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LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Sat Dec 01, 2018 10:27 pm
by lilcliffy
I have been skiing since I could walk.

My father and mother met in Dublin in the mid-60s. My mother from Ireland- my father from Wales-they did not grow up skiing.

My mother is Irish- from Armagh- and has a ridiculous number of relatives in Boston/New England, New York City and California. In 1969, my parents flew from Shannon to Montreal- via Gander, NF- planning on a tour of North America- planning on visiting all of my mother's relatives.

(My parents had spent a few years touring all over western and southern Europe in their little Mini- expecting North America to be similar.)

When they landed in Gander, they thought- we are here!!! They were shocked that the flight from Gander to Montreal was longer than from Shannon to Gander!!!

The short version of the story is that my parents did the whirlwind tour- from Montreal, to Boston, to NYC, to southern California and back to Shannon.

BUT- they fell in love with Canada and Quebec. They immigrated to QC in 1970.

In 1970 they experienced their first real winter. They were completely infected by the Quebecois/Canadien love of winter and snow. My parents started touring the winter landscape on XC skis.

I came along in 1973- my sister in 1975- we XC skied in the Laurentians, the Eastern Townships, the Green Mountains, and the Adirondacks. My sister and I were indoctrinated.

So- WAX. Nordic grip wax.

Over the years, I have tested and experimented with many different approaches to waxing for Nordic touring.
My conclusion is that the current Nordic wax expertise and wisdom is obsessed with groomed track racing performance.

All of that is quite impractical and irrelevant when it comes to backcountry Nordic ski touring.

Here are my current conclusions as a starting point (and it happens to be very similar to what the locals told my parents in the early 1970s):

1. Avoid glide wax- PERIOD.
2. No matter how much I try to pretend- grip wax does not bond effectively to glide wax.
3. Softer kick wax bonds very effectively to a harder grip wax.
4. Base-binder- though clearly effective in performance racing context- seems a waste of time and money in the backcountry.
5. Using very hard grip wax as a base wax for the entire ski is the bomb for backcountry Nordic touring. It grips and glides when it is cold enough. It simply glides when the snow is warm. Softer kick wax binds to it effectively. It can be touched up in seconds with a can and a cork on the trail!
6. Using very hard grip wax as a base (e.g. Swix Polar) enables one to extend hard grip waxes onto much warmer snow than recommended for performance track skiing. For example: with Polar as a base, I can use Swix Blue as a kick wax in warm snow temperatures that would recommend Swix Red!!

My current system:
1. Iron in very hard grip wax into the entire base (e.g. Swix Polar).
2. Thoroughly buff in the base hard grip wax.
3. Cork and buff in a thin layer of kick wax for the day (e.g. Swix Green/Blue).
4. Use mohair kicker skins when the snow is temporarily hard to wax for (e.g. warm and wet; icy and refrozen).
5. Switch to very soft kick wax once true spring temperatures have come.

Gnardisk Mahgik!

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Sun Dec 02, 2018 1:07 pm
by Cannatonic
great thread and advice!!! I figured out that base-binder is a waste of time too, but I needed encouragement to wax the entire ski with polar or green wax instead of glide.

let's face it, the industry is vested in selling you as many different products as possible. BC skiers want the opposite.

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:42 am
by Woodserson
SO I've been doing this on my woodies for years but never made the intellectual jump to my p-tex skis, nor did I draw the conclusion that I was getting better performance on my woodies into warmer temps because of the wax combination. I attributed it to the wood, not the wax combo... holy schamoley


This is the "encouragement" I also needed to take this technique into the rest of my quiver!

I was always glide waxing the p-tex ski and getting discouraged with the short life of the grip wax... I wasn't imagining things!

:o Mind-blown.

:?: LC- tell me more about your iron technique of the Polar wax. You are rubbing it on, corking, then taking an iron to it? Or rubbing, iron, and then cork? No cork? I have not ironed on grip wax before, just aggressive corking.

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2018 3:03 pm
by lilcliffy
Woodserson wrote:
:?: LC- tell me more about your iron technique of the Polar wax. You are rubbing it on, corking, then taking an iron to it? Or rubbing, iron, and then cork? No cork? I have not ironed on grip wax before, just aggressive corking.

My technique:
1) draw/drag on wax with can over the entire base
2) iron in wax
3) let it cool
4) cork and buff the entire base
5) apply kick wax of the day from the heel forwards

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:37 am
by lilcliffy
The last couple of weeks have given me the opportunity to reflect on icy, abrasive, old refrozen snow.
We had a very early abundance of fresh snow in early November, that was re-freshed almost daily.
Then we had a rain-ice storm followed by almost 2 weeks of sub -20C weather.
Very cold temps, icy abrasive refrozen snow.
Some notes:
1) Using grip wax on the entire base results in excellent grip and glide on this kind of snow. I was using Swix Green as a kick wax when normally I would need klister or a kicker skin. Glide was much better than even the mohair kicker skin.
2) I am only getting about 10kms on this abrasive snow before my kick wax is stripped off and needs to be re-applied.
3) By 15kms even the ironed-in Polar is stripped to the point that I think I have an almost bare base...

So- though it isn't the end of the world to have to re-apply grip and kick wax after 10-15kms- even on the trail...

We had an unusual amount of very cold, refrozen abrasive snow last winter- due to constant temperature extremes. (I am thinking this may become the new norm?)

I made an honest attempt at working with base binder last winter. I ironed-in base binder to the entire base before applying and corking in Polar- and then kick wax in the kick zone. I think I may have gotten another 5kms (maybe?) before my base was pretty stripped. And in this case it was patchier and where it was stripped both the grip wax and the binder were stripped.

I have had the most success with base binder when I have ironed it into the base, and then applied grip wax on top.
Does anybody have experience with applying base binder in the field/on the trail? Is it worth all the fuss?

My questions are these:
1) Base binder clearly does extend the life of grip wax on old refrozen, abrasive snow (Though I do not find it is as effective in the backcountry as it is on a smooth groomed track...). Does it extend it long enough to make it worth using it underneath a grip-waxed base?
2) Touching up and re-applying grip wax to a base with base binder in the field/on the trail seems too complicated and time consuming- especially once the base binder is completely stripped in patches from the base. Perhaps, if I stopped and re-applied Polar before I was down into the base binder?
3) Re-applying hard grip wax (e.g. Polar) to the base is actually quite quick and easy in the field. And if I do it soon enough there is enough wax still there for the re-applied grip wax to bond very well. It seems this is less complicated, less time-consuming and less expensive than adding base binder to the mix?

As a note- properly applied glide wax to the tip and tail of the ski certainly lasts longer on old, cold, refrozen abrasive snow- but then you certainly need klister or a kicker skin...

The system I am using- hard-grip wax on the base + kick wax on the kick-zone- certainly offers excellent performance- it just requires a lot more maintenance on old abrasive refrozen snow...

As another comparison- I did try the mohair kicker skin instead of kick wax- much less glide...

What do skiers do on Polar expeditions? That wind-blown snow must be very abrasive?

BTW- it snowed here all day yesterday and all night- it is still coming down at 4am! Back to fresh snow, at least for a few days...CALLING FOR RAIN ON FRIDAY!!! :evil:

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:47 am
by lilcliffy
I am thinking that glide wax and klister/kicker skin is probably best for cold, old, refrozen abrasive snow.
BUT- klister MUST be removed before using a kicker skin...

AND- I have no desire to strip my bases of glide wax to re-apply grip wax to the base!

My thoughts are that it depends on what point I am at in the season.
In my climate:
Once the heart of winter has set in (which it has now), icy, refrozen, abrasive snow typically only lasts a few days before a fresh dump arrives. I think it is worth it to have to re-apply grip wax more frequently for a few days...

BUT- if one lives in a climate where old, abrasive snow is the norm- I am wondering whether glide wax and klister/kicker skin is a more effective approach? Klister really is very effective- I have just been trying to avoid it over the last couple of years since I have been using kicker skins.

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Tue Jan 01, 2019 7:37 pm
by Woodserson
Solid advice from Smitty from another thread

Smitty wrote:Just a note on using the hard Polar wax tip-to-tail. Unlike a traditional ironed in glide wax, there is no need to scrape the swix polar after ironing it smooth! You can just leave it in place to protect your bases. Even though the Polar may be several "colours" colder than your wax of the day underfoot, leaving it on the base after ironing it smooth will still provide a bit more grip but with minimal affect on glide.

Also, you mention some drag with the swix red underfoot. You can generally stop applying your kick zone wax at the heel mark or your binding. Using wax of the day any further aft than your heel will only increase drag with no appreciable increase in grip. Try starting at the heel mark and waxing to a foot ahead of your binding. If you need more grip, extend further ahead or go softer.

Happy skiing and happy New Year!!

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 1:28 pm
by lilcliffy
Last Sunday, went out on an epic 20+km very demanding tour- with loads of vertical- in the McLean Brook watershed (a tributary of the Upper Nashwaak River Watershed).

- very deep fresh, but settled snow (40cm of soft snow on top of 1+metres of frozen consolidated base).
- -25C in the morning- highs of -13C in the afternoon.
- steep terrain, 200+m verticals, and valley floor-watercourse XC skiing

We had 4 skis on that tour:
1) my 205cm Ingstad BC: Polar-wax the entire base- additional layer in the kick zone
2) 205cm Ingstad BC: glide wax on tip/tail- Polar on kick zone only
3) 195cm Ingstad BC: glide wax on tail- Polar kick wax from heel to tip
4) 205cm E-109 Xtralite: glide wax on tail- Polar wax from heel to tip

Ski #1 (205cm Ingstad with entire base prepped to Polar) was BY FAR without a doubt the test winner. It outclimbed, out-gripped and out-glided everything else. My ski partners were repeatedly putting on/taking off kicker skins. I did not have to touch up my wax once on the tour- and even on the steepest climbs- my skis out-gripped the kicker skinned skis- especially ski #2. Part of the reason for this is that the forest floor is full of big pits and mounds; causing the glide-waxed skis to slip in transitions over mounds/hummocks- even with the kicker skin on. We all agreed that the entire-grip-waxed ski was still better even in pure XC mode on the valley floor- on the watercourse- especially when trail breaking.

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 7:56 pm
by bgregoire

I've been experimenting with you waxing technique...full base with ironed in Polar, neatly corked smooth. Then appropriate kick wax in kick zone.

Its been pretty old here when out skiing, -15C or so.

Climbing (grip) is seriously improved but my glide has deteriorated by as much.

I've removed the polar from the back of the heel to tail and from the first 6 inch of the tip as well, and that still feels like a much better compromise for me at the moment. Depending on the route of course...

I'm thinking a colder wax than Polar my work in my environment? Is there such a thing?

Any tips?

Re: LilCliffy's Nordic Backcountry Touring Waxing

Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2019 5:24 pm
by lilcliffy
Hi Ben,
I am experiencing the same thing- when the snow is cold enough that Polar works as a kick wax alone...

I am not personally aware of a colder-rated grip wax than Swix Polar...however Swix V-Waxes are the only grip/kick waxes that I have significant experience with...

I have similar temps to deal with here (and the last few winters those temps can show up almost at any time from early-November thru April!!!!)

What I have done with some success:
1) When the snow is too warm for Polar to be a kick wax I simply iron and buff it on the base.
2) When the snow is cold enough that Polar works as a kick wax, I iron and then SCRAPE and polish. I am also VERY conservative with any extra kick wax underfoot. This approach seems to be working very well.

We have tried a number of alternate combinations- including glide wax from heel to tail.

My ski partner put very cold, hard glide wax on the tail and on the rockered tip of his Ingstad BC on our last big hill-country tour- it was -25C in the am- highs of -15C. I scraped and buffed Polar. Overall my ski had better grip and glide. My ski partner wasn't getting enough grip underfoot on mounds of the hardwood forest floor. As an aside- the kicker skins weren't actually a lot better...Where he was slipping was in micro-slope transitions over pits and mounds in the woods...

Certainly- I think that the snow can be so cold that Polar on the entire base is too much grip for pure XC skiing...
What are people using for wax on Polar ski expeditions?