Getting out of a bind with binder wax

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2001

Classical skiers using the hilly, outer loops at Tsalteshi Trails are like Jerry Springer on his set -- both need an immense amount of friction if they are going to get anywhere. That's what has made skiing at Tsalteshi recently so interesting.

Temperatures in the teens and below hit the trail this week following a week of rain and numerous freeze-thaw cycles. The result has been hard-packed trails made up of cold, sharp snow crystals. Groomers, like Britney Spears and her career, have worked hard to make something out of very little.

The results have been commendable. The snow is just soft enough for skaters to get an edge. And those with waxless classical skis have been able to muster enough friction out of the snow with the fish scales on the bottom of their skis.

But what about those classical skiers, like me, who abhor the remote-control-car sound made by fish scales traveling over snow and prefer to get friction using waxable skis?

Classical skiers who get their kicks using wax are like fly fishers. In most situations, fly fishers could make their lives a lot easier by simply using bait. But for them, the fun comes from looking at each fishing trip as a unique problem that can be solved with just the right color, fly and technique of casting. Thus, they look at bait like an orienteering fanatic looks at a GPS unit or a baseball purist looks at juiced balls, the designated hitter and bandbox ballparks.

Kick-waxers view fish scales in the same light. They enjoy messing with waxes, kick pockets and skiing technique so that they can sail over any situation.

I thought I was getting pretty good at kick-waxing until this week. With temperatures at 15, I figured I'd just cork on five thin layers of Swix Green kick wax and go.

That worked perfectly until a mile into the ski, when the sharp, hard snow crystals had already done a Norelco job on the kick wax on the bottom of my ski and given it a smooth shave. There have been many times I've yearned for such CD smoothness -- such as when swallowing warm Pabst, or when I was in high school and had to explain to my mom why there were four empty cases of toilet paper in the trunk after I borrowed her car the night before. But the kick pocket on a ski is about the last place one needs such baby-bottom qualities.

Keeping wax on the ski reminded me of when I went dipnetting in whitecaps at the mouth of the Kenai River and tried to keep my hip waders from washing down to my ankles. In both instances, I ended up standing around shivering, looking stupid and going nowhere fast. Trying to climb Tsalteshi's hills proved to be as difficult as using a golf ball to grate lemon peel (or make lemon zest, for the Epicureans out there).

About the time the third or fourth youngster went gliding past me on the trail, I, like Eli Whitney, figured there had to be a better way. Luckily, these days we have the Internet, so the ingenuity needed to invent something like the cotton gin is no longer necessary.

Alan Boraas, an anthropologist and ski expert at Kenai Peninsula College, has gained some fame for the expression, "There is no bad weather, only bad gear." Assuming the same applied to ski conditions, I dropped him an e-mail.

Boraas said the solution to my unsticky situation was a product called binder wax. Available at local ski shops, binder wax serves the same function as egg in the frying process. Just as egg allows the flour and fish to stick together, base binder allows kick wax to stay on the bottom of the ski through the vagaries of abrasive snow.

Applying it is simple, and has the fringe benefit of putting the aroma in the air of a well-conditioned hearth at a ski lodge. Clean the kick zone of wax (if the trail hasn't done it for you already), turn your wax iron to medium heat, press the binder wax to the iron, then immediately press the wax to the ski to make a round, wax mark on the ski.

Do this for the entire kick zone, with each dab of wax 1 inch apart. Then, using the iron, slowly spread the binder to thinly and completely cover the kick zone. Allow the binder to cool, then apply the kick wax of the day.

I tried it Wednesday and it worked like a sauna on a dark, crisp and cold winter's night. I skied 10 miles on Tsalteshi's outer loops and had great friction the whole way.

Jerry Springer (and Britney Spears, fly fishers, fish fryers, baseball purists, orienteering fanatics and Eli Whitney, for that matter) would have loved it.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Helminiak, the sports editor at the Peninsula Clarion. Comments and criticisms can be directed to

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