How damaging is ski wax to the environment?

Have you ever skied on unwaxed kit?

You’d know it if you had. It’s like trying to run without lifting your feet off the ground.

Try it, you don’t go anywhere fast.

If you’re like me you’ve ironed more skis than dress shirts, or any clothes for that matter.

Ski wax is the essential, invisible, piece to any ski or snowboard but at what cost to the environment?

There are over 3500 ski resorts in Europe alone, visited by more than 66 million skiers a year. 

That’s 66 million people depositing fresh ski wax onto European mountains every winter.

It’s important to understand different types of ski wax before branding all snow sports wax bad or good.

There are two types to look at, well three, now we have a growing demand for eco-friendly ski wax.

Fluorinated ski wax    ????

Hydrocarbon ski wax ????

Eco-friendly ski wax   ????

Fluorinated Ski Wax

Fluorinated ski wax is the dirty little secret of ski racing and the most damaging to humans and the environment.

Thankfully, it is not used in mass by recreational skiers due to higher creation and purchase costs.

Fluorinated wax is super quick and designed for professional downhill and cross country racers looking to shave seconds off their times. It is particularly prevalent in cross country skiing where competitors look to gain extra glide.

It’s dangers come from the use of perfluorochemicals known as PFCs. PFCs offer amazing non-stick properties so are often used in waterproof materials, fire extinguisher foam and ski waxes.

PFCs are toxic to animals, including humans, causing damage to immune, liver and endocrine systems. That’s important because your endocrine system regulates almost everything from metabolism, to growth, to tissue function, even sleep!

As you can guess, we don’t want PFCs anywhere near us or the environment. Leaving wax deposits in the snow enables it to reach water systems and soil through meltwater.

Fortunately, only racers tend to use fluorinated wax, minimizing how much seeps into the world.

PFCs do bioaccumulate though, meaning it builds up in living creatures and is slow to be excreted. Plus they are almost immortal, they’re incredibly hard to break down, you find them in your Gore-Tex jacket and Teflon pans. They will last forever, so best kept away from the water cycle which humans and animals end up ingesting.

The waxing process presents real dangers for its users. Heating fluorinated wax, during the waxing process, releases PFC particles into the air. 

Studies on world cup ski technicians show the concentration of PFC in their blood reaches up to 45 times more than that of the average person.

Irreparable damage can be caused including several types of tumours and you can even suffer from something called ‘polymer fume fever’ from excess PFC.

Exposure presents risks without taking proper precautions, especially to junior racers and parents waxing skis with fluorinated chemicals.

Hydrocarbon Wax

The ski industry runs on hydrocarbon wax. It’s what ski shops use on rental equipment and most likely what you wax your skis with at home. 

It is far less toxic than race wax but still presents problems.

Hydrocarbon wax is made using paraffin and microcrystalline which are crude oil by-products.

It’s actually classed as a non-toxic substance often found in other everyday products. Think baby oil or Vaseline.

There is debate in the ski industry about the amount of damage Hydrocarbon waxes cause to humans and the environment but don’t be fooled.

These are still crude oil by-products that get released into the environment, into the soil, into your water supply.

And as for being classed as ‘non-toxic’, I personally know more than a couple of ski techs who after just half a season waxing skis in a workshop end up with worrying coughs and respiratory problems.

‘After a couple of months, I definitely had a constant cough which sometimes made breathing hard. Almost like I’d been smoking for years, which I hadn’t’ – Adam, a ski tech who spent a winter waxing skis 2 or 3 days a week.

Scientific research is minimal about the effects of ski wax on the environment. At the end of the day, it is still a man-made oil product deposited into nature. 

What about just melting a natural beeswax candle onto your skis? Well, I used candle wax on my skis for a week last season but found I had to ski slowly otherwise they just kept blowing out…

Eco-Friendly Ski Wax

Eco-friendly ski wax is still hit and miss.

Many products, often soy-based, have come and gone. Durability and speed are often criticised, lagging behind hydrocarbon waxes.

The global snow sports market is huge and ripe to be disrupted by a new superior green wax alternative.

Remember, when it comes to the mountains: What goes up must come down. Anything we leave out there is 100% going to end up melting into streams which wash down into the world’s lakes. So we better be sure we’re not leaving anything remotely toxic in the snow.

Currently, there is no eco ski wax market leader, so at One Tree At A Time we’re going to test a selection of environmentally friendly ski waxes. A 100% eco ski wax we can stand behind in performance.

In the coming weeks we’re sending out Mark Birch from Sweet Snowsports to test Nzero, a 100% ecological award-winning wax.

Stay tuned for our review in coming weeks.

To be continued…

14 thoughts on “How damaging is ski wax to the environment?

  1. Serge Pilaet says:

    Interesting article.

    May we suggest you test our wax as well?

    At the University of Arkansas we developed as Nano ski wax that is:
    -100 % biodegradable
    -40 % less friction
    -5x better wear resistance.

    We did even put comparisons with Nzero on our website.

    • Serge Pilaet says:

      I used to work for the company who made the original formulae of phantom.
      An Austrian chemist, who gave a commercial license to Look no wax.
      LNW then wanted a partnership with DPS.
      But they didn’t like LNW, and developed their own version.

      Now the original product doesn’t exist anymore as this reacted with air instead UV (like phantom).
      Being inflamable and corrosive, it was expensive for transport.

      Once cured and hardened, there was no problem with the environment.
      But health issues on applying it? And calling this a green product….hmm I hesitate.

  2. Les Taylor says:

    I once managed a department that built “printed circuit boards” and due to the “rosin/flux” used in the solder, we had exhaust fans at each work station. Each fan also had a “filter screen” built into it. It was amazing the amount of “by-product” from the solder that was collected in these filters! This is something that may need to be incorporated in areas of ski waxing, to protect the technicians health. I am a little surprised that OSHA has not looked into this, due to the obvious long term impact on breathing health.

    • Serge Pilaet says:

      I saw some pictures of the Norwegian team in their waxing Trailer (yes a big expandable one), where they all were wearing full head oxygen masks.
      But most shops don’t have this budget.

      What I do notice, is the same evolution 10 years ago with smoking: shop owners who don’t want their technical staff to work with certain products anymore.
      So the mindset is changing.

      • Les Taylor says:

        Understandably, small shops do not have the budget for what the Norwegian’s had. However, they could put a hooded vent in over the waxing area, similar to what restaurants have and require wax tech’s to wear a disposable max when waxing! Much cheaper than paying a Workers Comp Claim!!!

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