During the winter that wasn’t I did quite a bit of reading on this subject, and there seems to be some confusion persistent here.
First let me state that sintered P-Tex, or UHMWPE, is a pretty awesome material for the purposes of snowboard bases. It has very low friction, doesn’t really absorb moisture, resists impacts
, and is incredibly abrasion resistant (10 times more than carbon steel
The idea that sintered bases are porous and absorb wax like a sponge is a myth (or at best a “poor” analogy). UHMWPE consists of crystalline lamellae and amorphous (disordered) regions
. The crystalline lamellae are the ordered regions that give the P-Tex the whitish, dry appearance (sometimes incorrectly called “oxidation”
). Wax simply binds to the surface, filling the amorphous regions and binding the lamellae. Wax does generally measurably increase the hydrophobicity of the surface, which improves glide on snow (as everyone with a freshly waxed board has no doubt experienced to some degree).
Interestingly, Leonid Kuzmin’s PhD thesis “Interfacial Kinetic Ski Friction”
demonstrates that it is even possible to produce a lower friction surface on UHMWPE without any wax, through structuring alone. I know he has been widely criticized on the internet, but based on the critiques given I think few of those people actually bothered to read his thesis. I read it in its entirety. He simply demonstrates that it is possible to get optimal glide without wax, if the surface is correctly structured. This does not mean simply not waxing is faster. In fact, he clearly shows that an unwaxed stone ground base is slower than a waxed base (as everyone has experienced). His findings are really about showing that wax is not necessary if a different structuring technique is used in place of stone grinding. Unfortunately for us, I think his method only readily applies to edgeless cross-country skis, since it involves scraping the base with a steel scraper (also, personally, I have no desire to sacrifice base material in the name of performance).
For my own views on the original post, I’m with BA on waxing. That is, I don’t do it anymore. I didn’t wax all last season and noticed no detrimental effects, aside from a little less glide in the flats. I’ve haven't experienced any increase in unpredictability on snow or jibs. The only time I might even still consider waxing is during spring mashed-potato snow, but last season here on the ice coast we pretty much missed that altogether. I used to wax every few days on the snow, but I found it didn’t last long. My advice is, unless you’re a die-hard racer, give a try to going waxless. It won’t do any damage and you may save yourself a bit of money, hassle, and even reduce potential health/environmental risks from PFCs
. On the latter point, if you do prefer to wax, consider a PFC-free wax if possible.