Roger Marolt: Taking time to smell the ski wax

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

I read the news about vaping and all the terrible stuff they are learning about that addictive habit and I get more worried by the minute.

I don’t understand what the substance is that people load electric pipes with and then shock the stuff into fog so they can inhale it for a nicotine rush, but I’ll bet it’s not as bad a ski wax.

That is why I’m worried. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply concerned about kids getting hooked on Juul and other vaping products sort of disguised as smoked candy, but it does not appear that it is as bad as smoking. I mean we’re all good with pot because we say it’s not as bad as alcohol, right? I see this as the same difference.

Also, if they ever do figure out that vaping is worse than smoking, kids can easily transition to cigarettes, which are cheaper and don’t hide any surprises about tobacco’s evils. God help us.

Getting back on track, I am suddenly horrified at the volume of burnt wax I have inhaled over my lifetime. It struck me for the first time the other evening when I was tuning my skis. “Why would anyone do that?” you ask. Well, I know I can’t do as good of a job of squaring up my edges and flattening my bases as the modern, computerized ski tuning machines do, but I like taking my skis’ performance into my own hands as a way to relax and anticipate the turns that await. After all, making the skis turn is what is satisfying about the sport we love, and fixing up your own skis is just another element of that process.

Hot waxing is the final step in performing a good tune. Repairing gouges in the bases can be arduous. Flattening the bases with a 12-inch mill bastard file is time consuming. The paradox of beveling an edge while keeping it square tests your geometric spatial awareness as much as your hand-eye coordination. When you get all of this accomplished and can peel tiny curls of fingernail off as you test the sharpness of your edges at various points along the ski’s length, at long last you arrive at the point where you get to relax and melt a bead of wax over the bottoms of your skis and then glide a hot iron back and forth over it until it is absorbed into the P-Tex. This final step is to ski tuning what Savasana is to a two-hour session of hot yoga. Heaven!

The problem is with the smell of burning ski wax, and not limited to the floro-hydrocarbons in it. To the uninitiated, the vapors from hot wax are likely to be as bitter smelling as the aromas of brewing coffee are to a person who habitually gets their caffeine fix from Diet Coke. It is an acquired smell. It is all about the association and not the actual scent of rapidly oxidized, chemically enhanced paraffin.

To compound the pleasurable sensation, it is a common practice to have a sound system on a ski tuning bench that is cranked up for adrenaline-inducing re-plays of your favorite music. It is whistling while you work on steroids. It can get so intense that the smoke from the waxing iron conjures images of the costumed instrumental warriors of the band KISS emerging onto the stage from behind a bank of dry-iced, laser light-colored fog.

OK, maybe that’s taking the analogy too far, but you get what I’m saying.

I know I am not completely alone in this existential experience. Every member of my family loves the smell of the garage after I finish tuning skis. When we have to leave the house, we open the garage door, back out quickly and close the door immediately to preserve the aroma. I’m telling you, it smells better than the oil-gas smoke from a weed whacker!

I don’t know how much wax I have inhaled since the day in seventh grade when our band instructor taught us how to tune skis in the science room as part of our regular Friday afternoon exploration program. Nor do I know where most of it has accumulated, in my lungs or brain. It may only be wishful thinking that the most dangerous particles clung to my nose hairs and became harmless boogers perhaps to be recycled one day and used on rental skis, maybe in Canada.

At any rate, I suppose the damage has been done and, in spite of that distinct possibility, I have no intention of quitting the habit of tuning my own skis. I love it too much. Incidentally, did you know it costs about $80 to get them done in a ski shop?

Roger Marolt likes sharp ski edges even at the possible cost of dulled senses. Email him at