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Classic Skiing at Zero in the Gatineau Park
By:  Matthias Purdon   (2013/03/01)


In the last couple of days we've seen the return of winter in the form of a west-coast style
snowstorm. At the peak snowfall times yesterday I ventured into the park, solo, to do a long classic ski and test my waxing and equipment for 0 degree and fresh falling snow conditions (the most difficult of all classic conditions to wax for). National championships this year will be in the Callaghan Valley near Whistler BC, a place that is known for big snowfalls right around 0 degrees. Given the high likelihood of encountering these tough conditions out west, this latest snowstorm presented an opportunity to test equipment and wax combinations to "figure things out" for this potential scenario at nationals.

So February 27th, with the day off work, time to prep skis, and lots of time to test them, the thread that became this workout started after I finished breakfast, and ended soon before I went to sleep, thinking "man my skis did not work well today".

I'll start from the beginning with the at home ski prep that I did, thinking that chances of success would be higher avoiding parking-lot wax jobs.

I prepped two pairs of skis:

Ski One: Fischer S-Tracks waxed with purple hard wax (very tricky application), and covered with three layers of Vauhti Fluor Blue. I Glided waxed with Vauhti HF Pink.

Ski Two: Fischer RCS Zero skis (an older model) lightly sanded, and glide waxed with Vauhti HF Pink. I also borrowed a new can of Zero-ski anti-icing spray to test out.

First Impressions at P10:


View at the top of Fortune



Ski one worked well for about 30 seconds then started to ice badly. I picked a purple wax (as a non-Vauhti experiment) that was too “wet” (soft) and therefore prone to icing in fresh snow at zero degrees. In hindsight I should have tried Vauhti Super pink or K-12 covered with fluor Orange. When it is zero and snowing try to follow the two rules listed below, or don't follow them like I did, and have a high likelihood of having unworkable skis.


1) Go with something that you are almost certain won’t ice up and will give you some kind of grip but isn’t greedy for it.


2) Stick with a brand you have experience with and that has worked very well for you in the past. In my, and our team’s case, Vauhti wax is that brand.


Ski two (the RCS zeros) initially felt really grabby so I immediately applied the anti-icing spray. At first this worked pretty well but without a place to dry the liquid on for the recommended two minutes I think it contributed more to the detriment of local aquatic ecosystems (as per the warning label) than the desired anti-icing effect.


As I put away my S-Tracks (probably muttering about the wax not working) a smiling lady returning from a backcountry excursion exclaimed that I was being a “picky athlete” about my skis. When I asked her what she had on (it seemed to have worked) she replied “some kind of red”. I had no kinds of red (having put all of my eggs in a different basket) so I set off with my zeros, despite the poor initial feeling about them, figuring I could eventually make them work.


Zeros, or “rub skis” are sometimes though of as the holy grail of classic skiing in difficult to wax for conditions. In reality they are a complicated beast in their own right and are prone to the same problems faced by wax skis. Icing, lack of grip, or both at the same time can occur to Zeros depending on a variety of factors including the type of rub surface, snow conditions, and how the skis are prepped. In my experience zero skis work best in fresh snow that is very wet, such that it glazes to a hard (but not icy) wet surface as it is skied over. They also thrive in newly set tracks (there were none when I was skiing for obvious reasons). In these conditions zeros can be sanded aggressively to get optimal grip but will almost never ice up. When it is zero degrees and snowing, as it was yesterday, the challenge with zero skis is often that they over-grip or ice up. More recently, ski manufacturers have adapted rub surfaces so that they are made of a somewhat harder compound, which I think might help cope with this problem. The bottom line is that I need to learn more about my own pair of zero skis, and how to optimize them for zero and falling snow.


This was all filtering through my head as I jogged on “snow stilts” to the top of fortune where, for the third time, I scrapped a thick layer of ice and snow off the bottom of my skis. I then tried a variety of experiments to try to get my skis to work. I tried scrapping the “hairs” on the rub surface off, they iced, I grip waxed the groove with carrot, they iced, I lightly grip waxed the whole rub surface with carrot, they iced, and finally I grip waxed the whole rub surface with K-15, they lost almost all of their grip but finally didn’t ice up. 


During this process there were brief moments where my skis started kicking and gliding well, and as I glided past some high school students they asked in French “what do you have on your skis!?”. As it turned out they were having their own struggles with their touring crown skis that I got them to pose with in the picture below. After I got the shot two of them slowly toppled over. Despite their struggles they seemed in good spirits and were having a pretty good laugh while trudging glide-less through the storm.

Three local students smiling and showing off their iced up skis. 

The aftermath...


Later I overheard one student say ironically, as he ski-walked downhill past a speed limit sign; “Hey guys the sign says maximum 40 kilometers per hour, better not break the speed limit”.


I ended up double poling with my non-icing skis on Ridge Road towards Champlain, and then diverged onto trail 9, which was really quite beautiful and fun to ski, back to gossip corner. I then backtracked and took trail 32 to the Fortune race trails, attempted to traverse Fortune hill through the back country, turned around and went back to the fortune parkway on 32, and returned through shin deep powder to P10, soaked but happy.


Conditions like these don’t happen very often, and most people avoid tackling them with classic skis, having learned that they are not up to the challenge of finding a wax combo or a pair of skis that, at best, will only kind-of work. Despite my struggles with my skis yesterday, wandering through the white-pasted trees was a beautiful and quiet experience. Finding something that works in this type of snow will likely always be an open question, and if so, I’ll let it draw me in, and outside into another snowstorm, again and again.

Making fresh tracks on trail 9

The view to a pond off trail 9

Snow accumulation during the ski was pretty impressive, my skis, however, were not. Note the green rub section in the grip zone area.

thanks for reading!

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