Testing 7 Cold Weather Wax Strategies
Video of the test (blog post continues below):
A couple of nights ago, I decided to go for a quick ski around my trails without taking time to re-wax for the conditions. It was -10F outside and I had Rex Blue on, which I knew was wrong, but I thought I could get by and didn't really have time to wax. It turned out that my skis were so slow on the new, cold snow that I almost fell over the tips several times and could only make it once around the loop. This led me to wonder exactly how much better Start Green is over Rex Blue in extreme cold conditions.
After giving it some thought, I came up with a plan to test Rex Blue against Start Green and other cold weather waxing strategies. There is a lot of advice out there on how to make skis fast in cold conditions, but it is difficult to find data to go with it. My current methods for cold weather waxing are based on past experience, reading, and conversations with friends -- not on any good scientific process. So, I decided to put my cold-temperature ski waxes and techniques to the test to see how they stack up. To do this, I trialed seven different waxing strategies and compared their performance in terms of free glide distance and pace when used on the same 1-Km loop of trail.
I started with the Rex Blue that was already on my skis to use as a benchmark. Out on the trail, I set up a glide test area and a 1km time trial. The Rex Blue wasn't quite as bad as it had been the day before (the snow was a day older and the temp a bit warmer), but it was still slow. I skied a pace of 3:57/km at an average heart rate of 168 around the 1km loop. Then, I added layers of wax, one at a time, carrying out the same glide test and time trial after each layer (while attempting to keep my average heart rate even). The results of the tests are shown below.
All tests were done on the same Fischer 192 RCS skate skis with a universal cold grind and moderate flex.
It seems like many Vasaloppet, Birkie, Book-Across the Bay, and Finlandia races have been held in sub-zero conditions over the years. For each race, I chose the wax that I thought was best based on my budget, wax stock, and recommendations, but it was always a bit of a guess, and I was never sure how much speed I was gaining for the extra cost. This test provides a better idea of how cold weather waxes work together and how much benefit you might expect for the cost.
And like any experiment, this one led to several other questions. Here are a few I have already thought of:
Did the benefit from the Swix HF4BW come from the fluoro, the graphite, or the fact that it was the 3rd layer of cold wax?
Is the 1% pure fluoro advantage statistically significant based on this test setup?
Would the fluoro topcoat have worked as well over 2 layers of Start Green or was the HF4BW also important?
What about durability during a long race?
As my wife pointed out, a double blind, multi-factorial study using matched skis selected in a random order would have been better. True, but resources were limited and I got tired after my 7 laps and 7 wax applications, so I decided to call it a night. Even without a strict protocol, I think this test has some validity and at least provides real data.
While the Swix FC4X Fluoro Powder was the top performer both in terms of speed and glide distance, it is also the most expensive strategy and will likely be banned in FIS competition in 2020-2021. For about half the price per application, Toko X Cold Powder and Swix HF4BW performed nearly as well. For non-competition outings or as a low-cost alternative for those on a budget, two layers of Start Green also made my skis feel nice and fast.