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Going Waxless

Like many skiers, I’ve spent more hours than I care to count fussing about wax. So let me fuss for a few minutes about going without wax.

Waxless skis are no longer just fishscales. Manufacturers have made advances in new materials, such as nanotechnology coatings or fuzzy inserts, that will provide good kick and glide at the same time. Some of these models are even being marketed as high-performance racing skis.

The performance gap between waxless and wax skis certainly hasn’t disappeared, but appears to be shrinking. You can now find several options for high-performance skis that don’t require wax. They include the Peltonen SkinPro, Yoko Optigrip, Atomic Skintec, and Fischer Twin Skin, just to name a few—and no, none of them use the old fish scales.

Let me vent for a moment about fish scale skis. They’re loud and tend to go zzzziiippp on downhills, ice or when passing over something hard. They vibrate. They don’t always work well on icy tracks. They’re slow. Manufacturers tended to extend the scales over a large portion of the ski to ensure grip. As a result, the skier glides over a series of sharp ridges with predictably sluggish results.

The new waxless technologies are a big step beyond fish scales yet still offer the same convenience. There’s no need to guess which wax will give you the best kick on a given day. Just grab and go. Waxless skis work in all conditions, but really thrive when the track is glazed or thawing, or in fresh snow near zero degrees.

I tested waxless skis over several days this winter. I tried two models: the Yoko Optigrip 2.0 and the Atomic Skintec Redster. My goal was not to conduct a performance review, but simply provide an introduction to the new waxless world.

The winter of 2015-2016 was not a good year for snow conditions in the Twin Cities. Natural snow trails had many days of thin snow coverage, subzero temperatures with icy hardpack, and shallow to non-existent classic tracks. Both the Yoko and Atomic models provided reliable kick and decent glide in conditions from below zero Farenheit to above freezing.

The waxless skis allowed me to stride up most of the hills I encountered without slipping. Sometimes they felt like having snow tires underfoot.

Atomic and Yoko solve the kick zone problem in different ways. The Atomic Skintecs have pair of fuzzy mohair inserts that can be swapped in different conditions.

The Yoko Optigrip 2.0 uses a nanotechnology coating across the entire base of the ski.  (Yoko also makes another waxless ski, the YOKO Optigrip 2.1, that does have waxable glide zones in tip and tail.) The company explains that Optigrip provides good adhesion (for kick) but very little friction (for good glide). After testing these skis, I agree. Not only could I classic stride on the Yoko Optigrip 2.0, but also skate on them too without any “stickiness” interrupting the glide.

There are tradeoffs with waxless skis. The downside: the waxless skis did not glide as well as my conventional classic skis. Some people warn that waxless skis don’t put a premium on good technique like conventional wax skis and allow the skier to develop bad habits.

The upside: saving time and guesswork. You avoid the chore of waxing. A waxless ski seems an attractive option when there’s no time to wax, tricky conditions, or no concern about maximizing speed. Most obviously, they’re an appealing option for a recreational skier who owns a single pair of skis and wants to keep things fun and simple.

I could imagine keeping a pair of waxless skis in my ski bag, especially in early or late winter when conditions are often sketchy. They provide a fallback option when the wax of the day isn’t working. Or they might be the go-to pair when you want to get on snow with minimum hassle.

Maybe you won’t be the fastest person on the trail, but you will have the quickest prep time.

– Kermit Pattison

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