Saturday, November 6, 2004
Everybody wants fast skis, and more than 60 people showed up at Ski Haus in Steamboat Springs on Thursday to see whether they could capture a little of the magic that Olympic Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick waxes into his boards.
Lodwick was joined by Erik Hvoslef for a cross-country ski waxing clinic that focused primarily on applying glide wax to skate skis. Hvoslef is a sales representative for ski wax maker Toko.
Lodwick said the fastest skis he's ever had were waiting outside in his truck Thursday night. He planned to apply a fresh coat of wax right after the clinic so they would be ready for training when he left for Lillehammer, Norway, on Saturday.
Lodwick's favorite Rossignol skis are four years old, and he no longer competes on them, but you get the feeling he'll never part with them. He's back with Rossi after a couple of years skiing on Fischers.
"They were awesome to ski on," Lodwick told his audience. "It builds confidence when I know that what's on my feet is going to take them where I want to go."
"So," you ask, "How can I get skis as fast as World Cup veteran Todd Lodwick's skis? And what makes them fast?"
The answer to that question can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. But Nordic skiing experts pretty much agree the three most critical components in order of importance are the flex of the ski, the "structure" or pattern ground into the base, and finally, wax. Unfortunately, the first two are difficult for recreational skiers and ski racers to control. Waxing is the factor weekend warriors have the most influence over.
The Rossignol factory representative will provide Lodwick with 30 pairs of skis to choose from at the start of a season, he said.
"This is the crux time of year for me as an athlete in the cross-country world," Lodwick said.
Next, the skis are stone ground to apply varying "structure" or pattern to the base of the skis. Typically, he might ask technicians to apply a single structure to three skis, and move on to the next set of three with another pattern.
The different structures help skis glide better over different snow conditions and snow temperatures, Hvoslef said. The most advantageous structure for new snow crystals, which tend to be very sharp, is different from the best structure for day-old snow that has been groomed, or old man-made snow.
World Cup ski teams are fanatic about the structure they grind into their skis, Hvoslef said, sometimes assigning a different structure to the different countries they ski in -- one structure for Germany and another for Italy.
Recreational skiers aren't as apt to worry about structure. But citizen racers who can afford two pairs of skis, Hvoslef said, probably will want one pair stone ground for cold mid-winter conditions and another stone ground for wet spring snow. The cold weather pattern will be tighter, and the spring pattern will be more open to help channel water in the snowpack out from under the base of the skis.
The next step for Lodwick is to begin testing the skis to see which pairs flex the way he prefers. Despite careful manufacturing techniques, no two pairs of skis are alike. And Hvoslef said preferences vary greatly from skier to skier. It's a bit of a mystery why skis exhibit slight differences in flex patterns, but Lodwick said he is looking for skis that have the same amount of flex from the tip through the middle of the ski. He calls the point at which the flex begins to change a "break." Ideally, both skis in a pair will break at the same location.
"Sometimes one will break at a different place than the other," Lodwick said. "It's very minimal, but to me, it makes a difference."
Glide waxing is where science and alchemy merge in Nordic skiing.
The two challenges in glide waxing are managing snow crystals and managing water content in the snow. The coldest winter days produce hard snow crystals and demand hard waxes that can resist them. When the snow temperature is warm, water can create suction that reduces the glide efficiency of skis. On mild winter days, when the snow is wet, softer waxes are called for.
Toko has a new simplified system that allows skiers to keep just three waxes in stock, Hvoslef said. By blending them, skiers can cover all the snow conditions they encounter in a Rocky Mountain winter.