You can try more layers of the same wax, or a softer wax over top.
  5. If you have too much grip (snow sticking to your bases) you need a harder wax, but it's difficult to put a harder wax over a softer one. Try scraping the wax thinner or buffing it smoother, since this is easier than applying a harder wax. To make applying a hard wax over a soft wax a bit easier, warm up the hard wax in a pocket to soften it. Once it's on the ski, it will cool to the temperature of the snow and return to it's normal hardness. If this procedure doesn't work, scrape the soft wax off with a plastic scraper and start again.

Getting kick wax off

Kick wax can be really nasty gooey stuff, and hard to get off skis.

  • In the field, a plastic scraper can remove most, but usually not all of the wax. Some citrus solvent base cleaner and a rag can help do the job as well. Nordic purists will have separate scrapers for kick wax, glide wax, and klister.
  • Zardoz Notwax is a teflon based lubricant the can supposedly be applied over kick wax to make it glide well again. However, this is a one shot deal and more kick wax cannot be applied over top.
  • Hot waxing the ski and then scraping the wax off before it cools to room temperature is an easy, effective way to clean kick wax off of ski bases. Nordic racer types might not approve of this method because it involves putting glide wax on the wax pocket, but it works fine for most backcountry skiers on single camber skis.

Waxing for storage

Before you put your skis away at the end of the season, wax them but don't bother scraping. Use a warm wax for this. This keeps the bases well saturated with wax over the summer and prevents the sintered P-tex from oxidizing and hardening.

Waxing for cleaning

Hot waxing is a terrible way to rid your bases of sticky goo like pollen, tree sap or kick wax... but some people try it. First clean if off with a solvent, like white gas, then re-wax your skis.

Edge Tuning

Tools

Standard file
90 degree file holder
This little tool makes tuning the sides of edges much easier as you won't slip and dull the edge.
Diamond stone

Procedure

Use the standard file for doing the bottom side of the edges, and the 90 degree tool for the sides. Do most of the sharpening from the sides, since this is easier. You can skip the 90 degree holder, but it saves a lot of slip ups that need to be corrected later. The diamond stone is for removing burrs and rough spots from the edges.

Beveling

Some people bevel the bases and edges of their skis. This means that the filing is done at a slight angle to the base plane or vertical edge. You can purchase file holders for the edges that are not 90 degrees; usually they are also available set to 88 or 89 degrees. Beveling the base side of the edges is a bit trickier, but you can use a standard file with a strip of duct tape wrapped around a section of it (around 2 wraps for 1 degree). Run the tape along the edge you are not filing. You can also purchase devices with adjustable angles that are capable of filing the base and side edges. Often people recommend that you match the bevel on the base and side edge to maintain a 90 degree angle since a sharp edge helps on icy terrain. How important this is for backcountry skiing is probably debatable.

Regluing Climbing Skins

Tools

Heat gun
(for the hot knife method) Industrial strength is prefered, but a high powered hair dryer will work too.
Putty knife
(for the hot knife method)
Waxing iron
(for the rag mathod)

Supplies

Newspaper
because skin glue is really messy stuff.
Skin glue
Black Diamond Gold Label adhesive is the standard by which all other glues are judged. One can will do a full reglue for about 3 pairs of skins. Once you open the can it gradually goes bad over time as the solvent evaporates. A nearly full can lasts longer than a nearly empty one.
Skin glue solvent
Montana makes a solvent specifically for dissolving skin glue which works well. Use this if you get glue on the wrong side of the skins. White gas also works great, is cheap, and is readily available.
Cotton rags
(for the rag method). Old t-shirts are supposed to work well for this.

Removing Old Glue

You may or may not want to remove the old glue. It's a messy job, but worth the effort more times than not. If you just need a touch up job for some bare spots, don't bother removing the old glue. The benefits of removing some (or all) of the old glue are:

  • Removing the glue also removes dirt, pine needles, lichen and other gunk that is stuck in the glue. Clean glue sticks better.
  • Removing some or all of the old glue smoothes out the base for the new glue which helps prevent clumping up of the glue.
  • Too much glue makes the glue prone to clumping up and sticking to your ski bases.

There are 3 methods to remove glue - the hot knife method, the paper bag method, and the white-gas method. The paper bag method is not described here.

Hot Knife Method

  • This is a really messy job, so you will need a good working area and a lot of newspaper.
  • Use the heat gun to heat up the glue and scrape it off with the putty knife. Applying heat to both the old glue and the knife for best results, but don't melt your skins.
  • Wipe off the knife on the newspaper while the glue is still hot and repeat.
  • Continue scraping and wiping until you've removed all the dirt and excess glue. There's no need to go over the top if the skins aren't too bad to begin with.
  • Throw the newspaper away. Don't even think about burning it.
  • Cleaning the putty knife at the end of all this is also a challenge. Heat and newspaper work ok, but only paint thinner or a similar solvent will get the last trace of the glue off easily. It's better (for you and the environment) to edicate a particular putty knife to this task and never clean it.

White Gas Method

  • This is also a messy job, put down a lot of newspaper, and have more handy for wiping your putty knife
  • Adding white gas on your skin glue will turn the glue into a napalm-like jelly which scrapes off easily
  • Do a little bit at a time, and wipe your putty knife/paint scraper frequently on your scrap newspaper
  • Try not to get the mess on the fuzzy side of your skins... but if you do just use more white gas to clean it off
  • It's easy to clean the putty knife afterwards with white gas

Applying New Glue

The solvent in skin glue is usually Toluene or something similar which is really nasty stuff. It's banned in Europe, and known to cause cancer and birth defects in the state of California, so make sure to use it in another state, or better yet, another country. Only attempt this procedure in a warm, well ventilated place, and then get out as soon as you are done. Basically you will want to follow the directions provided by the glue manufacturer. 2 or more coats will be needed, unless it's just a touch up job.

  • Paint on a thin layer of glue using the supplied brush. Keep as thin as the glue will allow. Whatever you do, don't touch the liquid glue.
  • If all the old glue was stripped off the skins, use the brush to work the new glue into the skin as much as possible.
  • Be very careful not to get any glue on the plush side of the skins. If you do, just let it dry and then you can clean it later with a solvent.
  • Let the skins dry somewhere warm for a few hours before applying additional coats.
  • Once all coats have been put on (1-3 coats), leave the skins open to dry for 24 hours. Don't fold them back together until they have dried for 24 hours, or the glue could go bad.
  • It has been noted that drying skins in a cold place instead of a warm place can result in the glue peeling off the skins and sticking to your skis. This is not good.

Resetting Glue

Skin glue is heat activated, meaning it goes runny with heat. Supposedly it is possible to smooth out bad glue by putting parchment paper over it and then ironing it. (Note: wax paper will break down if you overheat it. Instead try bakers parchment paper, most grocers carry it these days. If you wait until the glue has cooled before removing the parchment paper it should peel right off nice and smooth.)

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