Ski wax is a material applied to the bottom of skis or snowboards that will effect the performance of the ski in varying conditions. It can also be applied to other forms of snow transportation, such as toboggans. The two main types of wax used on skis are glide waxes and kick waxes. Glide wax is selected based on the temperature of the snow, and used to give skis the optimal amount of speed, no matter the conditions. Kick wax, for the classic style of cross-country skiing, is used to provide traction for kicking off the snow.
Glide wax can be applied to alpine skis, snowboards, skate skis, classic skis, back-country skis, and touring skis. Waxes, usually synthetic, can be hard or soft:
- Harder waxes are for cold, dry, or abrasive conditions. Waxes can contain additives such as graphite, teflon, silicon, fluorocarbons, and molybdenum to improve glide and/or reduce dirt accumulation. The harder waxes typically are composed of longer molecules and tend to wear off the base faster than softer waxes.
- Softer waxes are for warm or wet conditions. Softer waxes are typically composed of short and ring molecules.
The hardness of the wax is controlled by the length of the carbon chains in the wax. Longer carbon chains create a harder wax while short carbon chains create softer waxes.
A variety of glide waxes exists, each one optimized for a particular temperature range. Universal waxes, that span a wider range of temperatures, are also available.
Glide wax can be rubbed on or applied by melting.
- In hot waxing: wax is heated up against an iron, melted, and dripped onto the base of a ski and then ironed into the base.
- Paste, liquid, spray-on, and rub-on waxes require no heating.
- Hotboxing, consists of applying a wax with an iron, then warming skis in a device called a hotbox. Hotboxes open up the pores in the ski, this allows the recently applied wax to penetrate the base of the ski deeper and more effectively, creating an even faster gliding surface.
- Infrared waxing uses infrared light to melt the wax.
Some authors question necessity to use any glide waxes on modern ski base  Other authors insist that the ski base material already has very good sliding properties and can only be improved by a small margin by glide waxes in defined snow conditions.
Kick wax is used exclusively by cross-country skiers, specifically for the practice of classic skiing. Kick wax is also selected based on temperature, but snow conditions play a significant role in the decision making. Kick wax is used to provide a grip to the snow, allowing skiers to propel themselves forward on flats and up hills; the proper selection of kick wax does not create drag, and the skier is able to get maximum glide from the ski. There are two substances used for kick waxing:
- Hard wax: for fresh, crystalline snow. Hard waxes are the most popular choice. They work best when snow is fresh and not yet hard-packed. Most are color-coded according to their optimal temperature range (from approximately -25 °F to +35 °F).
- Klister: for snow that has transformed and is no longer in a crystalline form. These are for warmer conditions, snow that has repeatedly melted and refrozen, and slush. Their gelatinous nature and stickiness makes them a bit tricky to work with. Application can be difficult and time-consuming. Ever changing wax technology, such as spray-on klister, has made this type of kick wax more user-friendly.
Some skis are "waxless", having a fish-scale like texture to prevent back sliding.
Johannes Scheffer in Argentoratensis Lapponiæ (History of Lapland) in 1673 gave what is probably the first recorded instruction for ski wax application He advised skiers to use pine tar pitch and rosin. Ski waxing was also documented in 1761.
Beginning around 1854, California gold rush miners held organized downhill ski races (see History of ski racing). They also discovered that bases smeared with dopes brewed from vegetable and/or animal compound helped increase skiing speeds. This led to some of the first commercial ski wax (even though they contained no wax at all), such as Black Dope and Sierra Lighting; both were mainly composed of sperm oil, vegetable oil and pine pitch. However, some instead used paraffin candle wax that melted onto ski bases, and these worked better under colder conditions.
Surfactants were introduced in 1974 by Hertel Wax. Hertel also developed the first fluorocarbon product and the first spring wax that repels and makes the elements slick for spring time alpine ski and snowboard. This technology was introduced to the market in 1986 by Hertel Wax. Meanwhile, at Swix, chief chemist Leif Torgersen was also looking for something to repel pollen. A hard glide wax was essential to last throughout a 50 km race or a ski marathon, but the softer kick wax picked up pine pollen and other dirt, slowing the ski progressively through the course of the race. So he sought a form of fluorocarbon that could be ironed into the base. In Italy, he found it: Enrico Traverso at Enichem SpA, a state-owned industrial giant, had a fluorocarbon powder with a melting temperature just a few degrees below that that of sintered polyethylene. On March 2, 1990, Enichem applied for an Italian patent on a "ski lubricant comprising paraffinic wax and hydrocarbon compounds containing a perfluorocarbon segment". The same day, Hertel filed for a U.S. patent on a "ski wax for use with sintered-base snow skis", containing paraffin, a hardener wax, roughly 1% per-fluoroether diol, and 2% SDS surfactant". Enichem received a U.S. patent a year later. These are the two earliest patents for fluorocarbon ski waxes. Later patents have been granted to Dupont and to Athanasios Karydas, of Dominator Race Wax. Trademarks for Hertel waxes are Super HotSauce, Racing FC739, SpringSolution and White Gold.
Wax can be dissolved by nonpolar solvents like gasoline, benzene (carcinogenic) or mineral spirits. However commercial wax solvents are made from citrus oil, which is less toxic, harder to ignite, and least damaging (if at all) to the ski base.
Health and environmental impacts
Ski wax can contain toxic chemicals including perfluorinated chemicals. Levels of perfluorinated carboxylates, especially perfluorooctanoic acid, are known to increase dramatically in ski wax technicians during the ski season. PFOA, in particular, is known to be stable in the environment and to cause cancer, birth defects, thyroid dysfunction, increased cardiovascular risk, hormone and immune system disruption, birth and developmental defects and liver toxicity 
When skiing, the friction between the snow and skis will cause the wax to rub off on the snow and sorb to the snow grain surface and particles in the bulk snow. The wax is released in the snowmelt in pulses depending on the hydrophobicity of the chemicals in the wax and the age of the snowpack, ending up on the soil surface. This snowmelt drains into watersheds, streams, lakes and rivers, with the potential to contaminate and harm both the environment and its inhabitants. PFCs in ski wax are extremely heat resistant, chemically and biologically stable, and thus environmentally persistent. A University of New Hampshire undergraduate named Evelyn French estimates of the amount of PFOA in ski wax released to the environment at a ski resort approximates that 1 million skiers visit the resort in a year, each using ¾ of an ounce of wax, resulting in 46,875 pounds of PFOA deposited in the surrounding soil and water systems. To extrapolate to the US as a whole, the ~60 million ski visits each year result in ~2.8 million pounds of PFOA being released to the environment. French's arithmetic, however, has been challenged. Because of its expense, no wax company uses more than a 1% concentration of FHCs in any bulk wax, so even if all American skiers used FHC wax every day, the total FHC burden would be on the order of 28,000 pounds (about 13 metric tonnes). Moreover, the bulk of those FHC materials go not into the watershed, but onto the waxing room floor in the form of scrapings, to be bagged as landfill trash or recycling.
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