Rob's Blog Archive

March 29, 2015

My Love-Hate Relationship with Klister










During my last few years of graduate school, I drove a Dodge Colt.  Normal for that time, the car had an air intake that housed the air filter and was mounted on top of a carburetor.  Unfortunately, the housing I had was corroding and flakes of rust had a direct shot at the carburetor---there was evidently a recall on that housing that I managed to miss.  Eventually, I just bought a new housing.  Before that, however, I had to figure out a way to extract rust from the carburetor.  I chose to coat tongue depressors with what I knew was the stickiest substance known to man or beast, red klister.  All I had to do, then, was touch the coated end of the tongue depressor to pieces of rust, and they’d stick.  I’d pull it all out, wipe the flakes of rust off of the klister, then repeat the process. 

Meant to let skis stick to water saturated snow, there is truly nothing stickier than klister.  Being organic, any of it that managed to enter the fuel system would be dissolved by gasoline and then burned.  Gasoline has always been one of the standard solvents used for ski wax, klister particularly.  Beyond that, even at the temperature of the carburetor, klister loses almost all of its viscosity.  Any drops of klister in the carburetor would have been harmless.    Did I mention I was studying to get my Ph.D. in experimental physics when I made this evaluation?  I digress.

The classic long one day run in the Colorado Rockies is between Vail Pass and Vail.  It is known as, “The Commando Run.”  Reputed to be 18 miles long, it’s probably closer to 16.  The equivalent day run in California is between Sugarbowl and Squaw Valley.  The latter is only ten and a half miles, but has similar amounts of climbing.  Beyond that, a large portion of the Commando Run is on graded roads.  None of Sugarbowl to Squaw is.  Most of the Commando run is over 10,000’, and most of Sugarbowl to Squaw is between 7,500’ and 8,500’, but, like most people who do these routes, I was living at 5,400’, in Boulder, when I did the Commando Run, and at sea level when I skied from Sugarbowl to Squaw.  They end up being days that are about as long. 

The one big difference, for me, was time of year.  I did the Commando Run midwinter on blue wax and climbing skins.  The downhill runs were through powder.  I did Sugarbowl to Squaw as a spring tour.  For the long climbs like at the start, I used climbing skins.  For everything else, there was klister.  Klister is an ugly pain to apply and anything the ski touches afterward will sport some of the goop, but on good corn snow, you get great kick and glide on the flats, it holds well on the uphills, and it really does release on the drops.  Combine that with a good corn snow condition and klister tours can be sublime. 

With the good and the bad, I had managed to avoid klister for quite a few years.  I chose spring tours that were mostly up with climbing skins and down with skis waxed for glide.  It wasn’t until two years ago, after a very long hiatus, that I threw some klister on my skis.  What I found was that the wax had changed dramatically.  I was skiing through three inches of new moderately cold snow on top of a hard base.  The klisters I had grown up with would have iced up and I would have spent most of the run painfully dislodging big clumps of snow and ice from my skis.  This time, nothing happened.  It wasn’t a perfect wax---there was no wax that’s “perfect” with that kind of condition, but the klister worked.   Surprised and delighted, I had a great run. 

Since then, I’ve been much less hesitant regarding my application of klister.  The only real constraint, in my mind, has been that it’s much harder to remove than a normal hard wax.  And much much messier.  And so, I’ve hesitated a little mid-season, but have been fast to put it on and simply replenish it during the spring.

As I write this, I’ve been on three “klister” runs.  The third, particularly, worked out to be a good run.  The snow itself was pretty poor, again varying from very wet slush to ice with a patina of very wet slush.  But, it was flat, no moguls.  So while I spent a lot more time dodging bare spots than striding or gliding, these came every few hundred yards rather than every two yards.  And the day was clear and the sound of running water from the melting snow drowned out everything.  That, too, makes a classic klister skiing.

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