Alright, the holidays are over, I think most of my readers are back to work (hey look, I'm not going to make a pathetic joke about how few readers I have! Or did I?), and the race season starts tonight. Let's finish it up with the only useful topic left: do you need a wax/wax equipment collection that is more valuable than all your skis combined?
At some point in your ski career (like, now), you'll hear someone else talking about waxing. Waxing your skis is to nordic skiing the way tire selection is to cyclocross; sometimes, it really matters, but people act like it always matters, and you can rest assured that anyone obsessing about the wax they put on their skis would own 5 sets of tubulars if they raced cross.
The other thing about waxing is that it's kind of like pumping up your tires. If you don't do it every ride, it's no big deal (sorry, guys-who-pump-up-to-120psi-every-day), but if you don't do it for months on end, then yeah, you're gonna start slowing down. And if you're racing, yeah, you need every last bit of speed you can get, and you're gonna wax before every race.
The difference between waxing your skis and pumping up your tires is that waxing is WAY more involved. Imagine if it took you 15 minutes to put air in your tires and required several hundred dollars of tools; the advice for novice cyclists would be "have a shop put air in your tires every 2 months," or something. And after protracted internal debate... that's exactly my advice to you, the beginning nordic skier.
You could buy a wax bench, iron, scrapers, brushes, and wax, but if you're balking at a $400 skate package then you're definitely not going to be into the price tag on that ($400+). But it's ok. Most ski shops will glide wax your skate skis for $20 or so, and while this is a total ripoff if you have all the equipment and knowledge to do it yourself, you don't, so shut up and pay it for now.
Realistically, it's probably worth your money to get your skis waxed once or twice a year. After an entire summer of sitting there with the bases drying out, you should definitely wax them at the start of the season. It will make a difference. Midseason you could do it again, if you've been skiing a bunch.
I probably wax my skis once for about every three times I go skiing, but that's mainly because I do a race every three times out or so. And I have all the stuff I need right in my basement.
When does waxing matter?
If you're skiing around Boston, you're probably skiing on frozen granular most of the time. Ice is hell on your bases from a wax stripping standpoint, but it glides great. An unwaxed ski is as good on ice as a waxed one, and that's your primary surface 'round , so that's good.
When wax does matter is days with high moisture content. The most basic and necessary function of your wax job is to be hydrophobik, and repel water from the base, preventing suction. When it's well above 32, raining, or very humid -- i.e. you can easily make snowballs, but they soak your gloves -- that's when your "never wax" plan is gonna make you pay.
Now, you're doing this for training, so maybe you're ok with a ski that glides horribly, you'll just go slower or work harder. But realistically, you probably want to have a little bit of fun, too. So what you're gonna do here is use a paste wax like Swix F4. You don't need a bench, or iron, just a cork (I think?) and the ability to follow the instructions on the package, and you'll be gliding in no time.
There's one other scenario in which your glide will be terrible -- super cold powder. There's pretty much nothing simple you can do about this, and it's pretty rare conditions around Boston, so don't worry about it too much for now. If you get out for a 5-degree, fresh-snow ski on your never-waxed skis, you might think you've gotten much slower overnight. But you haven't, it's just the snow. Chill out, you're doing this for training anyway, right?
Bonus Content: Ski Fashion!
Wear all your cold weather cycling gear (ok, maybe not the helmet) for now and don't waste another minute worrying about it. Most people on nordic skis are noobs and couldn't care less how you're dressed. Anyone that actually notices and decides to judge you on it is (1) a douche and (2) would have looked down on you anyway the second they saw you ski. You have no recourse against such ski-litests they're few and far between, relative to a sport like, say, road racing, where every cat 4 in the world thinks it's his job to harangue anyone more fredly than himself.
Yeah, I went there.