TAC 27 May-Jul96

TAC 27 Index

Waxing unlyrical

Val Hamilton

I was surprised to discover that through the many snowless years of TAC's early existence, the ski had never featured in the useless equipment column.1 But the last couple of winters have afforded weeks at a time when skiing has been the best way to go anywhere in the hills. The transformation from walker to skier usually comes about one whitebright day as the walker plods painfully and slowly through knee-deep snow. Suddenly a skier glides silently past, hardly denting the snow's surface, failing miserably to keep the smirk off her face. At this point the average walker gives up, turns round and heads for the nearest shop selling Nordic skis.

Fortunately the days are gone when the innocent purchaser was totally turned off ski-touring for life due to the set of matchstick-thin skis and "boots" resembling ballet shoes which were flogged to them. If you are going to ski on icy snow and if you are sometimes going to walk to the snow (and for both ifs, we are talking Scotland here), you need metal-edged skis and Vibram-soled boots.

There is still the decision to be made between waxing and waxless skis. (No, the antonym is not waning as our moon-worshipping editor might have it.) To go uphill on skis, some form of friction is necessary. One option is to use skins, which are OK these days as they are no longer made from cuddly furry seals but from guillemot-friendly oil. These are fine for going up steep slopes but tedious and slow on the more gentle rolling (often described as boring in summer) terrain which can be the delight of the X-C skier. Skins can be used with both waxing and waxless skis: the latter have a pattern cut into the sole, sometimes called a fishscale, which means that you can just put them on and go. The experts will tell you they are noisier, harder to turn, wear out etc, etc, but what they don't say is that they work brilliantly for about 90% of Scottish conditions.

Waxing skis are completely smooth and require the application of some form of adhesive substance to the area below the foot so that the ski will give you some grip. There is the usual debate as to whether waxing is an art or a science, and there are whole books written on the subject. They spend pages describing the correct wax for -7 or -20, which is fine for the cold constant climate of North America or Scandinavia, where you pick your wax at the beginning of the day and forget about it. But the two conditions found most commonly in Scotland are hardly touched upon.

It is difficult to choose the right wax when the temperature is wavering around freezing. So, your perfect choice at 10am means that by lunchtime you are either slipping all over the place, sliding backwards and pulling groin muscles, or you're tottering along on the platform soles created by the 4" of soggy snow which is sticking to your ski.

The other problematic area is old, thawed and refrozen snow. The solution for this is in fact quite straightforward: klister - Norwegian for elastic gunge which sticks to everything in sight with the occasional exception of the ski. It is easy to spot a waxing skier in summer by the black stains on rucsac, gloves, hair etc, caused by stray klister. It is said that there is nothing so wonderful as the feel of a well-waxed ski. I suppose the veracity of this statement must depend on your life-experiences in general. However, a wrongly waxed ski can certainly be pretty miserable. My advice would be spend the extra #10 on the waxless version. Once you are hooked you can always move on to a waxable set for your third pair.

1 Way back in TAC6, there was a skiing feature but this was almost entirely about the on piste pastime, which is of little relevance to real skiers.

TAC 27 Index