When skis were made of wood, the ski bases were naturally made of wood as well. These days very few wooden skis are being made. Virtually all new skis being made today are a combination of modern materials. The ski base of a modern ski is made of most a plastic material with some additives. Below we try and help explain what the modern ski base is composed of and how it interacts with ski wax.
The advent of the modern ski base started with non-wooden Alpine skis in the 1960's. By the 1970's the weight of these non-wooden skis was reduced enough that Nordic skis were viable. This new plastic base was (and still is) mostly composed of a material known as polyethylene. In skiing circles it is also commonly refered to as P-tex. All snowboards use the modern ski base.
Polyethylene, or P-tex for short, is most of the material in a ski base. P-tex itself comes in a variety of "sizes" that are used for different skis for different reasons by ski manufacturers. Commonly there is reference to "P-tex 2000" or "P-tex 3000". These are names associated with some of the different forms of P-tex.
There are other materials that are mixed in with the P-tex to adjust the properties of the ski base. The most common of these materials is graphite. Graphite is what given many ski bases their black colour. And while colours are added to some ski bases just for appearances, graphite does do more than make a ski base black (more on this later). Other materials include pure fluorocarbons.
Polyethylene it self is a long chain carbon molecule. If you remember either high school physics or chemistry you will recall that there are carbon and hydrogen atoms. They are notated as C and H respectively. Poly means "many". Therefore polyethylene means "many ethylene's". A single ethylene is rather simple and is chemically notated as: CH2=CH2 (where the "=" is a double bond between the carbon atoms). Many single ethylenes are chained together to form a long string of polyethylene. Specifically a type of polyethylene known as UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight) polyethylene. UHMW polyethlene has some characteristics that other forms of polyethylene do or may not have including a smooth, water-resisting surface, a strong surface that is resistant to abrasion and the high acceptance of additive materials (such as the graphite mentioned earlier).
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