How-To: Kick Wax & Klister
*How-to videos at bottom of page.
We have all had the day of classic skiing where the kick and glide were perfect. The problem is replicating those days in all conditions. Though kick waxing theory could fill a book, the key is simplifying things. Once you have the basic principles of kick waxing, you can build your knowledge and wax box in an educated manner. Kick wax grips the snow surface by forming a weak chemical bond with it. The goal is to have kick wax that will release as the ski rebounds off the snow at the end of the kick. Kick wax also needs to repel dirt and water as much as possible to avoid dragging. As you can imagine, all of these factors make it very hard to formulate kick waxes correctly over a broad range of conditions. Most coaches who are adept at kick wax selection got there by keeping detailed notes of their daily classic sessions. Keeping a wax journal is a good way to learn from mistakes and successes. It can be as simple or complex as needed, but the important points to include are wax brand and product used, weather conditions, snow type and moisture content, and of course performance of the wax job.
An ideal kick wax application matches the firmness, moisture content and crystal shape of the snowpack. It must be soft enough to engage the snow and provide grip, but hard enough to release the crystals, repel dirt and prevent icing. The layer of wax must also be thin enough and smooth enough to avoid grabbing the snow when gliding. This is accomplished by layering and sometimes mixing kick waxes appropriate to the conditions in order to achieve a suitable balance of grip and glide. The goal is to get an appropriate thickness of wax distributed in the kick zone of your ski. Hard wax is applied by crayoning and then hand-corking smooth. Typically, hard waxes are applied in a series of thin layers in order to best control the thickness. This also keeps the application smooth. Klisters tend to be applied in single layers by dabbing them onto the ski straight out of the tube. The klister is heated using an iron, heat gun or torch and then smoothed out on the base using an iron or fingers. With all kick wax applications, it is important to keep the wax as smooth as possible. Bumps in your wax job can lead to dragging and icing.
Know Your Skis
The first step in having fast, fun classic skis is getting to know all about your wax pocket (the area under and ahead of your foot where kick wax is applied). Every individual pair of classic skis will have its own nuances and unique characteristics. The first and most important thing to know is how long your wax pocket is. Well-fit skis will have a series of markings on them that should get you in the ballpark. Skis that have been put on a flex tester will give you an even better idea of where your wax pocket is. One of the best ways to truly figure out where your wax pocket begins is to apply kick wax further forward than you normally would and go ski for a few hours. While your skis may be slow at first, the wax will wear off as you ski and the remaining wax will show exactly where the front of your kick zone begins. It is important to note that you should never kick wax behind your heel—doing so will not improve your kick and will noticeably slow your skis.
Preparing Classic Skis
A kick wax application starts with a prepared ski. This means that the ski is clean of all old kick wax and dirt, has a well-marked kick zone and has a kick zone that has been roughed up with fine sandpaper to help the wax adhere to the ski. Kick zones can be cleaned with a scraper, wax remover, and fiberlene. It can be helpful to heat stubborn waxes such as cold, hard klisters and warm, sticky hard waxes with a torch before scraping. Scraping off old kick wax and klister is best done with a scraper with a beveled edge, such as the SkiGo Kickwax Scraper. When cleaning your kick zone, don’t forget to clean the sidewalls, as kick wax and klister have a tendency to collect there. To sand your kick zone, wrap a piece of fine sandpaper (100 grit) around a cork or brush and sand back and forth with medium strokes from one end of the zone to the other with light pressure. The idea is to rough up the base of the ski just enough to help the kick wax adhere to the base. Too much sanding will result in too “hairy” of a kick zone; this can interfere with the wax job. Sanding is a must before kick waxing your classic skis for the first time, but may not be needed before every wax job. With experience, you will be able to identify whether the base of your kick zone is ready to accept kick wax.
All grip wax applications begin with a binder layer. This layer provides a platform for subsequent layers and binds the entire wax application to the ski, increasing durability. Binder choice is important as it dramatically affects the speed of the wax job. Depending on how aggressive the snow is, it is possible to use a green or blue hard wax, a dedicated hard wax binder or a hard klister or klister binder. It is often a good idea to test some different binder layers to find the best balance between durability and speed. When applying the binder, apply a very thin layer of wax. This must then be heated in order to bond with the base of the ski. This is generally accomplished with an iron, heat gun or torch. Allow the base to cool and then smooth with a synthetic cork. The mantra “thin to win” applies in the application of a binder layer. Often times a heated layer of binder can be wiped clean with a piece of fiberlene, and the resulting shiny layer that remains is adequate to bind the subsequent layers to base.
Layering & Mixing
Many wax jobs involve layering waxes with varying degrees of hardness. In the case of hard wax, this usually involves putting a harder (colder) wax on top of a wax that kicks well, but drags or is icing. This process helps reduce icing and drag without sacrificing the kick. It’s also common to cover klister with a layer of hard wax for transformed, granular conditions to release the snow and to prevent the klister from grabbing chunks of snow. Layered wax jobs provide unique advantages with the different layers retaining some of their independent qualities. Mixed waxes form a new homogenous layer with its own qualities that are often harder to predict. Layering waxes can be tricky because too much pressure applied while corking will cause the layers to mix. In order to create layers, make sure that the base layer is well-cooled and hardened, apply the cover with light pressure and cork delicately.
The Right Wax, Ski, & Application
Kick wax application is at least as important as wax selection. Thicker and longer applications generally give better kick, but they may sacrifice a great deal of speed. Understanding the way skis work is critical for getting the right wax in the right place. You should have a good understanding of the length, position and shape of your wax pocket, the action of the pocket (or how the various parts of the pocket move), and which parts are critical for providing kick. Learning your skis and the differences between different pairs will make you a better waxer. The best teacher is experience, and it’s a good idea to train on race skis, particularly when conditions are tricky. “Making do” on a training day can teach you the lessons required so that you don’t need to “make do” on a race day.
Getting Wax to Stick to a Cold Base
When faced with waxing outside under cold conditions, it can be challenging to get kick wax to stick to a cold base. Avoid warming up hard wax to get it to stick to the base; it generally results in gobs of wax on the base that are very hard to smooth. Instead, heat the base of the ski by aggressively corking, which will allow for the wax to go on in thin, even layers. You will find that after the first layer, it becomes quite easy to apply additional layers. To layer a cold wax on top of a softer, warmer wax, first ensure that the soft wax is sufficiently cooled on the base of the ski. Next, warm the cover wax up with a heat gun or torch. Apply the cover layer under light pressure and cork lightly to make sure that layers stay separate and do not mix.
Applying Kick Wax
When possible, apply hard wax while outdoors. The colder the ski and wax are, the easier it will be to apply wax smoothly and to avoid creating bumps in the wax job. If your wax is bumpy, allow the ski to get as cold as possible and then cork lightly.
Applying Hard Wax
1. Apply a thin layer of kick wax to the binder layer using light pressure. Remove any clumps that may form.
2. Cork with a synthetic cork, using long strokes with light pressure. Use the fewest number of strokes possible.
3. Apply and cork 2 or 3 more full length layers. After each application, look down the length of the ski to make sure that your application is smooth.
4. Apply and cork 1 to 3 more layers in the central 60-70% of the wax pocket.
1. Make sure that the klister is warm enough to flow from the tube. Heat tube with torch or heat gun if necessary.
2. Apply klister using “herring bone” pattern. Start close to the groove of the ski, finishing at the edge. Use more klister in the middle of the kick zone and less at the front and back.
3. Smooth klister using thumb or palm. Heat with a torch or heat gun if necessary. *Use caution to prevent burns to your hands!
4. Remove any klister from the groove and sidewalls, allow to cool completely before skiing. APPLYING HARD WAX ‘SHELL’
1. Allow kick wax or klister to get as cold as possible. 2. Very gently, apply a thin layer of hard wax.
3. Cork using extremely light strokes, being sure not to mix layers. Though this application may not look great, it can still be fast.
4. Look down ski to check for smoothness of application.