Having not been raised as a ski racer, my relationship with wax over the past several decades has been and remains somewhat distant. Sure, there are days on the mountain when I will think about wax — you know in the spring when you’re cruising happily along and all of a sudden warm patches of snow grab you to a near stop every five seconds? Good times.
Those are the days I wish I had a block of yellow in my pocket. Or is it red? My preference is to leave all things tuning — both waxing and edge work — to the professionals. I lack the patience, the knowledge, the tools and the desire. The ski shop is far better equipped to not mess things up than me.
This is my excuse for being slow to grasp the unfolding controversy facing the ski wax industry of late. At the forefront is the use of chemicals, specifically fluorocarbon (fluoros), that make certain waxes the top choice of elite nordic and alpine racers because the chemical excels at repelling water and reducing friction on snow.
Mounting evidence shows that overexposure to fluoro chemicals may carry potentially serious health risks, including cardiovascular disease, liver damage, hormone disruption and cancer. This puts shop technicians on the front lines, as they work most frequently with these materials.
Newer studies suggest this “forever chemical” is seeping from the ski slopes into water supplies. Whether these risks are being overstated is open for debate, but with the environmental media/PR machine behind it, changes in the wax industry are being made in earnest.
“It is important to note that the wax industry will shift as the international market responds to mounting regulation of ingredients in Europe,” writes Justin Beckwith, competitive program director for the New England Nordic Ski Association, which has implemented new eco-friendly waxing policies for elite athletes competing at its events during the 2019-20 season.
Beckwith has been preparing race skis as a longtime coach for U.S. juniors following his own racing career at Middlebury College that included appearances in two NCAA championships, world juniors and a World Cup. He’s been in tune with the issue for some time.
“Concerns about fluorinated waxes have emerged from three schools of thought: the health implications of exposure, the environmental effects involved with the raw materials in many of the wax products, and the competitive advantage certain clubs may gain due to the perceived complexities of available products,” he writes.
NENSA, he says, hopes to address these issues and help reduce the dependence on fluorinated waxes through education and waxing guidelines. “We hope our stance will promote a healthy environment for athletes, technicians, spectators and New England venues. These policies are based on trust and NENSA cannot enforce compliance.”
Testing procedures undoubtedly will take root at the World Cup alpine level. Just this fall, officials at the International Ski Federation voted to ban fluorinated ski waxes for the 2020-21 season and has formed a working group to establish regulations and control procedures. FIS is the governing body for international winter sports, responsible for Olympic ski disciplines that include alpine skiing and ski jumping, and sets international competition rules. Next year could see wax samples being taken from World Cup athletes’ skis, then analyzed in labs for compliance.
While the marketplace’s top sellers, Swix and Toko, adapt to ever-tightening international restrictions governing the use of fluorocarbons, many other industry manufacturers are jumping on board with both feet, developing innovative, eco-friendly products that are already on shop shelves:
— Phantom | Ski manufacturer DPS has developed a waxless base treatment product called Phantom, which it claims will eliminate the need to ever wax your boards again, for as long as you ride them. The one-time, permanent application, they say, is effective in all snow temperatures and will work when applied just once to skis at any point in their lifecycle. A timed polymerization process permanently penetrates the entire thickness of the base material so even when the ski or snowboard goes into a shop for stone grindings, the next layer of Phantom is exposed.
Exposure to UV light creates a chemical bond between Phantom and the boards, creating a strong and fast base, according to DPS.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials were impressed enough to apply it to the bases of about 350 premium rental skis two seasons ago, and this season, Aspen Highlands has treated about 2,300 pairs in its rental fleet.
— mountainFlow | The upstart company’s Quick Wax is made entirely from plant-based waxes. Established in 2016, mountainFlow’s first product was a water-based Anti-Stick spray that reduces snow and ice buildup on the tops of skis/bindings, a treatment that has gained popularity in the backcountry community. Its Skin Wax helps keep climbing skins dry and the fibers separated.
“We believe that eco-friendly and high performance should not be mutually exclusive,” the company states. “We design all of our products with these standards in mind and are proud to be leading the industry on both fronts.”
— Fast Wax | The active ingredient in Fast Wax nordic waxes is not a chlorofluorocarbon but rather a 3M fluorochemical technology that has been approved by the EPA and environmental agencies around the world.
Committed to producing eco-friendly waxes, the company does not use aerosol release agents, liquid mold release agents or any type of wax flux in its processes.
Additionally, Fast Wax buys wind and solar energy credits from Terrapass to offset its carbon footprint and is in the process of installing its own solar array.
— Holmenkol | This company’s eco-certified, fluorine-free Natural Skiwax series is “green” from production to packaging. The use of green electricity and the in-house photovoltaic system reduces energy consumption to a minimum, and product packaging gets a “green dot” signature that signifies its safe disposal through a yellow bin or bag.
— Green Ice Wax | Another alternative to fluorocarbons, Green Ice Wax implements technology from the cosmetic industry for water repellency and reducing friction. All ingredients are natural and come from renewable resources. The company is based in New Jersey and is the brainchild of chemist Richard Beneduci, whose children are collegiate ski racers.
— Purl Wax | For more than two decades, Purl (think Pearl Street in Boulder, Colo.) has been creating eco-friendly waxes that contain no fluoros and no toxic chemicals. Its hydrocarbon base blend and all ingredients are non-toxic and biodegradable. Also, as a member of “1% for the Planet,” Purl donates a portion of its sales to nonprofit environmental conservation organizations.