Wax, Just Don’t Bite It

Have you ever been hauling down a steep run and thought you would cruise over to the side to hit a jump or slash a bank, and as you crossed over from the groomed to the ungroomed, your board stopped so fast that you cartwheeled four or five times before coming to a stop? The reason it’s so slow on the sides of the run is that the snow is usually really wet, dirty, and soft. Wet and dirty snow create friction on your base, causing you to slow down.

Hot-waxing your snowboard is the easiest way to improve your riding. A freshly waxed and tuned board will outjump, outrun, and out-maneuver a slow and sticky board. Wax on the base of a board acts like a micro-thin layer of protection, helping your base block small particles of dirt and snow. If you use a high-end fluorinated wax, you might still slow down on the ungroomed, but you may be able to save yourself before having a yard sale in front of your friends.

Fresh, high-quality wax will make your board feel alive and snappy from edge to edge, as well as smooth when you are carving down the mountain. Don’t get hot wax confused with rub-on paste and gel waxes. A “hot wax” is just that. An iron is used to melt drops of wax on the base, and it’s then very slowly smoothed out to a thin layer, allowing for a bond with the base material. After the wax is cool, excess is scraped off with a sharp plastic scraper, leaving the protective layer.

Make sure when you wax that the iron isn’t so hot that it’s smoking. Breathing the wax fumes from the the iron is harmful. If possible, wax outside, and keep your face away from the iron. When waxing with fluorinated waxes, always use an industrial-strength respirator mask with filtering cartridges. Other waxing necessities include a base cleaner, a structure pad or brush, a file, and a deburring stone. I’ll repeat what I said in last month’s Letters column for the last time—you’ll never know which wax to use until you’ve checked out the conditions. The temperature as well as the amount of water in the snow will affect what type of wax will work best. A lot goes into picking a quality wax. [Be sure to check the Letters column in this issue, it will shed some more light on the sticky task of board waxing.]

When your base looks dry, paste and gel waxes are great quick-fix products to use as an alternative to hot waxing. Most of them contain a wax product blended with a solvent for easy application. Although paste and gel waxes are convenient solutions, they can’t compare to the benefits of hot-waxing. When your base looks extra dry, the easiest way to get it looking good again is to wax and scrape it a couple of times when the wax is still warm and soft. This is called a “hot scrape.”

Straight paraffin wax and blended paraffin wax are both sold as snowboard waxes. The straight paraffin waxes are the most inexpensive. Good blended paraffin waxes quicken your ride. Blended waxes are sold in a wide range of temperatures, and are available with additives to increase performance and reduce friction.

The most misunderstood additive is fluorocarbon. Many companies sell a low-cost wax that they claim is fluorinated. Most likely, if it costs around five dollars, it is fluorinated with PTFE Teflon, made by the Dupont company. PTFE wax works best in warm conditions. To win some races you’re going to have to step up and pay a little more. A good fluorinated wax that contains an actual fluorocarbon specifically formulated for snowboards is a whole different program. A wax like this is available in a wide range of temperatures as well as in a fluorocarbon concentrate. A highly fluorinated 40–50 gram bar of wax will cost close to 25 dollars, while a low fluoro bar of wax will sell for around nine dollars.

Another additive I feel is often overlooked is graphite. Micro-graphite powder, in the right conditions, is very fast and durable. I have personally found graphite wax to be fast in a wide range of snow conditions when used straight or as a base coat. The reason graphite works so well is that it has a sheeting property. If you were to look at graphite coating through a microscope, you’d see tiny plates of graphite sliding on one another. The only real drawback to graphite is that it makes your board look ugly, but that goes away after a day or two of riding.

If you want to go fast and get the most out of your expensive lift ticket, wax and tune your board as much as you can. The little time and money spent are worth it.