Kick Waxing Made Simple: A Four-Wax System
Over the last decade as the former St. Scholastica Ski Team coach, friends and acquaintances knew I tested a lot of ski wax to get optimally performing skis for my skiers. I’ve gotten asked, “what’s the wax?” so many times, it’s cliché. At issue when this question gets asked, is generally what’s THE wax, and that is a very complicated question. Imagine a lab researcher being asked, “what’s the formula?” before doing any experiments.
What THE wax is has made most people gun shy when it comes to waxing skis, particularly when it comes to kick waxing, because the implication of such a question is that if they don’t have THE wax, it won’t work. Don’t think that way. Classic skiing on kick wax is worth the effort to learn how to do, and no amount of skiing on waxless skis will ever match the feel of skiing on kick wax.
First of all most people have to realize with kick waxing, THE wax has to do with a combination of effective grip with effective “free” glide. This balancing act is omnipresent and tricky for optimal race skis for each skier and has as much to do with the skier’s ability, the fit and flex of the skis in question, and how thickly, thinly, layered, or blended the actual waxes get applied to the ski for each skier. Again, complicated, I know. But for most people wanting to enjoy the speed that comes with kick wax instead of waxless skis, it’s really not that hard to find enjoyable, affordable, effective kick waxing for recreational skiing or even racing.
After years of team budgets amassing enough kick wax to regularly shoot for THE wax job, I’ve gotten an education in how and when to test different waxes to get THE wax job. I can tell you the Saints carry probably 85-90% of what’s available for kick waxes, and we’ve settled on more of some waxes while keeping some only for special conditions. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get skiers kicking with a way simpler wax box.
Now that I am no longer coaching the ski team and ski more for myself, I needed to buy my own kick waxes for my personal use. I can take or leave classic skiing as a recreational venture, and skate when I feel kick waxing will be too tricky. But I like to classic ski much more than I like to skate, so I’ll classic ski whenever I feel I can get kick wax to work.
I bought 4 waxes in November and I’ve skated only 3 times this year so far. That alone should give you confidence in this month’s kick waxing tip.
Before I tip you off on what I bought for myself, I want to highlight that I’ve used and believe in waxes from almost all brands out there, so this tip isn’t a plug for a certain brand. This is solely an insight into a kick wax box that at retail price will set you back less than $75 and kick in 90% of conditions you’ll ever face, and waxes you can generally find at most better-stocked ski shops.
Wax 1. Rode Multi-Grade Blue-Green ($10-$14)
This wax is so broad and works so regularly, that most Minnesota winters you could wax almost entirely with this wax and do all your classic skiing on it. It kicks well up to 20F if the snow is relatively new, but starts to slip more on transformed snow above 15F or icy tracks. It’ll be slower than a pure green in single digits F, but it’ll still work well in the very cold. Just apply thinner in single digits so it doesn’t drag so much.
We as coaches often had really free good-kicking skis on race day, but we often had Multi-Grade Blue-Green at the ready for anyone not getting quite enough grip. We often used a layer or two of this as a last result to good end. It often slowed down our wiz-bang wax job, but it KICKED, which trumps everything.
Wax 2. Rode Multi-Grad Blue-Violet ($10-$14)
Use this when Blue-Green starts to get too slick and this will get you right up to about 28F in new snow and transformed snow that isn’t glazed. When temps are on the warm side for Blue-Green (15-20F), put down 3-4 layers of Blue-Violet and cover with 1-2 layers of Blue-Green. I’ve used this as my day layer several times in this relatively warm January.
Wax 3. Swix VR60 ($22-$25)
VR60 is a very strong and necessary answer to where Rode Multi-Grades will let you down—glazed or “greasy” tracks. VR60 has aluminum added to it that helps paw at the glazed track of warmer, packed-track snow conditions. It’s more expensive as well because waxes that kick in this range tend to be very slow without some fluorocarbon additive to free of the glide properties. It’s worth the price because it keeps you skiing classic when hard waxes start to slip, and it’s free enough when applied thick to make a great, free-feeling wax job.
You may need to go very thick to make it work because it is a wax that borders klister, but can work if applied thick enough. We’ve had a relatively warm December and January. The day after Christmas I went to Hartley at 31F and humid. I started with 6 layers of VR60 and it was almost enough. A thin layer of klister would’ve kicked better but been much slower and a bigger pain to apply in the Hartley parking lot. I put down another 4 layers for a total of 10 (!!), and it was bomber and free. I’ve been wearing that 10 layers down ever since to what is now about a 3-layer thickness as a base of kick wax and I keep covering it with Multi-grades fit to the day. I’ve had great kick all winter.
Wax 4. Start Wide Klister ($20-$22)
Klister skiing is the best. It is! When the snow requires klister, it usually means some of the most enjoyable grip with free glide as skiing offers (if you get the thickness right). Don’t avoid klister. Embrace it! It’s great skiing! I’d just advise a heat gun to warm it up to apply and again to remove it from the ski.
Start Wide matches its name. It’s got a wiiiiiiide range. In fact, it’s so versatile, Finnish infantry soldiers get tube of it in their winter warfare supplies. Go to klister when it’s clearly too icy or granular, or too warm and wet for a hard wax like VR60 to grip.
Start Wide is a safe bet to kick in a lot of klister conditions. While it’s not the fastest klister nor always the best kicker, you can make Start Wide work in most klister conditions cooler than a slush puddle. When it’s a slush puddle and you must ski, skate, or invest in a pair of “hairies.”
Always start applying klister thinner and add a bit more if it’s not working. This takes some practice but take it from me, it’s a lot harder to take some off to get it right than to add a bit more.
While some may shy away from klister, this 4-wax system will allow you to kick well and enjoy classic skiing with kick wax in everything colder than slush. And if you get slush, it’s nothing a red klister from any brand can’t handle. If you’re slipping but feel SOME kick, don’t be afraid to wax thicker. In new snow, don’t be afraid to add a thin layer of hard wax a little further up the ski beyond your kick zone to give you more surface area to purchase better on the new snow. Just keep that extended layer thin so you don’t have to glide on the kick wax too much.
Good luck and happy skiing!