How to Choose Ski Wax

Before you apply just any wax to your skis, you’ll want to be sure the wax you apply is designed to match the conditions you’ll be skiing that particular day. To further complicate the matter, conditions can vary widely based on snow and air temperature, humidity, and snow type. Our How to Choose Ski Wax Guide breaks down all you need to know when selecting the right ski wax for the conditions you’ll be skiing.

Why Do Skis Need Wax?

Ski bases, whether sintered or extruded, function like an ice skate on a rink. As they glide over snow, a thin layer is melted, and the ski is moving across water. Because ski wax is hydrophobic and repels moisture, a waxed base produces less friction while moving across snow, and as a result, the ski can move faster.

When wax is applied with heat to porous ski bases, it is absorbed into the microscopic openings. Using a proper waxing iron and the right wax will allow the base to soak up more, for improved protection from oxidation and better, longer-lasting glide.

Have you ever looked at a pair of skis that haven’t been waxed in a while and noticed a bit of white discoloration near the edges? This is the base oxidizing, meaning it has begun to dry out and cannot repel moisture effectively. Dry bases lose efficiency on snow, and make the ski vulnerable to damage.

Types of Ski Wax

Generally speaking, ski waxes can be categorized by temperature and composition. This means ski waxes are available as either all-temperature (universal) waxes or temperature-specific waxes. When it comes to wax composition, the two most popular types of wax are paraffin-based hydrocarbon waxes and more high-performance fluorocarbon waxes. Additionally, eco-friendly waxes made from plant-based materials are becoming more common.

Jans ski technician Andy Buckley waxes a pair of skis at the Rennstall World Class Tune Center.

All-Temperature Wax

These do-it-all waxes get the job done in a wide range of temperatures and snow conditions. These all-rounders are a good choice if you aren’t quite sure what current snow conditions are or how the temperature will change. As is the case with any all-purpose item, all-temperature waxes’ versatility comes at the cost of performance in cold or warm conditions.

Temperature-Specific Wax

Temperature-specific waxes are formulated to perform well within a given temperature range. Choosing the right temperature-specific wax requires an understanding of how environmental factors related to snow and air will impact the wax’s ability to shed water. These factors are snow temperature, snow humidity, snow age and condition, air temperature, and air humidity.

Now, unless you’re waxing for race day, you’re probably not going to hike the hill with a snow thermometer. Snow humidity can also be a fast-changing and fickle measurement to work with. Realistically, the condition of the snow and the predicted air temperature are the two most important factors for recreational waxers to focus on when selecting a temperature-specific wax. For a detailed breakdown of wax temperatures, check out our Swix Cera Nova X Wax Guide to see what wax will work best for the conditions you’ll be skiing.

Hydrocarbon Wax

Available as either all-temperature or temperature-specific, Hydrocarbon (CF) waxes are simple paraffin-based waxes that are relatively inexpensive and work well for the majority of recreational skiers. Hydrocarbon waxes can be applied by either hot waxing or rub-on (or crayoning); although, hot waxing allows the wax to penetrate deeper into the base of the ski for better durability and performance. Hydrocarbon wax is also an excellent choice for storage waxing skis and is used as a base prep when applying high-end fluorocarbon waxes.

Fluorocarbon Wax

Fluorocarbons are found in a variety of consumer products, ranging from fishing line to non-stick coatings on cookware. They are composed of carbon and fluorine and are utilized in ski waxes due to their superior water-repellency. This equates to enhanced speed and overall performance, but it also comes at a higher price tag. For this reason, many diehard skiers and professional racers rely exclusively on these high-performance waxes.

A number of different fluorocarbon waxes and application methods are utilized by skiers and ski techs. They can be applied as either pure fluorocarbon overlays, which have to be applied over a partially fluorinated base wax, or they can be applied as a fluorinated hydrocarbon wax. As a result, manufacturers offer fluorocarbon waxes in varying amounts of “potency.”

It’s important to note that manufacturers don’t just sprinkle fluorocarbons into the wax like a a kind of secret speed sauce; instead, the fluorination occurs at the molecular level of the wax in a similar way to how a saturated (or unsaturated) fat is packed with varying amounts of hydrogen atoms along its carbon chain. Suffice it to say, it’s easy to geek out on fluorocarbon waxes, so we’ll keep it simple by saying that as a general rule, the more fluorocarbon in a wax the higher propensity that wax will have to repel water and oil, translating to enhanced speed.

Here’s a breakdown of the three main types of fluorocarbon wax:

  • High Fluorocarbon (HF) – These are generally the most expensive waxes but offer strong gliding in wet snow. They are also most effective on wet man-made snow or snow that is dirty.
  • Low Fluorocarbon (LF) – A LF wax has less fluorocarbons than HF or FC but more than CF waxes. This is often used as a base prep before applying more expensive waxes.
  • Pure Fluorocarbon (Cera / FC) – These waxes repel dirt and will give you a longer-lasting wax. FC is often used as a final step in waxing.

Please Note: There are other considerations regarding fluorocarbon wax. After years of research, it’s been determined that fluorocarbon waxes contain “toxic properties that cause extensive harm to the environment and human body.” In response, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard, Alpine Canada, and other national governing bodies formed a Fluorocarbon Free Policy Working Group beginning in the 2020-21 season.

Eco-Friendly Wax

In response to petroleum-based waxes and the environmental impacts and health risks of fluorinated wax, a few manufacturers are developing plant-based alternatives. These eco-friendly waxes are great in the sense that they do not introduce pollutants into a watershed, nor do they pose any health risks.

What Type of Wax Do I Need?

The type of wax that will work best for you ultimately comes down to the snow conditions, temperature, and type of skiing you’ll be doing. In short, there is no single wax that will excel in the myriad snow conditions and temperatures you’ll face throughout the ski season. For this reason, we encourage recreational skiers and DIY ski waxers to have a few different waxes on hand. At a minimum, the majority of skiers will want to have a simple paraffin-based wax for storage and base prep, a universal all-temp wax, and a cold- and warm-temperature wax for exceptionally cold conditions and warmer spring days.

Jans ski technician scrapes excess wax off of a pair of skis.

As you’re buying waxes for your home tuning setup, you should also consider the type of conditions you’ll encounter most frequently. For example, if you ski in the Northeast, where conditions are frequently cold and snow totals are low, you’ll want more low temperature waxes. You may also want to consider a higher fluoro (HF) wax to accommodate man-made snow and dirt within the snowpack. On the other hand, if you ski in the Pacific Northwest or Sierras, you’ll want to consider more high temperature waxes to match the warmer temperatures and higher humidity.

If you’re a competitive skier, or you are just really selective about ski tuning, we encourage you to work closely with a trusted shop to find the ideal waxes to match common conditions at your local resort. Humidity, air temperature, man-made snow, and water content all play critical factors in the type of wax you’ll want to use in order to get the most from your skis on any given day. And if you’re in Park City, be sure to stop by Rennstall, our full-service tune shop at Deer Valley, to get the low-down on which wax and base structure will work best for you.