Cleaning and Maintenance of Cross-Country Skis

You must have noticed that your cross country skis feel different when they are clean and properly waxed, as compared to when they are dirty or have been used for a long duration. In order to get the best performance out of your cross country skis as well as to enjoy a long-lasting performance on the slopes, you need to make sure your skis are properly cleaned and well-maintained. In fact, all you have to do is to dedicate less than an hour to cleaning, brushing, and waxing them to give your skis a new life.

Useful Tools and Accessories

Here are the important tools and accessories that you will need to clean and maintain your cross country skis:

Wax Profile

It is easier to clean your skis when they are upside down so flip them over before starting the cleaning process.

If you have a wax profile, lock your skis into it. A wax profile is a special piece of equipment that you can find in outdoor supply stores. It holds your skis and ensures they are steady when you work on the skis. If you have a wax profile, put your skis in an inverted position (bottom up) on it. The wax profile has clamps in the center to hold your skis. Fix the center of your ski using the handle. If you do not have a wax profile, it is best to put your skis on a flat surface such as a tall table or a workbench, so the XC skis do not act like a seesaw when you try to clean the edges.

Sandpaper

If there is visible dirt, using a sandpaper sparingly can remove the dirt and sand. But make sure you do not over-rub any part of the skis.

Ski Cleaner

The liquid ski cleaner is great for removing dirt and grime off your skis. In addition to cleaning, it leaves a super thin layer of wax on your skis that works as an effective binding agent for the next layers to come.

If you do not have it, you can skip this step but then you will have to work harder and longer with the brush. The liquid ski cleaner can be found online as well as in most of the outdoor supply stores.

ski cleaning

Sponge or Cloth (or Paper Towel)

For applying the ski cleaner, use a clean microfiber towel, a soft cloth, or a paper towel so that the friction does not cause scratches on your skis. A small amount of liquid will be enough – do not oversoak the cloth with the cleaner.

Brush

There are different types of brushes that can be used depending upon your skis and the weather condition you will be skiing in. A bronze or nylon brush is commonly used; however, you need a brash brush along with a horsehair brush if the weather is relatively warmer.

The brush removes loose wax and makes the skis better. If you plan to ski in colder conditions, use a nylon brush. Make sure that you brush the length of the ski while taking away loose wax and smoothening the surface. If you plan to face warmer weather conditions with the snow getting wet (around 26 degrees F), use a brass brush to structure the waxed base, and then use a horsehair brush.

How to Clean Your Cross-Country Skis?

Before you apply new wax to your skis, it is important to remove the old wax from the surface of your XC skis. This old wax may well be carrying dirt and other build-ups so it is crucial for you to remove it before applying a new layer of wax.

There are primarily two types of XC skiing waxes:

  • Glide wax: As the name indicates, this wax helps the ski glide smoothly on the snow.
  • Kick wax: This wax is applied to the kick zone of your skis in order to get traction.

It is extremely important for you to remove the old glide wax as well as kick wax in order to properly clean and maintain your cross country skis.

Removing the Glide Wax

Here is how you will remove the old glide wax from the surface of your skis:

  1. Put the skis in an upside-down position on a bench or a flat surface (you can also use two chairs) that will not cause the skis to wobble. Wipe the skis using a paper towel to remove any loose dirt.
  2. Using a plastic scraper, scrape your skis making sure that you do not press too hard. Ideally, keep both your hands on the scraper and make a 45 degrees angle while doing so. Move from the tip of the ski to the tail while scrapping. This way, any semi-loose micro hair will settle in the scrapped direction.
  3. Now take a fine copper brush and brush the ski using quick strokes going in a single direction from the tip to the tail. This will take off the old wax and grime so that when you put in new wax, the new wax will settle in better. Make sure you do not brush the kick zone.
  4. Once you are done brushing, spread the soft wax to the surface of the XC ski base. You can heat it using a wax iron with a temperature between low and medium. While heating, make sure you apply enough heat to only melt the wax and not to heat the ski itself. Keep the iron on the move in order to prevent any area from overheating.
  5. While the applied wax is still warm and hence soft, use a plastic scraper to remove the extra amount of accumulated wax. Now let the waxed skis cool at room temperature. Once cooled down, scrape the skis again to remove any wax that resurfaced during the cooling process.
  6. Using the copper brush, you will then have to brush once more from the tip of the ski to its tail. You must apply the new glide wax depending upon the expected snow conditions.

Removing the Kick Wax

Here is how you will remove the kick wax:

  1. Using a plastic scraper, scrape off the old kick wax while applying medium pressure. In order to remove as much kick wax as possible, run down one side of the groove, and then switch to the other.
  2. Pour some good quality wax remover solution onto a paper towel and run in across the kick zone to remove any old wax or dirt still left on the kick zone.
  3. Wait for some time for the wax cleaner to rest on the ski. The exact time will be mentioned on the container of the wax remover and different types of wax removers vary in terms of the time they need to rest on the skis.
  4. Now using a clean paper towel, wipe any remaining wax remover solution and let it dry.
  5. Once completely dried, lightly apply sandpaper to the kick zone. Take a dry paper towel and wipe everything. Your cross country ski is clean from the old wax and its kick zone is now ready for the new kick wax.

Cleaning

It is extremely important to clean the kick zone on a waxless ski as you need to maintain the kick zone to avoid picking up clumps when the weather gets relatively warm. Use a dry paper towel to clean the skis once you have removed the old wax. Once the old wax is removed, you can then apply new wax to your cross country skis. They will glide well and will no longer pick clumps of ice and snow while you ski.

skis maintenance

How to Wax Your Cross-Country Skis?

If you have waxless cross country skis, you must have noticed that they end up being slow in extremely cold snow but even when the sun is out and the weather is warmer, they end up picking up clumps of ice and snow. This makes your skiing experience certainly not the ideal one.

Guess what: a waxless ski is not a maintenance-free ski! You will still need to apply wax to some parts. In fact, one-third of a waxless ski is actually waxless. The rest needs a wax coating to give you the glide and keep the icy clumps at bay from sticking.

In the case of a waxless cross country ski, no kick wax grips the snow, instead there is a fish scale pattern in the middle third of the XC ski. This creates friction (traction) when you move forward with your skis. Although the fish scale skis save you from choosing and applying temperature-specific wax (grip wax) to your skis, yet, you still have to apply the glide wax on the remaining surface of the skis that do not have the pattern.

For a beginner applying glide wax may seem like a waste of time and energy. But when you realize the mega difference between the ski performances with and without the glide wax, you will never go skiing without applying it. Many beginners also believe that having a waxless ski means taking your ski out of the box and start skiing. While you can do that, try applying the wax and see the difference.

You need to apply the glide wax to the front and back portions of your XC ski. These portions are constantly in contact with the hard snow. The kick zone has quite less contact with the snow due to its vertical curve structure, known as the camber – until you shift your kicking weight.

Quick Waxing

There is a quick 5 minute method that involves purchasing a glide wax paste. You can apply this paste using an applicator (included in the package) and then use a rubbing cork to absorb the paste into the base. Though this may not be a durable way of waxing and may well require you to wax multiple times in a season, this is by far the easiest and quickest way to wax your skis. If you are a beginner or a recreational skier who does not want to invest a lot of time in waxing, you can use the glide wax paste and enjoy skiing.

Hot Waxing

For competitive skiers and XC skiing pros, hot waxing is the most popular method of waxing. Hot waxing provides a better outcome and is far more durable than the quick fix of glide wax paste.

For this, you need to following tools:

  • Block of glide wax
  • Waxing iron – ideally the one specially designed for skis, but in case you do not have it, you can use your clothes iron too, with caution, though.
  • 200 and 400 grit sandpapers
  • Scrapping tools
  • A base cleaner or alcohol
  • Paper towel or soft cloth
  • Brushes – nylon, brass, and horsehair brushes.

To apply the wax, follow the following steps:

  1. Using a 150 to 200 grit sandpaper, lightly rub the skis removing dirt and coarse edges. Make sure you do not scrape around the gripping edges of the fish scales of the skis.
  2. If sanding peels off some loose plastic, use a small putty knife to remove these loose plastic strands. Use a 400 grit sandpaper to finish off. Make sure you sand in direction of the length and do not sand across the width of the ski’s kick zone.
  3. Once you have removed any raised areas of the ski’s surface, use alcohol or a liquid ski cleaner to clean the kick zone. Let it dry.
  4. Now take a bar of glide wax and rub it down the length of the ski in the direction of the scales – do not rub it against the direction of the fish scales otherwise the edges of the fish scales will accumulate wax. Repeat this multiple times. Using the warmth from your palm, rub the waxless kick zone to smoothen it. You can use a hairdryer to warm the wax if it is not softening up from your palm’s natural warmth.

Your waxless cross country skis are now clean and soft waxed. If your skis have been waxed in the past, you will normally clean by quickly waxing your skis with a soft wax and then removing this wax while it is still warm to get rid of all kinds of old wax, dirt, and grime.

Hot Glide Waxing

  1. Once the skis are spanking clean, keep them in the same base-up position and hold a warm iron with its heated surface perpendicular to the base of your skis.
  2. Pressing the wax block against the hot iron, let the wax drip on the base of your ski. Make sure the iron is not overly hot. Ideally, it should be at the lowest possible heating temperature that is hot enough to melt the wax. If you see smoke coming out of the wax, it means you have heated the wax with way more heat than required and this can even damage your XC skis.
  3. Making sure the wax does not drip on the kick zone, when you have enough melted blobs of wax on your glide areas, spread the wax on the entire surface in a slow-motion starting from one side and moving back in a smooth style back and forth.
  4. Now let the ski to cool down. This may take at least 10 minutes.
  5. Taking a scrapper and moving it softly lengthwise, remove the extra wax residue. Make sure you scrape the wax from the middle groove of your ski.

The wax you want on your skis should be absorbed in the base instead of accumulating on the base. Mostly, new skis are waxed as much as five times in a row to ensure the base has properly absorbed the wax. Don’t worry, you can never over-wax a ski. If you feel you have not applied enough wax, you can always apply more wax to the initial layer in the same way you did before.

Brushing the Skis

To structure the base wax, you need to ask yourself what snow conditions you will be skiing in? If you plan to hit the slopes in extremely cold conditions, it is better to use a nylon brush to remove the excess wax or residues from the ski and to make the surface smoother.

If you are skiing in warmer conditions with the sun out and the snow becoming wet (somewhere around 26 degrees F), use a brass brush to reveal the structure of the ski’s base. Then use a horsehair brush to further polish the brushing skills. Brushing and structuring your base wax is an important step that improves your ski’s glide in all kinds of snowy terrain.

ski waxing

Tips and Tricks

Cleaning and maintaining your cross country skis may seem hard and time consuming as a beginner, but once you get the idea of what a massive difference it makes on the skis’ performance and life, you will not mind spending some time cleaning it. Here are some of the tips and tricks that will help you in cleaning and maintaining your cross country skis:

  1. Wax your skis according to the weather and snow conditions you will be skiing in.
  2. You can also wash off the skis using a mild soap and sponge to get rid of dirt and grime. Once dried, you can then proceed to apply the wax layer.
  3. If you notice any beading of water on the surface of your skis, this is an indication that you need to instantly clean the skis. Beads of water on your skis indicate the presence of oil. Since an oily surface can negatively affect your skiing, you should avoid it at all cost.
  4. Old wax needs to be completely removed before applying the new wax.
  5. If you do not have a wax profile or a proper waxing table, use any table or bench that has a flat surface where your skis do not wobble. Many skiers use two chairs to put the skis bottom-up before starting with the cleaning process.
  6. There are many types of waxes available in the market. Ideally, check with the manufacturer of your cross country skis to see what type of wax works well with your skis.
  7. Make sure you always brush and scrape your XC skis starting from the tip of the skis to its tail. Do not brush in a circular motion or along the width of the skis.
  8. When waxing your skis, there is no such thing as over waxing it. The wax needs to be absorbed in the skis rather than on it. If you think the skis do not have enough wax even after going through the waxing process, repeat waxing by using the same steps.
  9. While waxing your fish scale pattern skis, make sure the wax does not accumulate in the scales.
  10. When applying hot glide waxing, the wax should not drip on the kick zone.
  11. While applying wax to your skis using the waxing iron, make sure your room is properly ventilated and there are no kids or flammable items around the heated iron.
  12. If you are not a seasoned skier and do not want to spend a lot of time and effort in waxing, you can go for the quick fix, that is, using a glide wax paste. It is generally done by recreational as well as beginner level skiers.
  13. It is important to clean your skis before storing them or putting them away at the end of the ski season. This way, your skis will be well-protected for the next ski season.

A Few Words About Storage

Once you have cleaned and waxed your cross country skis, make sure to store them properly at an appropriate place where the skis can be stored upright until your next ski adventure. Make sure this storage area is dry and cool. It is better to keep it inside your home in the pantry or your closet. Do not store your skis in your garage or attic where they might get too hot in summers or too cold in winters.

In case your skis can too hot, the temperature can melt away the wax from the bottom of the skis. If you are storing your skis in a very cold area (for instance the garage in winters), your skis’ wax would freeze and chip off. It is also important for you to keep an eye on your skis during the offseason to make sure they are stored properly and do not show any sign of rusting, bending or chipping.

Conclusion

Cleaning and properly maintaining your cross country skis is totally worth the performance boost it gives to your skis. You need some waxing equipment such as a wax profile (or a flat stand), ski cleaning liquid, sandpaper, microfiber cloth (or paper towel), and an appropriate brush to do the job.

Your ski bases need wax protection in order to resist the friction of snow crystals, and also to repel moisture in order to get the maximum glide. In order to apply fresh wax, you need to remove the old wax (glide wax/ kick wax) and clean the surface of the skis to make sure there is no dirt or grime on it. Once you are done with it, you can store your skis in a standing position at a room temperature place (pantry or closet). Once you start skiing with your cleaned and waxed skis, you will see the difference for yourself. Cleaning and maintaining your XC skis will not only give you the best performance on the slopes but will also add years to your skis’ life. And that only means many more years of exciting skiing!