What’s up with wax? These days - A LOT! But before we get into any specifics - let’s get the basics down. There are basically two types of Nordic (XC) ski wax. Grip wax (also called stick wax or kick wax), and glide wax.
Glide wax is slippery. It comes in bricks, liquids, gels, and pastes. It is designed to enhance gliding while skiing in either classic or skate technique. A skate ski requires that glide wax be applied to the entire length of the ski base - same as with Alpine (downhill) skis or snowboards. The bases on all three are all full-on glide surfaces. The warmer (or less abrasive) the snow being skied on - the softer the wax should be. The colder (or more abrasive) the snow being skied on - the harder the wax should be.
Grip, stick, or kick wax is sticky. It comes in small round tins, spray cans, or liquid applicators. It is designed to stick to the snow in order to provide grip. This grip propels the skier forward when they “kick” the ski. Grip wax is used when classic skiing. The warmer the snow it is intended to be used on - the stickier grip wax is. The colder the snow it is intended to be used on - the harder the wax will be. Grip wax should never be applied to a skate ski. Never. Never ever. No. Don’t do it. Ever.
You’ve likely picked up on the fact that classic skis require BOTH grip and glide wax. How the heck does that work? Easy - sort of. The base of a classic ski is roughly divided into thirds (the lengths of each third is highly variable depending on how a specific skier’s weight affects a specific skis’s flex - TMI for now). The front third is a glide surface requiring glide wax. The middle third is the grip zone requiring grip wax. The back third is, again, a glide surface requiring glide wax.
This may be what you are thinking after reading the intro. And, yes, waxing can be very confusing. But it doesn’t have to be. If you are hoping to be, or are, a competitive racer you will likely go pretty far down the waxing rabbit hole ("slurries", "cushion", "overlays", "roto-brushing", and "covers" will become part of your daily vocabulary). Some people even find complex waxing to be relaxing and enjoyable - to each their own. But for most skiers waxing can be very easy! No joke. These days the average skier can get by with one or two really good and effective grip waxes and one - that’s right - one glide wax. Application processes are easy! Sprays and liquids are revolutionizing the sport. Grip wax removal can take some work. But, if you utilize good skiing practices, you won’t need to remove grip wax as often. Don’t be intimidated by your racer friends. You can wax your skis and you can do it quickly and easily! For real.
Waxless skis are better than they have ever been! In fact some of today’s waxless skis can be as fast and have as good of grip as a waxable ski (notice we said “can be”). If conditions are just right a waxless ski can be amazing. But, usually, they just don’t quite compare to a perfectly waxed ski (notice we said “perfectly waxed”). There is a lot of grey area here.
The term “waxless” is a bit of a misnomer. Waxless refers to a ski that does not require grip wax. Every “waxless” ski requires some form of glide wax at times. Some waxless skis have glide zones that are just as high quality as a race ski. They require wax to retain their glide speed. Others simply need a liquid or paste wax applied only when the snow is actually wet. Especially if that wet snow is fresh-fallen. Without a touch of wax the ski simply will not glide. At all.
Skate skis are not waxless. If they are not waxed they will get slower every season. You have to wax a skate ski if you want it to work well.
That is, indeed, the question. How do you get it answered? Go to a good ski shop! Any good XC ski shop will talk you through the entire process of caring for your skis. They will give you the easy, cheap, complex, and expensive options. They will also have wax clinics designed to shine a light on all of these options. We can’t say it enough - get to know your local shop if you have one. They are there to help you.