December 09, 2021
Fast skis done Fast-
The Junior National Qualifier races that the Teacup Junior team attend are highly competitive, and having fast skis is critical. For some years now the Teacup Team has often had some of the fastest skis on the course, and one reason is the use of high performance glide waxes – applied without using an iron.
No ironing, no scraping. Glide waxes that are applied in a liquid form, allowed to dry, then a quick brushing out and the skis are race ready. As we enter a future without fluorocarbons in glide wax, the liquid glide waxes provide a greater number of application strategies to optimize race level glide. More importantly, and of greater value to non-competitors, it can be simple and convenient .
It helps to start with a little science.
Ski bases are inherently very good for gliding on snow. Even the extruded bases found on inexpensive skis glide remarkably well on snow without treatment, and the Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) on higher performance skis is unsurpassed for toughness, impact resistance, and slipperiness. No wonder that a common use for UHMWPE is in joint replacement! For non-racing use, UHMWPE has be shown to glide remarkably well without any glide wax at all…although it has a maximum potential at about 18 F in low humidity.
The one thing UHMWPE doesn’t have is pores. Old ski wax advice about ironing in wax to “soak into” or to be “absorbed” by the base was never true. Wax does not absorb into the base of a ski. Going back and forth with many coats of wax was (often) a waste of wax and electricity. Recent experiments by tribologists (the science of slippery surfaces) demonstrated that that the major interaction of glide wax with snow surfaces comes only from an incredibly thin layer (sometimes only molecules thick) of wax on top of the ski base, such as what liquid glide waxes provide.
Empirically, liquid glide waxes have been proving to have excellent performance for both speed and durability, for most skiers as good as ironed-in waxes.
How easy is it?
Application is almost too easy to be true. Spray or sponge the glide wax onto the base, let cure, then brush out the excess until the base is shiny. The cure time is highly variable depending on the carrier liquid, and there is some evidence that that the brands requiring a longer cure time could be a bit more durable. Some have alcohol as the carrier liquid and can cure in as little as 15-20 minutes, others take over an hour. This must be done in at room temperature, it is important to add. Some brands have noticeably better performance if left to sit on the base even after the carrier liquid has evaporated, so when in doubt just apply the night before. For the brushing only use a nylon brush; very stiff nylon brushes can be too aggressive but can still be used using a light touch, whereas some nylon brushes are too soft to deal with some of the liquid waxes that dry to a very hard finish. And compared to an ironed-in glide wax that needs both scraping and use of several brushes, there’s pleasure in not have a lot of excess wax fall onto the motel room carpet.
Enhancing Performance, and keeping it simple
Some years ago, FIS rules allowed for ski changes during some events with that have long distances. The need to change skis at elite levels often depended on how clean the snow was, because wax picks up dirt. Dirty wax makes skis slow. Clean skis are fast skis. End of story, before re-waxing, use a glide zone cleaner. It may very well surprise you how much of a difference this will make. Adding a fancy new liquid glide wax on top of old wax makes as much sense as putting freshly waxed skis on the roof rack of your car without putting them in a ski bag. Cleaning the glide zones before re-waxing has been one of the major developments to create easy gliding skis.
Almost all the ski wax companies now make very effective liquid glide zone cleaners that are easy to use. Do be careful about the contents, as some still have fluorocarbons in them.
Enhancing Performance, adding some complexity
Onions have layers, Oreos have layers, and often the best glide wax applications have layers.
Recall that the major interaction of glide wax with snow comes from a very thin layer of wax but performance can be modified using different layers, including application methods.
As example, durability can be improved in some conditions by starting with a harder layer of liquid glide wax and topping with a primary liquid glider. The result can be glide performance that might be slightly less fast, but last longer. In some conditions both speed and durability will improve. This is more time consuming yet still very simple to do. Just apply the liquid, let dry, brush, and then repeat with the top layer.
Given that a thin layer is all that is necessary, applying more is rarely better. For the liquid gliders that use spray application, rather than spraying down the entire glide zone just spray on a few inches and then use a finger (or clean non-absorbent cloth such as fiberlene) to smear the amount across the remaining glide zone.
Cure time can be improved by a quick pass with an iron, or heat gun, or the cheap hair dryer in a motel room.
Durability and cure time can be improved by corking. Use a roto-cork or hand cork (only natural cork will work) and apply enough friction until the wax seems to disappear. Use light pressure, and best if the wax has at least partially cured.
While some liquid gliders use alcohol as a carrier agent, others use carrier agents that have rather unpleasant fumes. While I know of at least one brand that will produce nasty fumes, the actual chemical is benign. Still, best not to let cure in your living room.
Most of the recommended nylon brushes for glide waxes are quite soft, but there are some harder waxes that will respond better using a stiff nylon brush. For Rex Green/Pink UHW and Vauhti Pure Liquid Glide Base, you might even need a scraper first as they cure to a very hard layer.
For race day performance, application methods make a difference and this can be where things start to get crazy. When it comes to seconds on race day, it seems the only constant is- things will get crazy! In addition to brushing with a nylon brush it is possible to use a wool fleece roto-brush to modify the wax layer. Purely empirical, no one I know has a clue why this can work, but it seems plausible that the top layer of wax molecules is re-aligned in some way. The result can often be significant increase in speed. This procedure is relatively new and there’s a lot to explore, but I can verify from tests that roto-fleecing a liquid glide wax after it has cured can often increase speed noticeably.
About that iron…
Depending on one’s expectations it may not be a good idea to donate your iron to charity, as a follow-up Coaches Corner installment will discuss where an iron is still needed for top level wax application. More soon!
Thanks for reading-
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