Have you been skiing and snowboarding all winter on the same gear? If so, have you checked your bases recently? If not, too bad. Your stuff is probably slow and hard to maneuver.
First, some background: Those black bases are made from a type of plastic called p-tex, which needs to be smooth and coated with wax to perform well. As the base runs over sharp crystals of snow, it creates friction. Friction creates heat. The heat melts a thin layer of snow, which helps the base be an easy glider. Since water and wax don’t mix, the base runs free over the liquid layer of snow.
But without wax, the base is unprotected against snow crystals, which then scrape up tiny little “hairs” of plastic that slow the base down. There’s also the edge factor. Sharp edges allow you to control the skis or snowboard. When the edge gets dull, gear is hard to control—especially on ice.
Jeff Sadis and Ben Burns, two legends of ski and snowboard care, have good advice for detailing your bases. Sadis is a World Cup-level snowboard and ski technician for both ski cross and snowboard cross. When not traveling, he works at Sports Den in Foothill Village.
Sadis advises snowboarders, “A general rule of thumb for snowboards is do a hot wax after every three times you hit the slopes. Scrape with a plastic scraper once the wax cools. Make sure your edges are smooth from tips to tail. Use a metal file to get rid of any dings, especially if you ride park. Rails really ding up both your edges and base.”
Sadis also says not to use a clothes iron to hot wax your board, especially an iron from a thrift shop. “It’s better to get a cheap wax iron. They start at about $40,” he says.
To hot wax your board or skis, hold the bar of wax against the iron and allow a plentiful supply to drip on the base. Iron it in with long, slow, tip-to-tail strokes until the entire base surface is shiny. Under the heat of the iron, the pores of the plastic base open up and absorb a lot of wax. A bar of wax should last for about three wax jobs.
Ben Burns—the national race coordinator for Rossignol and Dynastar skis and Lange boots in Park City—says you don’t need many tools to wax your own skis or snowboard. Burns says, “All you need is some universal wax, an iron, a file and scraper, a brass brush and a nylon brush, available from ski shops.
Brushing and scraping is important. If you leave the wax on, the skis will be sticky. Scrape, then use the brushes, beginning with the brass brush, going tip to tail about three times with each brush. When you brush, you’re opening pores in the plastic that allows wax to ooze out from the pores as the base runs over the snow.”
Like Sadis, he advises a hot wax after every three times the gear is used. Doing your own hot wax brings the cost down to two or three bucks rather than the $15 or more charged by a shop.
Several times a year, have a tune-up. Get a stone grind to refresh the base; bases wear down, and they also need different grinds for the hardpack of winter and the wet, salted snow of spring. If the skis or board have been sitting unused for a season or more, a stone grind is an absolute necessity. Any tune up includes the sharpening, smoothing and bevel of the edges—which is a regular and important necessity.
Final words of wisdom from Burns: “Paying attention to details (like hot waxing and edge care) will make you and your gear perform better on the snow.” More importantly, well-prepped gear will also make snowriding a lot more fun.