When the Winter Olympics were held this year in Whistler, British Columbia the teams experienced conditions that frustrated their professional wax technicians. Big wet flakes fell on the tracks and the temperatures hovered around zero Celsius. They gave up on their expensive waxes and resorted to an old solution that has returned to help.
This should bring a wry smile to the faces of skiers here in Australia where we face these difficult waxing conditions on many days.
In Canada the champion skiers and their coaches had a plan for these conditions and it doesn’t involve some secret wax. Amongst the 40 or so pairs of skis in their ski bags these days is a special ski designed for just these conditions; a ‘zero’ or ‘zeta’ based ski.
The history of these skis began back in 1983 when two American skiers (Dan Simoneau and Bill Koch) were competing at the Swedish Ski Championships. They heard that the Swedes were experimenting with abrading the base of their skis to see if they could get their skis to grip in difficult waxing conditions. The Swedes gave up but lent their Sandvik sander to the US Team who used it to prepare for the 32 km event.
“Former US Ski team coach Marty Hall takes up the story. “Who was going to be the guinea pig? Dan Simoneau who was the number two starter for the day would come into the stadium after one kilometre into the race and would let us know how they were working. “Simoneau skied through and his response as to how the skis were working, according to Hall was, “yahoo”.
The rest is history. Koch opted for the haries based in Simoneau’s enthusiastic reaction to them and he and Simoneau placed one-two in the race, the best U.S. performance ever in an international event.
There’s a famous picture of Norwegian coach Magne Myrmo bending over trying to look up onto Koch’s ski bases as he passes trying to figure out what his secret wax is. ”
Bob Woodward in Off Piste.
What the American had chanced upon is a technique that is now adopted by most modern ski manufacturers today. Unwaxed or poorly maintained ski bases tend to develop small upstanding fibres on their bases and removal of these ‘hairs’ is part of the aim of good ski preparation. We see these occasional skiers all the time here with ‘hairy bases’ that have built up great clods of frozen snow sticking to the base of their skis.
In this case, producing these hairs is the goal and ski manufacturers have developed special surfaces in the grip zone of the ski to allow the skier to achieve a variety of effects. Some manufacturers such as Fischer add a rubberised compound into the base material. Others such as Madshus also produce a ground base on some models.
The microscopic hairs in this zone come into contact with the snow and provide grip. This is a much superior grip/glide than the traditional pattern base (fishscales) used by many amateur racers. This is a real breakthrough for our typical Australian skiing conditions.
Olympic skiers would used these skis on fresh snow at around zero Celsius while most amateur racers would be happy with the performance from just below freezing to any temperature well above it.
The hairy bases do require some maintenance. Occasional sanding will keep the hairs in good condition and varying grades of sandpaper will produce a finish suitable to higher or lower temperatures. Swix makes a purpose built cork block with adhesive sand paper pads and a spray on wax designed to prevent ice build up in the grip area. So leave your wax box at home and come along with a couple of grades of sand paper and some spray wax and leave your competitors far behind.
We have a good range of ‘hairies’ available in stock and some to try out as well as the specialised wax and preparation products. So why not try them out this season and enjoy the hairy revolution.