What You Might Not Know About Choosing the Best Stick
This story originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding and has been updated with the photos above. Subscribe here.
Words: Scott Yorko
Photo: Ben Birk
Ever pay 10 bucks for a rental shop tech to quickly run your board across a hot wax roller? If so, you might be surprised by how ridiculously scientific wax technology can be. "We consider snow temperature, air temperature, humidity, snow crystal size, whether it's new or old snow, and even geography when deciding which wax to use," says Curtis Baca, the US Snowboard Team wax tech responsible for the speed of Seth Westcott and Kaitlyn Farrington.
Baca has small vials of wax powder that retail for 350 dollars each. He's seen race teams schlepping 7,000 dollar infrared waxing machines to the starting line, and speculates Shaun White has had a good 1,000 dollars worth of wax powder on his base for Olympic halfpipe heats. "The stuff used on the super high end is awesome, but overkill and ridiculous for the everyday rider," he says.
While wax kits from companies like WEND are starting to look like arsenals of women's mysterious hair products, base care is still a worthwhile investment to prolong the quality of your board. Even at consumer levels, proper wax improves overall responsiveness and control, according to experts like Dr. Thanos Karydas, a Greek chemist who founded Dominator wax company: like "driving a car with extremely under-inflated tires; a board without wax does not handle the way it was designed to."
And that's not just for ripping down groomers. "Powder is actually the time wax is needed," explains Rich Beneducci, co-founder of Green Ice Wax. "Fresh snow’s structure is angular. The sharper the snow crystals, the more the need for wax because a sharp structure will cause more friction."
Wax manufacturers are constantly experimenting, tinkering with new additives and levels of fluorocarbon (a high-end chemical compound) purity to get the perfect recipes for specific conditions. Pro rider feedback is huge and usually cataloged in large databases. Then it's a matter of letting this technology trickle down to the people, diluting the materials enough to maintain high performance at a more consumer-friendly price point. "It's worth spending a few extra bucks for diluted high-end race wax," says Oneball owner Matt Cummins, who sells just that in 15- to 20-dollar bars. "Especially on a powder day, you have such an advantage over your friends of the same riding ability, gliding further and faster. It's a bummer getting passed on a cat track."
In addition to speed, control, and upkeep, the latest developments in wax manufacturing center on environmental responsibility. "Realistically, waxing is a chemical-rich process that's not very eco-friendly," says Sochi boardercross bronze medalist and former wax tech, Alex Diebold. Every spring, an entire season's worth of wax residue flows with melted snow into rivers and lakes and water systems. All Green Ice products are fluorocarbon-free with biodegradable plant-based materials. WEND is sourcing their materials through an exclusive arrangement with a farm in central Oregon that produces special hydrogenated seed oil from the Meadowfoam flower, which contains less additives, and supposedly resists dirt quite well.
Snowboards are just like cars—some people take really good care of them while others don't. If you want to maximize the performance of your gear, just know that the tools are there and they're getting even better.