US Ski Team athlete and supporter of Green Ice Wax, Travis Ganong, takes fifth place in the Birds of Prey Downhill last weekend at Beaver Creek Resort.
It all started when we thought it would be a great idea to get the kids out of the house in the winter months. No sitting around the computer screen or playing video games for my 4 and 6 year olds. They were going skiing!
We started renting ski packages, which included lessons with the local “Ski Wee” program. The mountain was little more than an overgrown hill with some manmade snow. Not only did they get outside, but so did I. The last time I had skied was 15 years prior and my skills were rusty. However, the kids took to the snow quickly. After 2 years of Ski Wee, the race coach approached us recommending that our kids begin racing.
Practice sessions became longer and more frequent, as did trips to and from the mountain. I too skied more frequently, but never as well as the kids. We still knew nothing about racing, tuning or waxing skis. This was about the time when skiers were transitioning from straight to shaped skis.
What is the USSA*? How do we join and what else do we need to do? This came as a surprise to us as parents. Having never competed ourselves, we were not prepared for the world of Ski Racing. We had to find out the hard way. Each racer had to belong to the USSA, NJSRA** and pre-register for the race. Coaches recommended that we tune and wax our children’s equipment, a completely new concept to us. Well now that was too late to pre-register, registration had to be done on race day. NJSRA does not look favorably on the same-day registration, and that day was nightmare. From that day forward, race day preparation could only get easier.
Their first race ever was held on a steep hill with an extremely icy knoll (what most racers would consider “bulletproof”). The majority of the athletes experienced difficulty navigating the icy course. One racer lost his balance and ended up falling off the trail and into the woods. He was taken down in a sled. In those days, less fencing lined the sides of trails, unlike the new regulations requiring the hill fenced in its entirety.
Now it is our son’s turn. I quickly learned an anxiety only experienced by a parent. It felt like my heart stopped for that minute. I paced back and forth, while my wife just panicked. Our son finished the skied slowly, but more importantly (for us) finished without a crash. From that day forward, he enjoyed competitive ski racing. The same anxiety feeling hardly went away. Every race my son a daughter entered from age 8 through 22 brought about similar emotions and worries.
As a family, we learned from the many experiences associated with ski racing. For example, ski a practice run just like you ski the race. Inspect the course from a point where you will ski it, not from the side of the trail. But one of the most important lessons involves preparedness. Prepare for the practice. Prepare for race day. Tune your skis well. Having properly tuned equipment allowed my children to focus on the course, confident that their skis are running fast and the edges are sharp. Remember the saying, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”.
In the past twenty years, controversy has arisen surrounding the environmental and health dangers of ski wax containing fluorocarbons. Fluorocarbon wax was believed for years to be an inert particle, one that does not pose a major threat to the human body or to the environment. However, recent studies suggest that the particles found in wax can actually break down during the application process. The result is a smaller molecule, one that the human body struggles to break filter out from the air.
This creates the first issue of using fluorocarbon ski wax when preparing ski and snowboard equipment for use. The applicator of the wax puts himself in a potentially dangerous situation, especially if the work area is not well-ventilated. When the particles of the wax are broken down into smaller microbes as a result of overheating, the air becomes contaminated with particles too small to be filtered by the lungs. Studies show that elevated perfluorocarboxylate levels exist in humans that frequently use fluorocarbon ski wax (112 ng/mL compared to 2.5 ng/mL). Any particles that are not released into the air remain on the base of the ski or snowboard.
The particles remaining on the base of the ski or board are then transported to the mountain. When the equipment glides over the ground the snow underneath temporarily melts, creating a water surface. In the process, the small microbes transfer from the base of the ski or board into the water, and then refreeze in the snow. They remain on the mountain for the next few months, as the concentration increases as more riders visit the resort. As the weather gets warmer, the contaminated snow from the ski slopes melts and the water flows downhill. The microbes remain the water, and are responsible for significantly higher fluorocarbon content in rivers and lakes in close proximity to ski resorts.
Popular ski wax brands, such as Swix and Dominator, have published responses to these arguments against the fluorocarbon waxes. Instead of developing waxes containing safer chemicals with similar water-repellency properties, they have released articles that explain how to correctly use the wax. These articles state that the application process should take place in an area with very effective ventilation, and the user should always wear a mask. Using chemicals that require a mask does not seem safe for the average consumer. Additionally, this does not deal with the environmental issue at hand.
Even if the user is protected from the potentially dangerous release of toxic particles, they still find their way into the snow and eventually into the streams. The fish and other animals living in the environment cannot simply put on a respirator to protect themselves from overexposure to chemicals not occurring naturally in their living space. Therefore, the response to the problem at hand isn’t correctly applying the wax, but instead switching to an environmentally friendly wax solution that promotes sustainable, biodegradable compounds not derived from petroleum by-products containing fluorocarbons.
The leaves are changing, the air is cooling off, and girls are switching from shorts to yoga pants, but most importantly, snow is on its way. With the snow comes the most important time of the year, ski season. A lot of people who enjoy skiing or snowboarding will bring their gear to a shop to get ready in the beginning of the season. It’s similar in the spring when people bring their bike to the shop for their annual tune-up, or every 2000 miles when they change the oil in their car. However, unlike when the gears are skipping on your bike or the odometer has added 2000 miles, there isn’t exactly a super clear indicator of when skis need to be waxed. When your skis are inside, they are usually stored base to base, and when they’re on the snow, they are base side down. A quick look at the bases after a few days of skiing on them will reveal that they have changed color a little bit. A lot of skis have almost straight black bases, and the best indicator of when it’s time to wax is when they are getting a fuzzy white to them. Usually, this will start on the edges and work inwards. This is due to simply spending more time with weight on the edges, and can be thought of as how your tires might wear out on your car. Once this fuzziness starts to appear, it’s time to put some more wax on your skis to keep them happy.
A question that may arise if you take a look at your bases and they’re starting to look fuzzy might be “They don’t feel like they need wax, why do I need to wax them? I already had them waxed this year.” Well, the answer to that is because it’s a more gradual transition than the odometer hitting another 2000 or the gears on your bike starting to suddenly skip everywhere. In this case, the snow is like sand paper and the wax in your skis is the wood. One swipe of sand paper won’t make much of a difference, but after a few days of sanding, there will be a noticeable difference. The piece of wood will be smaller and smoother, and that translates to fuzzy looking and slower for skis.
Not everybody is a speed demon. If you enjoy skiing for the shear pleasure of spending time outdoors or with friends or family and have no need to go fast, then you might need a little bit extra energy at the end of the day to toast to a great day of skiing. Waxing your skis or board will give you that extra bit. Speed on skis is usually interpreted as how fast somebody is moving forwards. However, it also applies to sideway motion. While turning or stopping, there is sideways motion, and if your skis have no wax, then there will me more energy spent trying to get your skis or board to move sideways. Gravity pulls you down the hill, your legs move you from side to side on the hill. By keeping your skis or board waxed, you spend less energy. Less time spent telling your buddies that you’re “going to the bathroom” as an excuse for a break and more time spent actually skiing.
Another reason to wax your skis or board is the simple fact that it keeps your gear happy. If you run your car with nasty oil or ride your bike with skipping gears for a while without doing a simple maintenance routine, your car will break down on the free way or your bike chain will snap in the middle of nowhere. Skis won’t fail you should you decide to not wax them, but there won’t be nearly as much joy garnered from the use of unwaxed skis. Also, they will look much cleaner. The fuzziness will go away and small scratches will be very temporarily filled. Larger scratches should be repaired properly.
Waxing your skis or snowboard more often than once a year may seem expensive if you bring them to a shop every time or a hassle if you are more inclined to do it yourself. When going to a shop, don’t ask for a “tune up”, see if they offer a “wax only” or similar option. If doing it yourself is more appealing, try and find a friend to show you the basics. Either way, regularly waxed skis and snowboards are much more fun and easier to use than annually or never maintained gear.