By Todd Carroll
Whether you’re hitting the road for NASTAR Championships at Steamboat or skiing in a home race, figuring out what to wax is critical. But the different measurements, interpretations and methods out there often create as many questions as they answer — do you use air temperature or snow temperature? How about humidity? What forecast should you rely on when trying to make a wax call for a faraway race?
“There are so many variables to waxing, but it’s really important just to keep things simple,” says Aaron Haffey, a World Cup technician. “You really can’t build too much durability into your wax job, either with tech events, where you are running two runs, or speed events with higher speeds.”
This concept — using a harder wax than the temperature might call for — is one worth considering. While nailing down the perfect wax for the conditions is a feat worth aiming for, missing a bit while adding resilience often yields very good results.
When it comes to your routine for determining which wax to use you probably already have some tricks and ideas that you have incorporated. The technicians I’ve talked to recently each have their own way of interpreting the conditions, but all are steadfast in their approach.
“Humidity is easy because I don’t look at air humidity; I look at the snow — wet, which is dripping wet; normal, which you can pack; and dry, which doesn’t pack. I look at snow surface temp. When using a forecast, I’m looking for trends to see if it’s warming, cooling, or maintaining. If you show up for a tech series the night before, don’t worry — you need sharp skis and hard to harder wax regardless of temp. Warm conditions that are treated to create a good racing surface require more durability.”
—Jonathan “Napa” Weyant
“For tech races I use two waxes — hard or harder. When it comes to speed series, you need to get a handle on snow humidity, which gives you an idea of how much fluoro wax to use. Wet snow needs higher fluoro content in your wax, mid needs less, and dry snow gets very little.”
“We take temps and humidity every day — training, racing, etc. At our level we’re getting wax/snow reports from the companies, but I’ve had my own tools for years and I rely on those more than the reports. I also use snow temps rather than air, even with wax companies that list air temp ranges for all of their waxes.”
And what of those tools that Haffey mentions? Various companies offer myriad options, from analog, mercury thermometers to infrared point-and-shoot models and digital moisture meters. Time spent at the start of any high-level race will reveal a mind-boggling array of seemingly complicated tools. Again, Napa emphasizes keeping it simple. “I use two tools,” he says, “my senses and a digital thermometer. Observation is key and you’d be shocked at what you can learn just by listening to how the snow sounds when you walk on it.”
Haffey says he typically uses a thermometer and an air hygrometer to the get snow temp, air temp, relative air humidity right above the snow, and relative air humidity about three feet higher. Taking these measurements at a few places along a downhill track during a weeklong speed series doesn’t add much to your routine, and can give you some pretty black-and-white numbers to look at when you’re picking your wax concoction come race day.
Lastly comes the question of record-keeping. “I don’t get too crazy about it anymore,” says Haffey. “Certainly, when I was working more on speed skis, I kept results, splits, forecasts, and what I waxed together to look afterwards. Now, I’m looking more at how the snow was, what my wax setup was, the result.” Napa says he relies on his mental log. “Especially with places I keep coming back to,” he says, so that he can tweak things as extreme conditions arise, “and really, I’m trying to make it simpler, not more difficult.”
So, as you continue to refine your routine to include a well-rounded but easy approach to choosing your wax, consider the approach taken by some of the world’s best. Simple is always more consistent, durability is king, and you can always keep Napa’s wisdom about tech events in mind. “The steel comes first,” he says. “Good, sharp skis with smooth edges were made long before the night before the race.”
For more exclusive stories on tuning skis, visit the Premium section of SkiRacing.com: http://www.skiracing.com/premium