FAQs about Waxing Your Waxless Cross-Country Skis

Snow-flocked trees along a groomed cross-country ski trail

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This article about waxing your waxless cross-country skis is, as you might imagine, the result of me being frequently asked the same questions about waxing waxless cross-country skis! Technique and gear form an integrated whole when it comes to cross-country skiing. So, although I provide relatively short answers to common questions here, I do encourage you to research further the art of cross-country skiing. Explore my series of articles and videos titled Cross-Country Skiing Explained. And, seek out other cross-country skiing resources for a better understanding of how everything ties together.

I don’t mind repeating myself. Really.

However, the volume of waxing-related questions that I’ve received online and in person has increased significantly in recent years. So, I thought it would be helpful for everyone (myself included) if I collected relevant questions about waxing waxless xc skis in one easy-to-find article.

Just know that the answers I provide here are snapshots of a larger picture.

Also note that my approach to waxing cross-country skis is more about function than performance. I don’t intend to address racing-oriented wax theory and application. I’m simply not qualified to speak in-depth on the subject.

Besides, my preference is to spend less time in the wax room (or garage) and more time on the snow.

I like to get in the ballpark when it comes to marrying the type of wax I’m using with the snow conditions present. However, if all I have at-hand is universal wax I’m going to use it. Or, if I only have time to brush my skis I’ll do that and go skiing.

Even in the worst of conditions, though, proper technique can overcome the inadequacies of improperly waxing for the conditions. At least, I would argue, that this applies in a recreational environment.

All of that said, I do wax all of my waxless cross-country skis frequently throughout the season and encourage to do the same.

Keep in mind that this article is a work-in-progress. I will continue to add relevant questions as they arise.

In the meantime, I hope this collection of FAQs helps you get started on your way to an enjoyable cross-country skiing experience!

Purple skies in the evening on a snow-covered lake surrounded by the forest
Cross-country skiing in the evening light at Grass Lake on December 4, 2019. © Jared Manninen

Do I Need to Wax My Waxless Cross-Country Skis?

Should I wax my waxless cross-country skis?

Yes. You definitely need to regularly apply glide wax to the tips and tails of your waxless cross-country skis.

If you don’t use glide wax, you run the risk of not getting any glide while skiing. Also, there’s a greater tendency for snow to stick to the bottoms of your cross-country skis.

When waxless cross-country skis were introduced decades ago, the “waxless” part of the name primarily referred to the grip zone. And this is still true.

For cross-country skis to perform as intended, they need a means of momentarily sticking to the snow in order for you to push off. This function was originally accomplished by applying underfoot a temperature-specific wax that would stick to the snow.

That meant you had to apply glide wax to the tips and tails of your cross-country skis for gliding purposes. And, you had to apply grip wax to the grip zone in order to push off. Combined, this constitutes a lot of work just to be able to head out to the local park for a brief winter adventure. And, often people would apply the incorrect grip wax (for the type and temperature of snow) and wind up slipping everywhere. On top of that, grip wax such as Klister is super messy with which to work.

So, waxless cross-country skis were conceived.

Ski manufacturers replaced the need for grip wax by incorporating directly into the grip zones of cross-country skis various textured patterns. Most of these designs took on a scalloped pattern that looks similar to “fish scales.” Nowadays, all the rage is mohair-type grip zones. I still prefer the standard fish scale-types as they work good enough in all conditions.

Lastly, I always recommend applying the slightest amount of glide wax to the scale pattern of your skis to reduce the likelihood of snow collecting in the grip zone.

How Do I Wax My Waxless Cross-Country Skis?

The answer to this question obviously requires a much longer explanation, but the short answer is…

  • Brush the bases free from debris and old wax with a bronze or steel brush (depending on how dirty the bases are)
  • Apply new wax using a hot iron (specifically designed for ski wax) for the temperature and conditions of snow in which you’ll be skiing
  • Scrape the new wax from the base using a plastic scraper
  • Brush the remaining wax from the bases using a bronze brush and then a fine nylon brush

See my step-by-step tutorial about hot waxing your xc skis for an in-depth look at the subject. You could also watch my shorter videos located at the end of my introductory article about waxing your waxless cross-country skis. One of those videos is ten minutes long while the other is five minutes. Both are abridged versions of the more lengthier step-by-step process.

Another option that’s quicker, but not necessarily a long-term solution, is to use a universal liquid or paste wax such as Swix F4 or Toko Express Wax.

Brushing cross-country skis with a metal brush
Brushing the bases of your skis, including the scale pattern, is one of the best things you can do to maintain your xc skis. Here I am preparing a set of off-track cross-country skis for summer storage by brushing their bases with a steel brush before applying storage wax. © Jared Manninen

Are Universal Liquid and Paste Waxes, such as Swix F4 or Toko Express Wax, Appropriate for Waxing My Waxless Cross-Country Skis?

Yes. For recreational cross-country skiing, universal liquid and paste waxes are fine for waxing your waxless cross-country skis.

These types of waxes are convenient because they don’t require a hot iron, scraping tool, or brushes with which to apply. You simply rub the wax on the bases of your cross-country skis and let them set momentarily. Then, you’re free to go skiing.

In addition to increasing glide, they’ll decrease the amount of ice and snow that sticks to the ski bases. This can happen in certain winter conditions, causing your skiing experience to be somewhat miserable. For example, snowstorms that yield fresh but saturated snow. This wet type of snow is great for making snowballs and snowmen. However, it’ll relentlessly cling to the bottoms of your cross-country skis.

Quick universal waxes can also help in spring skiing conditions. This is because the snow will often get baked by the midday sun and then turn to the consistency of sticky mashed potatoes. This, too, results in snow clinging to the bases of your cross-country skis.

Be sure to also rub a little liquid or paste wax on the scale pattern of you waxless skis. Many people tend to neglect this textured area underfoot. And, although I agree that it seems contradictory to apply glide wax to the grip zone, those scales will always become dry without treatment. This then enables snow to easily stick to it.

All of that said, universal and liquid paste waxes are usually only good for one-time use applications.

Easy on. Easy off.

Also, they’re not temperature specific. So, it can be hit or miss as to whether or not they truly provide glide.

Universal means they’re good in most conditions, but not great at any one condition.

I agree, however, that it’s better to wax your waxless cross-country skis with a universal liquid or paste wax rather than do nothing to them at all.

One last piece of advice I’d offer is that only using universal and liquid paste waxes is not a long-term solution for maintaining the bases of your cross-country skis. I recommend eventually learning how to properly wax them, hot iron and all, so that you can get the most life out of your xc skis.

You could also modify the process I demonstrate in my 5-minute video by omitting the hot iron step and just rubbing on the hard wax and then brushing it out. Not as effective, but I do it when I only have a minute or two to prep my skis before going out.

Snow-flocked trees in a forest beneath overcast skies
Snow-flocked trees, pristine snow, and isolation are some of the reasons I love to cross-country ski in the backcountry. Cross-country skiing in Washoe Meadows State Park on November 27, 29. © Jared Manninen

Can I Use Liquid or Paste Waxes Instead of Hot Waxing?

Do liquid and paste waxes replace the need for hot waxing?

You can use liquid and paste waxes instead of hot waxing in the short-term. But, liquid and paste waxes don’t replace the need for hot waxing.

So, for recreational cross-country skiing use a paste or liquid glide wax instead of hot waxing.

At least for a while.

Quick liquid and paste waxes are far easier, quicker, and less messy to apply. I use them frequently throughout the season when I’m in a hurry or if I’m performing “touch-ups” between hot waxing my cross-country skis. I also carry with me on most xc ski sessions a small tin of F4 paste wax for emergency purposes.

That said, liquid and paste wax won’t last very long.

Easy on. Easy off.

And because they’re “universal,” the wax isn’t specific to any temperature range.

Liquid and paste wax is OK for all conditions but not great for any one condition.

Probably more detrimental to your skis, however, is that most people who exclusively use paste or liquid wax never actually brush out their ski bases. So each time you apply more of that paste or liquid wax, you’re just adding more goop to the mix.

No matter how clean-looking the snow is that you’re skiing on, you’re still going to always collect tiny bits of debris between the fibers of the ski bases. If you just keep putting more liquid or paste wax over the top, you’re just sealing in all of that garbage.

I’ve seen the compounded effects on the bases of skis when only liquid or paste wax is applied without ever brushing them clean. The bases of the skis wind up resembling coarse grit sandpaper. When that happens you can no longer see the structure of the ski’s base, which is essential to decreasing suction and friction.

My recommendation is that if you’re going to primarily use a liquid or paste glide wax, you should invest in a bronze brush. Then, prior to applying the fresh liquid or paste glide wax, brush out the ski bases with that bronze brush.

Honestly, you’d probably do more good for your skis just by brushing them out rather than applying any type of paste or liquid glide wax (if you could only choose one of those options). Ask any dentist, and they’ll tell you that toothpaste is fine but it’s really the mechanical action of brushing that gets your teeth clean. This is not unlike treating the bases of your cross-country skis.

By no means am I saying not to use paste or liquid wax. I do, after all. I just believe it’s exponentially more beneficial to also use a bronze brush. And, to hot wax them after every few xc ski sessions.

Overcast skies and as snow-covered lake flanked by forests
Cross-country skiing at Grass Lake during a snowstorm on December 2, 2019. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies out there! © Jared Manninen

How Long Should it Take to Wax My Waxless Cross-Country Skis?

This will depend upon your waxing skills and experience, and whether or not you hot wax your skis or just use a rub-on liquid or paste wax.

Generally speaking, though, it takes me about 15 minutes (including setup and cleanup) to hot wax one set of my cross-country skis. I also don’t hot wax them every time I go skiing. Often, I’ll brush my skis using a bronze brush for 2-4 more ski sessions before I hot wax them again.

If I’m rotating between the different skis that I own, I can decrease the frequency of hot waxing any one pair even more. That said, when I do this there will eventually be the day on which I must hot wax 3-6 different pairs of skis. And, I can assure you, that will take longer than 15 minutes.

Should I Do Anything to the Fish Scales of My Waxless XC Skis?

Yes. You should apply the slightest amount of glide wax to the scale pattern of your waxless cross-country skis. I typically will just use a universal liquid or paste wax.

I also recommend brushing out the scale pattern (with a bronze brush) after hot waxing your cross-country skis.

If you don’t do anything to the scale patterned grip zones of your waxless xc skis, snow will tend to collect in that area. Then, in various circumstances, snow will clump up underfoot rendering the grip zones useless.

It’ll also decrease your ability to glide because the clingy snow will be dragging along.

Grip zone of a Fischer Brand cross-country track ski
Although the grip zone of this “waxless” cross-country ski doesn’t really resemble a fish scale pattern, it functions in the same way. This design enables me to push off when I flatten the ski because the scales grip the snow. It’s essential to treat the scale pattern with a little glide wax so that snow doesn’t clump up in this area. © Jared Manninen

Can I Use Old Glide Wax on My Waxless Cross-Country Skis?

Or, are newer waxes better?

As far as I know, wax doesn’t really go bad. If it is glide wax, I’d just go ahead and use it to save yourself some money.

There are superior waxes on the market compared to what you probably have. However, unless you’re racing I wouldn’t worry about it.

Besides, the expensive and high-end waxes that have used long-chain fluoros are on their way out. There was a big wax industry shake-up in recent years that involved the EPA and the manufacture and importation of fluoro-based waxes.

Ultimately, long-chain fluoro-based waxes have been deemed to be environmentally and humanly hazardous.

So, I just stick with basic non-fluoro wax because it’s less expensive, less environmentally and personally hazardous. And, I don’t race.

Man with ski poles on a snowy slope in the mountains
Cross-country skiing north of Carson Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail on December 9, 2019. © Jared Manninen

Cross-Country Skiing Explained Mini-Series

Please note that I wrote Cross-Country Skiing Explained with the beginner or intermediate cross-country skier in mind. This is the demographic for whom I most often served while working in the outdoor recreation industry at Lake Tahoe. I basically treat these articles as extensions of the conversations I’ve had with those customers. That said, expert skiers could take away something of value from this article. Just know that I don’t intend to address racing-oriented philosophy, technique, or gear selection.

Waxing Your “Waxless” Cross-Country Skis (for beginner and intermediate xc skiers)

Classic Cross-Country Ski Components

Considerations for buying cross-country ski gear (new and beginner xc skiers)