Facing Down the Klister Demons

I recently sat down with Tad Elliott to lecture him about klister skiing. Tad is an accomplished racer, with many of his most impressive classic race performances coming in klister conditions. But when it comes to skis and waxing he’s a spoiled Colorado kid without much experience. Actually, I’m being unkind. For a western guy he’s pretty good at dealing with klister. I just used him as a punching bag in order to explain a few things about klister.

Among the teams that we work with, some of the most common ski orders are for dedicated klister skis. Not surprisingly, skiers with good klister skis fare well in klister conditions; the skis become a huge asset when some of the competition is making due with a pair of “all-around” skis that also have to serve duty as hardwax skis. Every year we seek out the best klister ski we can find during our ski selection trips, because there is a strong and established market for them among racers.

However, our masters customers seldom ask for klister skis. In fact, we get more questions about “skin” skis or fishscales than we do about klister skis. Last year at the American Birkebeiner we witnessed examples of full-blown panic, and overheard classic racers stating (with apparent authority) that “the only prayer for even finishing the race is a good pair of skin skis”. It turned out to be quite easy classic waxing for the Birkie (especially compared with the glide waxing!), and I felt awfully bad for the many people who tried to trudge the whole distance on skin skis with no glide at all. As we see more and more klister conditions, in more and more areas of the world that are accustomed to skiing only on hardwax, I find myself fearful that too many people will miss the boat on what amounts to some of the very best conditions we ever get to experience. There appears to be a deep-seated anxiety in much of the skiing population surrounding klister, and as we approach the winter season this year, we’ve decided to start trying to combat that anxiety.

The anxiety is generally rooted in some combination of a lack of experience, and some bad experience in the past. In an effort to simplify and demystify the situation, we’re initiating a marketing campaign to identify and address a few basic areas where people are most frequently confused and mislead.

klistermouse1 – Klister is gross and sticky!
Well, technically, this is true. But some of the very best things in life are gross and sticky if you pause to think about it. It’s hardly a reason to stay away! Instead, it’s good to know a few simple and easy techniques for application and clean-up. This will clearly need to be the subject for a video presentation, but that’s going to have to wait until I can put a little bit of weight on my leg. In the meantime you can review Gunnar’s extremely cute klister presentation from four years ago:

2 – Klister skis are not the same as Hardwax skis
This is a pretty big sticking point. It’s literally a sticking point, because in many conditions, putting klister on hardwax skis means you end up… sticking. Klister skis need to have higher carrying capacity than hardwax skis in order to accommodate a thicker wax layer, because klister works that way. In some conditions, putting klister on hardwax skis works just great, and some people have “magic” skis that seem to be just as good with klister as with hardwax. But in general, we can ensure a much superior experience in klister conditions when we have suitable klister skis to work with. It’s not just a matter of better speed either. A good klister ski can provide both superior speed and better kick.
The other common misconception is that klister skis are just the same as hardwax skis, only stiffer. In fact, we look for a number of subtle differences, including different pocket shape, different finishing strength, and different glide zone camber shape. In racing we often work with several different types of klister skis for different conditions. In order to entertain all of you gluttons for technical detail, I will go into further depth on the subject with a relatively complete video description of different types of klister skis a little later in the fall. In the meantime, you’re welcome to email with questions if you simply can’t wait to hear more! zc@caldwellsport.com

3 – There are so many klisters!
In fact, figuring out which product to use in which conditions may be the single biggest barrier to success that I’m aware of. The industry hasn’t helped much over time. Often blue klister and violet klister have similar temperature ranges. Universal klister isn’t even remotely “universal”. It’s not clear when to use which product, and by the time you’ve tried and failed with one klister, you’re a big sticky mess away from another attempt. It’s a difficult world to break into if you have limited experience. But I realized last March, as the family was trying to pack light for a trip to Norway, that I was quite happy to head off for a week of skiing in highly variable klister conditions, with only four klisters, and one of them was a base klister. In addition to Vauhti K-Base, we packed K-Violet for below-freezing conditions, and Rode Topline KM3 for above freezing conditions, with a nice tacky Vauhti Red/Silver to add a few dots at a time for extra kick if needed. I’d want to have my full klister arsenal to provide competitive race service, but for extremely satisfactory training, I’m happy working with these waxes. I truly believe that we can make this whole thing very, very simple.
Our plan is to package this “starter kit” on our webstore at a decent discount, and to even toss all four tubes (new and unopened!) in for free with the order of a new pair of klister skis. The goal, obviously, is to get more people out enjoying the best skiing there is (especially when it’s the only skiing there is)!

We’ll make the “package deal” offer official when we’ve got a little more time, and people are thinking a little more about skiing, later in the fall. For now, we’re headed off to Europe for our final ski selection trip of the season. By the time we’re finished with this trip we will have selected all the klister skis we’ll have for the winter. So the best way to ensure that you get a great pair of klister skis is to email me in the next few days, and make sure that we pick you something during our trip. Otherwise, you can take your chances with our inventory later in the season.

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