How Cross Country Skis and Wax Work

Summary: Kick wax is applied to the base of a waxable classic skis under the foot. Glide wax is applied to the tip and tail of classic skis and along the entire base of a skate ski.

Kick and Glide
Waxable classic skis need kick and glide wax

Sometimes incorrect ideas about cross-country ski wax become popular.

In our region, for example, many skiers think Swix Polar wax is applied to the glide zones of your classic ski. (Swix Polar wax is a kick wax.)

A solid understanding of the mechanics of skiing and the function of ski wax will protect you from bad advice like this.

Push and Glide

The most fundamental rule to remember is that when cross-country skiing you’re either pushing against the snow or gliding on it.

In classic skiing you push the base of your ski down and back against the snow. In skate skiing, you push against the edge of your ski. If you need a refresher, watch this video overview of cross-country skiing.

There are 2 broad categories of cross-country ski wax: Kick Wax and Glide Wax. Kick Wax is also known as Grip Wax. The wax matches the push and glide functions of the ski.

  • Kick wax is for pushing.
  • Glide wax is for gliding.

Skate Skis

  • Because you push against the inside edge of your ski, the entire base of a skate ski is for gliding. A skate ski only needs glide wax.

Classic Skis

  • When classic skiing you push your foot down and back against the snow.
  • The area of your ski roughly under your foot must stick to the snow so you have something to push against. This area is called the kick zone.
  • There are 2 kinds of classic skis: waxable and waxless.
  • Waxable classic skis need kick wax applied to the kick zone, otherwise there’s nothing to push against.
  • On waxable classic skis the kick zone is called the wax pocket. Here’s How to Find Your Wax Pocket.
  • Waxless classic skis have a built-in grip material in the kick zone. Waxless classic skis do not need kick wax, but they do need glide wax.
  • The areas of the ski base outside the kick zone (tip and tail regions) are for gliding, not pushing.
  • Read this for more help choosing between waxable and waxless skis.

If you keep the fundamental mechanics of skiing in mind, it’s easy to remember these 2 basic rules of waxing:

1. Glide Wax is applied to…

  • The entire base of skate skis
  • The glide zones of both waxable and waxless classic skis (tips and tails)

2. Kick Wax is applied to…

  • The kick zone (a.k.a. wax pocket) of waxable classic skis

Within the broad categories of kick and glide wax, there are endless varieties of products, with wax companies adding new products every year. We go into more details about the various products in Kick Wax Guide and Glide Wax Guide.

To wrap up, let’s return to the “Polar Wax Tip”. You should be able to easily see why this is a bad idea: you would never apply kick wax to the glide zones of a classic ski.

Whenever you feel confused about cross-country ski wax, just remember these basic rules and trust your judgement. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s probably wrong.

2 thoughts on “How Cross Country Skis and Wax Work”

  1. I too have applied Swix polar wax tips and tails (put on a light coat, scraped excess, and then used a cork block to buff it smooth.

    We got our advice.crossed, I guess.

    I know that some of the local coaches will apply grip wax over the whole ski when teaching kids how to ski their first year. Slows them down, but helps keep them upright!


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