Waxless or Waxable?

Update: This post was written before skin skis became available. Skin skis are a good, all-around waxless ski which work well in all conditions but are still slower than a waxable ski. 

Feedback on gear

I received an email tonight from a skier who is going out to buy some new gear. My understanding is that he is going to be skiing on groomed trails. Among his concerns were: should he get skis with metal edges, how wide, and he expressed a preference for waxless skis. I think these are good topics to address at this time of year, just before the season begins.

For the track skiing which we do around here, I don’t feel metal edges are required. I wouldn’t mind getting some suggestions from readers on what type of skiing requires metal edges.

Waxless skis will be slower, which means you’ll work harder to go the same speed as a waxable ski. On the other hand, a waxless ski will work better in moist snow conditions, which we don’t experience much of in this area. My first pair of skis were waxable and I remember how frustrating it was learning all the intricacies of the grip waxing procedure. Still, my personal preference would be waxable skis. Can you think of any pros and cons that I’ve missed?


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  1. Comparing my own waxless skis to a pair my husband recently rented from UofC:

    My own waxless skis have a fairly small kick zone compared to the rentals, no edges (the rentals featured a fiberglass lip that acted as an edge), and a stiffer camber than the rentals. My husband (renting for his first time out) had great control on hills, if anything felt that he was skiing a little slow. I have to be so aggressive with the stiffer camber of my skis, they have a sort staccato contact on ice, they fly down hills and I need a LOT of stopping room. I can control them, but only when the trails are virtually empty.

    My waxless skis seem to perform best on cold powder than they do on old snow in warmer temps. They are really nice for skiing a local park in my neighborhood, where I break trail in deep fresh snow. I’m definitely looking for a pair of waxable skis with some sort of edge for skiing K-Country.

  2. has anyone experienced a kind of jerkiness in waxless skis? They seem to build up resistance, which suddenly lets go, repeated again and again, so I was wondering if it is some kind of turbulence that is set up by the scales. I am new to waxless skis and am ready to throw them out the window.

  3. I’m glad to see that Alf raised the concern about waxless skis being more difficult to control going downhill. I had forgotten all about that. I’ve experienced that phenomena myself, and it is considerably more difficult, at least for me. The fish scales make it a lot more challenging to snowplow.

  4. If you’re an intermediate skier and your objective is to ski mostly track-set trails and some skier set trails, I think there is a case to be made for light metal edged skis. I like trails with longer hills, like Skogan Pass, Chester Lake or Kananaskis Lookout. Those trails can get pretty hardpacked or even icy after a chinook and metal edges provide more control for the downhills.
    Such skis provide slightly slower performance on flats, but are often easier on uphills. Just don’t get skis any wider than about 50mm, or they won’t fit into the groomed tracks.
    If you’re an adult, don’t bother with waxless skis. Most of the skiing around here is at temperatures below 0C and waxing provides a better range of performance. Waxless skis always make a ski harder to control going downhill. For young kids, however, waxless skis save a lot of hassle.
    My suggestion is to rent before you buy. Places like the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre rent a full selection of waxable and waxless skis, as well as light metal edged XC skis.

  5. I still wax my skiis, although I try and stick to one or two when I’m out. I agree with everyone else that waxless are the best for kids. I use metal edges because quite often the edges provide more grip when on steep or icy slopes-the weather and snow conditions always surprise me when i get out to the mountains!

  6. I have only ever used waxable skis and wouldn’t trade types. Granted, the nonwax skis do have the advantage in the spring when the snow is getting softer and wetter. However, I think the advantage of being able to modify your wax per conditions or abilities beats out the “grab and go” of nonwax skis. Example, on days when doing lots of climbing, or my technique is a bit tired, I really like being able to pop a bit of kick wax on my skis to give me a helping hand. No type of ski base will ever fit every situation.

  7. Richard;
    Good point about the family. I have to admit that when conditions are favourable for using my waxless skis, it’s a real treat to grab the skis and go, and not have to stand around in the cold while waxing.

    When starting out in colder weather, it’s always my hands that are really cold, and I attribute a large part of that to the time I spend gloveless as I wax my skis.

  8. well, I can think of one particular circumstance where metal edges rule: after a chinook has blown through and it’s gotten cold again, and before the groomers have been out to chop things up, the trails can be boiler plate ice. West Bragg is susceptable to this as is COP. Avoid this condition and you won’t need metal edges on groomed trails. As for waxless, I was a die hard waxer until I become responsible for waxing all the family skis. Nothing ruins a family outing faster than missed wax. The kids don’t have the patience to stand around while trying to get it right and they get cold very fast. For young families, I’d recommend waxless all they way. Just my 2 cents.

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