Nordic Ski Colorado - The official cross-country ski guide
Article: Get Your Glide On: The Waxable vs Waxless Ski Debate
By Sharon Cutler / Photo courtesy of Dan Hunter
Waxing classic skis for cross country skiing
Waxing classic skis in the kick-zone, with hard wax on a cold day, for great kick and glide.

If you’ve spent any time in a Nordic ski center lodge lately, you’ve probably overheard spirited debates about which are superior – waxless or waxable skis. Either could be the winner, depending on who’s doing the debating. Racers will nearly always pick the speed and performance that comes with waxable skis; recreational skiers may go either way, depending on their ability and where they plan to play. And count on beginners to keep it simple with the waxless option.

Waxless skis, those skis with fish scales on the bottom, are a great choice for new skiers because “they’re hassle free and work nearly every time,” says Bernie Frey from the Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge.

Just click into the bindings and as long as the snow is cold and consistent, the fish scales will grip the surface so you can explore the tracks and trails without the frustration of slipping backwards. Watch out when it’s icy or conditions are variable, though. Then you may be wishing you could wax your skis to get a better grip.

Lowell McCoy, a Nordic specialist at Gold Run Nordic Center, recommends skiers “go waxless until needing an improvement in performance. You’ll sacrifice speed,” he says, “but waxless skis tend to be more forgiving which is a big plus if you’re just learning the sport.” You can focus on mastering the classic skiing technique without having to worry about whether you’ve waxed properly.

And, by the way, calling fish scale skis waxless, is a bit of a misnomer. They require an occasional coating of glide wax on the tips and tails.

Waxable skis are the high performance option that is the hands-down choice of experienced skiers and racers looking for speed and a long, smooth glide. A waxable ski, however, is only as good as the wax job. “When you take on a waxable ski, you need to have some knowledge about waxing and wax selection,” says McCoy. “You need to take a waxing clinic.”

Waxing skis is simple, but waxing skis so they glide effortlessly across the snow is an art that takes loads of practice. Essentially, waxing involves applying a glide wax to the tips and tails and a kick wax under your foot so the ski will grip the snow. The trick is knowing where to apply the kick wax and how to wax for different temperatures and snow conditions. The glide wax needs to be reapplied periodically throughout the season; the kick wax is temperature and condition-specific and needs to be applied prior to each outing.

Regardless of your ski choice, grab your skis and have fun out there!

For more instruction on waxing, check out our Waxing Videos section.

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