How Waxes Work
Skis on snow create friction. Unlike tires where we want to maximize friction for traction, on skis we want the opposite. Ski waxes are used to lower the coefficient of friction. Waxes must repel water and be hard enough to prevent the snow crystals from penetrating the wax allowing the base to grip the snow. There are two main types of waxes, hydrocarbon and fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon waxes are made of carbon molecules with negatively charged fluorine atoms. Hydrocarbon waxes use neutrally charges hydrogen atoms. The chemistry and physics of how these different waxes work is complicated, but expert skiers can feel the difference. Racers use fluorocarbon waxes. But they are much more expensive. Hydrocarbon waxes get the job done and are much less expensive.
If you want to really target your wax to conditions, you’ll need to understand a bit more about friction. There are three types of friction a ski base encounters on snow: dry, wet and electrostatic. Dry friction occurs when snow granules come in contact with the ski base. Wet friction occurs when high moisture content snow creates suction between the base and the snow. Electrostatic friction is created when a ski base runs on snow because an electrostatic attraction is created.
Solution (Wax or Other)
Slightly harder than the snow
Not too much, or dry friction is increased
Graphite in the wax
Acts as an antistatic
To optimize sliding, waxes need to be carefully matched to snow temperature. The ideal wax is slightly harder than the snow so it prevents the base material from gripping the snow, but not too much harder, because that creates unnecessary friction. Wax manufacturers color code their waxes accordingly. Warm colors like pink, yellow and orange target warmer snow. Cooler colors like blue, purple and white target colder snow. The main difference in these waxes is how hard they are.
Some manufacturers go the extra mile to ensure the lowest coefficient of friction for the bases. Because static charges are created when a ski slides on snow, some manufacturers embed anti-static materials in their bases. Graphite