From Pine Tar to Advanced Chemical Additives

Pine Tar Waxes

Going way back to the late 1600’s, Scandinavians discovered the need to condition their wooden skis.  At that time, the main reason to condition or wax the skis was to prevent the wood from becoming soaked with water.  When wood is exposed to water over time, it becomes saturated. In order to prevent this process from occurring, skiers began to coat the ski bottoms with pine tar or pitch.  Distilling lumber produces pitch, turpentine and rosin.  It is the combination of the rosin and pitch that produced an ideal ski wax for the wooden bases.   The mixture was insoluble in water and thus would prevent the water from penetrating the ski’s base.  The mixture also formed tiny water beads under the ski when gliding of the snow.  It is this action that allows air to mix with the water and thus reduce the friction under the ski.  The down side of the mixture was that it was not entirely smooth and thus added resistance to the ski.  Later, athletes discovered that by boiling the pine tar it could be applied evenly to the ski, reducing the friction created by the pine tar itself.  This mixture of pine tar and rosin remained popular for many years, up until about the 1850s, when a few California athletes developed innovative mixtures of glycerin, whale oils, and candle waxes to increase glide and improve water repellency.

Varnish Based Waxes

Between 1920 and 1940, companies began experimenting with varnish waxes.  Some waxes were intended to last entire seasons, while others introduced by companies such as Holmenkol and Toko were rubbed directly onto the base and lasted about a day on the snow.  They were not applied by heat like the long-lasting waxes and were by-products of other industries, such a leather manufacturers.

Synthetic Waxes

In 1943 a Swedish firm, Astra AB, hired Martin Matsbo, a cross country Olympic bronze medal winner to develop a synthetic wax made from paraffin.  Then in 1946, Swix Wax Company took shape and began using this technology to manufacture wax with different hardness ratings intended for varying temperature snow.

Over the next 20-30 years, various additives were used to further reduce friction. Examples of additives include graphite, surfactants and plasticizers.  There was a time when ski manufacturers touted ski bases that never required waxing.  Athletes never bought into these claims, and continued to apply wax in order to protect their bases.   For this reason, the ski wax industry has grown into a $10MM market in the United States, and totals $25MM worldwide.

Fluorocarbon Wax

Not until the late 1980s did fluorocarbons enter the ski wax.  This additive helps to increase the level of water repellency.  Although the additive inflates prices significantly, many skiers and riders use it today.

As a response to the introduction of fluorocarbon ski wax, Green Ice Ski Wax has introduced an environmentally-friendly alternative, containing additives that are bio-degradable and very effective.  The wax maintains high levels of water repellency, without the harmful effects of fluorocarbons (See Effects of Fluorocarbons in Ski Wax on Humans and the Environment ) Green-Ice also sells a 100% biodegradable wax, made entirely from renewable resources.

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One thought on “From Pine Tar to Advanced Chemical Additives

  1. finally i found someone who knows how to provide relevant information on the topic i have been searching for? thanks, at last i can study with pleasure..

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