Fast Skis the correct combination of Wax, Ski Flex and Structure for winning skis.
In waxing clinics I can tell from the conversation, the skiers are very knowledgeable and focused on waxing, have good questions and show a very high level of interest in learning more about waxing. However, when the subject moves to ski flex and structure the interest tends to drop. It is very apparent there is a knowledge gap in the importance of ski flex and structure to have fast skis and the nail all three, the structure, ski flex and wax to have winning skis.
The theory behind waxing is, as the ski travels over the snow it melts a micro layer of the snow and the ski glides on the water snow interface. It is managing this interface and controlling the balance between the wet friction (suction) and dry friction (sharp snow crystals) that makes for fast skis. In reality in very cold conditions there is very little melting and the resistance to glide (dry friction) is the mechanical sheer between the sharp snow crystals and the skis base. Here it is more of a hard wax, minimal ski structure and ski flex to match the snow for fast skis. In warm conditions above 32 º F, the resistance to gliding is the suction created by the melting snow (wet friction). Here, the snow is already liquid and the suction created by the melted snow, is the resistances to gliding. The addition of structure (riling) and proper skis flex along with the wax is needed to breaking this suction and allows the ski to glide. From these 2 extremes everything generally merges to the middle with 20 º F being the midpoint, medium waxes, light structure and medium flexed skis, these are generally fast conditions. Many ski waxes and structure work well here. There are 2 areas where the skiers/waxers can improve.
The first is a better understanding of the ski flex and structure, and the effect they have on ski speed as part of the waxing process.
The second is focusing more on the snow type and the history of the snow. Although the current temperature and humidity are part of the waxing equation, in many cases, the important factors are the history and type of snow. Here are some examples of race conditions, where to have winning skis takes an understanding of not only the waxing, but the ski flex and structure as well..
In the 2009 Pre-Birke the weather forecast was for a low of about 25º F Friday night and high Saturday of around 30 ºF. We woke up Saturday morning to water running off the roof, a heavy fog in the air, and a temperature of 34º F. The wax to use is very clear; fluorinated warm waxes. However, several skiers were asking if they needed to add structure to the skis, and many did not add any structure. I went to a pair of wet flexed skis with a “Finn Grind, discontinuous rill of 1 to 2 mm” and had a fantastic race. It was one of those races, where at the finish people wanted to see my skis. After the race many skiers complained how they “missed the wax” in reality, the wax was just fine, they really missed the structure and, to some extent, the ski flex. For extreme wet conditions the structure is the most important part of the waxing, followed by the ski flex, and then the wax (did I actually say the wax was the least important part?). In the heavy wet snow, a 1 to 2 mm discontinuous pattern will get you to about 75% of the winning skis; however, the wet flexed ski is needed to get the rest of the way. Wet snow skis have a high camber for quick release of the suction created by wet snow. Just like different temperature and snow conditions, require different waxes, the same is true for skis. Skis that work well in the cold may not work well in warm conditions.