For decades, the concoctions of fluorinated chemicals in ski wax were a foregone conclusion. The choice between toxic wax recipes would make or break Olympic gold medals, decided over hundredths of a second. Few gave any thought to the limited number of alternatives that were both fast and safe for the environment. However, with the FIS (International Ski Federation) ban of fluorinated wax for the 2020-2021 racing season and the introduction of Swix’s Pro Line, racers are looking to new solutions.
Environmentally friendly ski waxes are gaining notoriety. The introduction of Purl, DPS Phantom, and Mountain Flow Ecowax has begun to shift the norm of what we skiers smear on our skis. Using alternatives to traditional wax isn’t a new concept—several other brands before Swix have tried to help skiers avoid perfluorochemicals. The novelty is in the performance. Finding an eco wax with a fast glide in a variety of conditions has been the challenge, and even some of the newer alternatives have had flaws—albeit worthwhile ones since the alternative was environmental degradation.
“Since 2013, Swix has invested more than $2.2 million in research and development intending to replace fluorinated chemicals and PFAS (perfluorooctanoic acids) in ski wax,” says Steve Poulin, Swix U.S. CEO. Poulin also notes that the brand conducted over 800 field tests in combination with laboratory testing. Poulin explains the brand committed to eliminating fluorinated chemicals from its ski waxes over a decade ago. “The company established the Future Cera project in 2009 to look for alternatives to C8 waxes after two scientific studies found that C8 could cause environmental harm.”
There were a handful of studies during that timeframe demonstrating the bioaccumulation of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) and PFAs in cross-country ski wax technicians. PFCs are persistent chemicals that withstand degradation in the environment and bioaccumulate in the blood and organs of humans and animals. Traditionally, fluorinated organic compounds were added to most glide waxes because of their ability to create oil and water resistance to the ski base, and prevent snow, ice, and dirt build-up. However, the potential impact on human health from this chemical found in ski wax when cooked with an iron—releasing volatile organic compounds is similar to the toxic chemicals in cigarettes. Additionally, these PFCs leach into the watershed when the wax sheds onto the snow through skiing, and disperse throughout the ecosystem.
“Swix began work on PFAS-free high-performance waxes in 2013,” notes Poulin. “And since 2017, Swix has channeled all its research and development efforts toward creating PFAS-free products that deliver better performance than fluorinated waxes.” The brand accelerated their field-testing after FIS decided in 2019 to make the change for the 2020-21 racing season, a decision they also supported.
Because many skiers have been turned off by slow performances of past eco waxes, Swix understood the challenge was delivering a high-performance wax free of fluorinated chemicals. “You can’t replace the performance of a fluorocarbon overnight,” explains Poulin, noting the Future Cera project worked in stages. The brand reduced PFAs and eliminated C8 before moving to C6—reducing the PFAs even further before researchers arrived at the fluoro-free high-performance waxes.
“It’s not a single substance [that takes the place of the PFAS]. The new PRO Non-Fluorinated Wax System is a combination of ingredients calibrated precisely to perform in specific temperature, humidity, and snow granulation conditions. The products are wax-based, but also contain raw materials based on metal colloids, hydrocarbons with a low coefficient of friction and proprietary non-fluorinated hybrid ingredients,” explains Poulin.
Poulin explains that their testing showed the new Pro line outperformed the fluros in all conditions. “Skiers will be shocked at the performance, racers will not lose speed. They just lessen their environmental footprint.”
The new fluoro free waxes will be available in three lines: Pro Performance Speed, Pro High Speed, and Pro Top Speed correlating to the current CH, LF, and HF lines. Most importantly they’re approved by the U.S. EPA and comply with the Toxic Substances Control Act and are entirely free of polyfluoroalkyl substances.
“Swix wants to lead the industry by example,” says Poulin said. “We want skiers to choose to ski fluoro-free because the products work and are the best choice for the environment.”