Looking into the Future of Waxing in a Non-Fluoro Community
The world of waxing has been ever changing over the last few years. It was 2019 when the EU announced increased regulations over the production and use of fluorocarbons due to negative health and environmental impacts. These regulations would begin in July of 2020 and forced all wax companies to rethink their wax lineups.
Prior to these regulations, there was not a significant push away from fluoro waxes as the performance was very good, and in many cases the research and development of newer raw materials was cost prohibitive. In the fluoro days, wax companies would develop new waxes using different eight carbon chain (C8) and six carbon chain (C6) based raw materials that were produced by industrial manufacturers. These raw materials were never created for the purposes of creating racing ski waxes. The same ingredients that you would see in waxes such as TK-73, you would be more likely see it in treatments for clothing, carpet, or even sealants for stone, tile, or wood. When the regulations began to be implemented, these raw material suppliers needed to find healthy and safe alternatives to perfluorocarbons. These new raw materials have similar hydrophobic chemical properties that the older fluorocarbons have, which increases speed and keeps dirt away from your bases. We have just now started to see these new waxes hit the market.
The interesting piece regarding all of the new waxes that are being released is that it is bringing a wide range of new raw materials that are incredibly more diverse than what we are used to. Prior to these new waxes being released, we were used to two different types of race waxes. You would either use a fluorinated paraffin (think of either an LF or HF wax) or a perfluorinated wax (powder/block/liquid). The vast majority of all wax suppliers would use those two different distinctions. Now, you have companies using a wide range of raw materials, and many looking to move away from paraffin based waxes. It has yet to be seen which of these companies or raw materials will rise to the top. As of right now, we have seen in limited conditions these new waxes competing or even beating the older waxes. This has typically been seen in colder and less humid conditions.
Besides new developments in waxes, there has been a much greater focus on other methods to improve ski speed such as grinds or structure. The difference in quality of the ski base you get from one of the nicer grinders you see at many of the local shops in the Twin Cities (Pioneer Midwest, Finn Sisu, Gear West) and a factory grind is huge. The grind that you get from a factory is done on a machine that typically gets set up and cleaned just once a day. The end result of these grinds look fuzzy under a microscope and not as clean as a race grinder. In addition to an improvement in quality, the local shops can also dial in the grind for specific snow types. The local shops know the snow conditions that are likely to be seen at the ski areas in the Midwest and have tested and developed grinds specific to those conditions. The factory grinds you see from many of the larger companies are geared towards snow you would see in Central Europe since that is where many of the factories are located. Because of these significant differences, stonegrinding is becoming an increasingly important part of the puzzle when it comes to getting fast race skis.
While there have been many changes over the past few years regarding waxes and their chemical makeup, there will always be a few constants in the waxing equation. The most important part of the equation is the skis. You can make a good pair of skis real slow with the wrong wax, but you will have a very difficult time making a bad pair of skis fast even with the best available waxes. If you can ensure that you have skis that fit you well, and are in good shape, you should be able to make them competitive with the correct combination of waxes. Grab yourself a good set of skis, and learn a line of wax that works well in your area and you should always have a great time on the snow!
With all of these new regulations regarding what can be used in waxes, there are beginning to be more and more regulations when it comes to racing. There are many different waxing protocols that are beginning to be implemented. Below are highlights of the various waxing protocols for different levels of racing:
FIS and IBU are both implementing a C8 ban at their races, but allowing C6 waxes to continue to be used. This protocol follows EU regulations that limit the use of C8 fluorocarbons. They have postponed a full fluoro ban until a fluorine tracker capable of producing instant and accurate results is created. This ban will be enforced by spot checks of materials used by ski wax companies and teams on site at such events. All teams are also required to sign a declaration stating that their athletes and staff will abide by the protocols.
USSA will introduce two different wax policies for this season. Prior to January 17 (final January SuperTour race in Sun Valley) all FIS sanctioned events (SuperTour/US Nationals) will have no fluoro ban, but all other non FIS sanctioned events (CXC Cup etc.) will be fluoro free. After January 17, all USSA races (including FIS races) will adopt a fully fluoro free policy. The split policies for this season are due to the earlier races in the year being part of the selection process for the Olympics, World Juniors, and periods 2 and 3 of World Cup racing. The lack of a quick-turnaround for the test that detects fluoros is the main argument for this policy. By the time a test result came back, the various teams will already have been named and athletes may already have committed to traveling to such events.
CXC has just announced the wax policy for the 2021/2022 season. While it introduced a non-fluoro policy last season that limited the waxes that could be used at events, this season it will mirror USSA policy allowing any type of non-fluoro waxes to be used. In cases where there is overlap with SuperTour events (December Duluth and Cable races), fluoros will be allowed in only the FIS categories. Testing will be done on a random basis at each event to ensure credibility in the policy.
The Minnesota State High School League wax policy has yet to be decided. The Minnesota State High School Nordic Ski Coaches Association just voted on a full fluoro free policy that will be brought in front of the high school ski league. The policy still needs to be approved by the ski league in order to be implemented at the sections championships and the state meet. All other races will be fully fluoro free.
The Wisconsin Nordic Ski League will be implementing a fully fluoro free wax policy like many other regions.
About the author...
Jeremy Hecker is the current racing service manager at Pioneer Midwest and Rex Ski Wax technical representative for the US. He has been skiing for his entire lifetime, racing competitively in college for St. Scholastica. Since graduating in 2013 he has coached for numerous teams including Endurance United, Stratton Mountain School, and the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. In addition to his coaching experience, Jeremy has a Masters degree in the Biology of Physical Activity which he obtained from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.