DPS' Phantom Glide is a novel, permanent waxless base treatment for skis. Having launched two years ago, it has provided an alternative to frequently waxing your skis, although it has been wrought with questions given its innovative nature and overhaul to traditional waxing. Will it come off on my skis? Will I have to wax my skis again? What about its effect on backcountry climbing skin glue? What makes it safer than traditional wax? What are the environmental benefits? Over the past month, I've skied on a pair of a Phantom'ed skis—skiing them almost daily, testing its glide in all conditions, including at the resort and in the backcountry with climbing skins. Below is a deep dive on what makes the product unique and what I've found. In short, it's pretty slick—literally and physically.
Before embarking into the future of ski wax, it's important to know what ski wax is composed of and what makes it harmful. While it has been hypothesized that traditional ski wax sheds off skis and into the watershed, this is not supported by research and in the literature. However, there are several ways in which traditional ski wax appears to impact health and the environment. Traditional ski wax and its array of harmful ingredients affect humans and the environment through perfluorochemicals (PFCs) and other volatile organic compounds. These compounds inflict harm in three primary ways: inhalation of fumes during ski waxing, leaching of PFCs into the watershed during Fluropolymer Production, and bioaccumulation of PFCs in the blood stream both from wax production and application.
In a 2010 study, Nilsson, et. al. followed eight Swedish and U.S. national cross-country ski wax technicians throughout the course of the year and discovered elevated levels of several perflurorinated carboxylates correlating directly to lifestyle and occupational wax exposure. PFCs have been labeled an immune system health hazard from the National Toxicology Program and the EPA has explained, "these chemicals may be persistent in the environment and have a long half-life in humans, and may continue to persist in the environment and in people for many years, despite reductions in emissions."
The production of traditional ski wax and its specific impact on the environment has not been well studied and is somewhat elusive within the industry. However, a study by Hoffmen, et. al. evaluating the impact of perfluorochemical production demonstrated significant levels of chemicals into local water supply and blood stream. In this study, authors found the median blood PFOA concentration was 20 times higher amongst those consuming water from drinking wells in communities surrounding a [DuPont] Fluropolymer Production Facility compared to the general U.S. population.
So where does it leave skiers, who for generations have waxed their skis with these compounds? The environmental impact of traditional wax is what led DPS founder, Stephan Drake, to work with University of Utah's Chemistry Department and Jeff Bates, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Materials Science & Engineering to formulate a solution. The result (after several seasons of tinkering with the formula) was Phantom. This novel compound has a different composition and mechanism than ski wax, yet keeps the favorable attributes of the harmful compounds found in traditional ski wax.
"Phantom has hydrophobic functional groups as well as shape memory functional groups that stabilize the temperature range for Phantom’s performance," explains Bates. "It also includes a chemical that adheres the material to the base."
It is important to note that there are environmentally friendly ski waxes out there. For example, Wend Waxworks has exclusive use of Meadowfoam Wax, which is derived from the seed oil of Meadowfoam flowers and does not include harmful PFOAs. So if you enjoy the process of waxing your skis, this is a good option.
As for how Phantom works, it enters the ski base in a liquid phase [i.e. avoiding toxic fumes] and once it has been absorbed into the ski base, a light activates a chemical in the mixture resulting in polymerization of the compound. This polymerization leads to conversion of double bonds into stable single bonds. In layman terms, Phantom is chemically stable and non-reactive in the environment. Equally important, Phantom becomes part of the ski base—meaning it changes the chemical composition of your ski base and stays on no matter how many base grinds your skis pick up at the local shop. Also of note, you can wax your skis on top of Phantom to no detriment.
Permanently altering the ski base forever and maintaining a fast glide is what really intrigued me. I've tested Phantom several times at the ski resort, so I knew it works great for all conditions: cold powder, groomers, and melt-freeze cycles (even gliding well on warm mank that was mixed with some grit). But, I was curious what would happen after a month of use with backcountry climbing skins—constantly ripping them off and on. With early season snow in Utah followed by a December hut trip to Sol Mountain Lodge, in British Columbia, I've put Phantom through the wringer.
Two weeks ago at Sol Mountain Lodge, I experienced several winter storms that hovered around minus 5 Celsius, with a mega cool down and additional dumps that plummeted temperatures to minus 17 C. It was the perfect scenario to test glide and skin glue adhesion when lapping steep powder stashes until dark every day.
I was already into three weeks of skiing on the setup, and the skis were fast throughout the trip. Not once did I notice any accumulation of ice buildup on the ski bases during temperature changes—a major win in my opinion. Even if a little snow began to stick to the base it quickly wicked away. However, over time my skins (which aren't that old and gooey), began leaving a residue of glue along my ski bases. This isn't a new phenomena, ask any backcountry skier what happens when their skis need wax and they keep heading out for laps. Though, I was surprised to see it happening with the Phantom given the skis still skied so well—they didn't feel as slippery as before but they glided just fine.
While I thought I would never wax these boards again, I'm fairly certain that the Phantom allowed me to push past the two-three week mark without having to wax, but from week three to four the buildup of skin glue inevitably occurred. For resort-based skiers, it's highly likely you'll never have to wax your skis again, but if you primarily backcountry ski you may still want to wax your skis once a month or so. The upside is I never had to use a scraper to knock off ice or chunks of accumulating snow from my ski bases while touring, which can be pretty annoying.
Phantom costs $100, roughly the amount of two full-tunes at a ski shop. If you're primarily skiing the resort, it's a no brainer—slap some on and follow the instructions (select DPS retailers now have Phantom cure stations to help ensure proper installation as the product is activated with UV light). If you're a backcountry skier, think of it as a deep base treatment. It will improve your glide, but may still require maintenance if you tour a lot—just get a face mask for waxing your skis when you do decide to wax, I know I am after reading some of the data about traditional wax application.
Hoffman, K., Webster, T. F., Bartell, S. M., Weisskopf, M. G., Fletcher, T., & Vieira, V. M. (January 01, 2011). Private Drinking Water Wells as a Source of Exposure to Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in Communities Surrounding a Fluoropolymer Production Facility. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119, 1, 92-97.
Nilsson, H., Kärrman, A., Westberg, H., Rotander, A., van, B. B., & Lindström, G. (March 15, 2010). A Time Trend Study of Significantly Elevated Perfluorocarboxylate Levels in Humans after Using Fluorinated Ski Wax. Environmental Science & Technology, 44, 6, 2150-2155.