USBA issues a “same wax” protocol for the 2010 Team Trials at Mt Itasca

December 11, 200931

You may applaud it’s fairness and simplicity, or you may think the policy reads like a paragraph out of Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”, but like it or not, the United States Biathlon Association is implementing a “same wax” protocol throughout the December biathlon trials at Mt Itasca. 

The waxing protocol will apply to both the IBU Cup Team Trials held December 12th – 22nd and the Jr/Youth World Team Trials, held December  19th – 22nd.

Standard waxes that will be used are listed as: TOKO Cold Powder, Holmenkol Matrix Blue and Holmenkol Matrix Red. 

The main reason for mandatory waxing protocol, states the USBA, is that it “creates the most fair conditions”.  A secondary reason is that it reduces the cost for clubs and USBA programs by eliminating both cost of wax and the need for extra staff.

Will this protocol really create the most fair conditions?  It is a bold step by the USBA and highlights the fact that the organization is trying to make the qualifying process more about the athletes and less about the variables around them.  For juniors who are less experienced with waxing and testing and rely solely on staff, and for those who have less support at races, this policy could read as a positive step.   It could also eliminate excuses from athletes who may be on the bubble of qualification.  And the fact that the USBA will give the required wax to those who do not have it seems a very fair gesture.

But even if you agree that equality in wax helps equalize the playing field, there is still the question if wax is in fact the common denominator of manageable variables.  One skeptic asked FS the rhetorical question, “Why not  make everyone race on the same grind and same skis, or take it a step further and just do it all on an erg?”

 USBA allows for some adaptation in the waxing protocol (outlined below) by permitting the TD (technical delegate) to “modify the waxing protocol in order to make it less cumbersome and more effective”, if he first gets the go-ahead from the competition jury. 

 It will be interesting to see if these steps will be followed as-written, and to hear post-race comments from both racers and coaches on the actual implementation and effectiveness of the protocol.

The following is taken from  Waxing Protocol for the 2010 IBU Cup Team Trials/Jr World Team Trials:

A committee of 5 coaches will be elected at the first coaches’ meeting on Friday, Dec 11. This committee will select the wax for each event. All teams should be sure to have a full range of: the chosen wax line. If an athlete or group of athletes does not have access to the “wax of the day” the wax will be provided to them by the TD at the wax room. In order to aid in the process of ski marking, athletes are asked to remove markings, stickers, tape, etc, in the area from 10 cm below the tip of the ski to the binding.

  1. All waxing of race skis must take place at the Mt Itasca waxing building between 7:30pm-9:30pm the night before each race. The “wax of the day” will be selected by 7:30pm by the waxing committee. All race skis need to be waxed and left unscraped, and then registered with the TD by 9:30pm. The TD will record serial numbers each ski stamped with the “stamp of the day.” Registered skis will be locked in the waxing building overnight. The wax room will be closed at 9:30pm.
  2. On race day, the wax room will be open 2hr30min hours prior to zero and coaches can scrape and brush skis. After scraping and brushing, skis need to be returned to the fenced in, numbered racks just outside the wax room. All registered race skis must remain in the numbered racks until 30 min prior to zero.
  3. Registered skis will be released to athletes 30 min before zero. Athletes have 20 minutes to test their skis and return the pair that they intend to race on to the starting corral. Skis must be returned to the corral 10 min prior to the opening of zero. Once skis leave the wax room the ski bases cannot be brushed or manipulated in anyway (structuring, corking, etc). As skis are returned to the starting corral, the serial numbers will be checked. Once a pair of skis has been brought to the corral, it cannot be removed or replaced. There will be numbered slots along the fence in the corral area so that athletes can put their skis in the slot that matches their bib number.
  4. Athletes found to have applied additional waxes, liquids, rub ons other than those announced as the “wax of the day” will be disqualified from the race.

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  • lucagelfi

    December 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    The essence of all nordic racing–and the fun for nearly all who participate–lies in the variables.
    Good luck with that one.

  • Cloxxki

    December 11, 2009 at 3:36 pm


    Let’s compare it to another speed endurance sport, cyclo-cross.
    If there is a field of closely matched racers, you don’t want the richest of the only one with multiple carbon tubular wheelsets, and multiple spare bikes. Expensive things like that, usually, are used because they offer an edge. As a racer, you’d be stupid to not get the edge you can buy. So, rules should be made against it, to some degree.

    Waxing is making skiing just like cyclo-cross, a high-entry level, elitist, difficult to enter sport. I’ve been reading into skiing for years, am a real tech freak, and still know nothing about waxing that will make my skis fast, in any circumstance. If I’d have a kid who wants to race, (s)he’d be dead meat. It will always be a hobby, as I can’t make skis fast. If only s)he’d be a bike racer, there’s little I know, or don’t own, in that.

    So, yeah, level the playing field. If it’s about selecting talents for the WC programme later on, you better have a kid coming through who has a nick of skiing fast, rather than on that had a father who paid a professional waxer serious money to prepare some winner skis.

    On the world cup, most likely dad won’t be your waxman anymore, and your skis will be just fine. Better have the speed in the body to match that.

  • Reese

    December 11, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    dumbest thing i have ever heard of

  • Patrick Stinson

    December 11, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I think it’s awesome. I can’t count the number of races where I got my ass kicked purely because I couldn’t wax for crap, didn’t have a lot of waxes, and didn’t have a band of coaches helping me.

    The hardest part of getting into nordic skiing is that it takes too much help and money. No one can just put in the hard work to succeed. When I realized this it really pissed me off.

    I once wrote about how only having rich white kids in skiing hurts skiing and keeps us slow:

    But at the same time the art of waxing (even if only glide waxing) is absolutely a part of the essence of the sport so I don’t know. If you take a step back, the mechanics and art of waxing are beautiful. It just sucks that if you suck you are always going to suck, unless you get sustain spending a ton of money for wax and coaching.

  • bellasuma

    December 11, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    I would like to applaud the USBA’s efforts to eradicate the ridiculous extent ski wax plays in nordic racing nowadays. To their credit, wax companies worldwide have done a tremendous job manipulating molecules so nordic skier can grip and glide in all sorts of condiditions. However, these advances have created unintended consequences (i.e. cost, fairness) that impact this sport far and wide. From what I have witnessed first hand as a former USST racer is how often wax usurps athletic talent. How many times have athletes of lesser caliber qualified for this team or that because they had the “fastest wax”. Traditionalists and techno-weenies alike may bemoan that waxing IS part of the sport and if you can’t keep up with the Jones’ of the sport then tough. That sentiment may have been true in the pine tar and hydrocarbon days where wax “fairness” seemed a bit more equitable. Todays hypermolecular modified advanced waxes warp the fairness bar beyond the breaking point on many fronts. Consider the skyrocketing costs of these waxes which impinge recessionary fueled family/personal spending decisions and meager racing budgets nation/worldwide. And of course never mind the long term health and environmental consequences these high tech waxes pose. Waxing continues to be the slothful elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about until now. Finally, the USBA has proposed a plan to oust the unfair variable wax plays in our sport across all sectors (Bill Kock League, JN’s etc). I quit the sport of xc racing a long time ago because of the obvious steroid use (pre-WADA days) and the ridiculous waste of time waxing plays in this sport. When I often found myself waxing into the wee hours before a big race donning a surplus world war 2 gas mask, I would often mutter “what the F*** am I doing this for?” But I digress. If it were up to me, I would invoke the following (fair and inexpensive) racing wax rules for all levels of this sport and respective techniques: For skate races, mandatory application of a recreation type paste wax (i.e. Maxiglide) to be applied (i.e. in ski marking area) to glide surface. For classis races, mandatory use of no wax skis for all conditions and application of (again) a recreation type paste wax to glide zone in a controlled area (i.e. ski marking area). Changes like these are needed in this sport. The ridiculous use of time, money, resources and potential long term health risks (do you think it is a coincidence that wax companies do not list their ingredients?) put towards waxing needs to decrease in order to level the playing field once and for all. The wax companies have taken this sport hostage in the name of speed at the expense of expense, hype and level ski trails (read level playing fields). If changes are inacted such as the bold move promoted by the USBA, the sport itself may, no WILL, reap the benefit of increased skier participation and take the unfair wax denominator out of the sport once and for all. Thank you to the USBA and I hope this is just a start of the sport morphing itself into a more fair and just sport without this crazy reliance on wax. Please respond in earnest to this post because I believe waxing to the degree to which it is pursued today does not belong in this sport. Let’s keep xc ski racing fair and affordable.

  • JohnDyste

    December 11, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Certainly wax is a factor…but how about skis? If we go down this road of equalizing all variables to find the best skier how will we decide who owns the best skis for the day? Should we define a handicapping procedure for those with uber skis? How will that be measured?

    I think we all agree in the fairness concept being presented by USBA…but wax alone doesn’t create equality. So, if not, then
    why limit this aspect of success?

  • Peter Minde

    December 11, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    To be really fair, why don’t they regulate one specific ski brand and stonegrind that all the competitors have to use?

  • T.Eastman

    December 12, 2009 at 2:01 am

    I smell a lawsuit.

  • OldManWinter

    December 12, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Unique concept and interesting observations. I agree on most fronts…waxing has gotten out of control and it does represent an unfair and expensive component to an increasingly complex and expensive sport. As a junior coach, it bothers me to no end that we continue to draw only the talent that can afford to race two disciplines. In skating, I see fairly consistent results race-to-race, but in classical the results are all over the place between races and of course we all know the reason why. I don’t know how practical the USBA’s proposal is, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    In the 2009 Swix wax manual there is a photo of a pair of service techs working in the wax room; one of which is wearing a full gas mask (and we’re supposed to be the environmentalists)…Something has clearly gone awry here.

  • Mike Trecker

    December 12, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I hear that Eastman. This is a Pandora’s box.

    Now somebody is going to really think they suck, because they really believed that having the same wax would even the playing field. From what I’ve heard, the wax of choice is only about 6% of performance compared to other variables such as flex profile, base grind and snow conditions. The root of this problem is frustration and the blame game. “My skis suck” is always someome else’s fault.

    How come some skiers always seem to have fast skis? No, not cause they are rich, in fact it’s the rich ones that think they can buy their way to fast skis. No, fast skiers make their own luck, by working hard on actually knowing what they are doing, not just throwing darts blind. They know their ski profiles, grinds and how they match up to snow conditions and they know the money wax combinations that work on their skis in given conditions.

    Also, who decides what brand they will use and are there gaps for corruption in that process. Does Toko simply have to grease the refs and it’s Toko all year?

    The wax companies have duped everyone into thinking that their secret formula is the best, and the dumb consumer bought it all hook, line and sinker.

    I do not have a problem with RMN division’s rules of no flouro powders allowed. Much easier to abide by. But saying you have to ski on the exact wax? That’s dumb.

  • kai

    December 12, 2009 at 9:16 am

    These slippery slope arguments are not convincing. Standardizing wax for biathlon world team trials isn’t the first step towards a communist system in which stone grinds are also regulated. Hey, maybe the next step after stone grinds is to standardize genetics.

    All kidding aside, this is a fair, inexpensive, practical solution, as long as a good-faith effort is given to ensure that the selected wax will actually be fast. Different types of skiers will excel under extremely slow conditions versus extremely fast conditions.

  • Lars

    December 12, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Having some kind of standardized good skis and wax for everyone would be great but i dont think its possible.

    And i think ski is at least as important as wax. How are they suppose to deal with that ? Tell everyone to wear one type of skis? Cant seeing the other ski factory’s been happy about that.

  • PixelPaul

    December 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Kudos to the USBA for trying to level the playing field. It used to be that kids that couldn’t afford the cost of alpine skiing got into the nordic sports. Now XC has become so ridiculously expensive also that talented kids are being left behind because they or their parents do not have the $$$ it takes. The USBA is putting their athletes first, and that should be commended.

  • FasterSkier

    December 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    One point that has yet to be made – these races are qualifying races that will ultimately determine the team. I would imagine that USBA would want the fastest skiers on the team – not the skiers who have the best wax techs.

    This has not been mentioned by USBA, so I don’t know if they have considered it. It isn’t just about money, it is about having the technical support – people to help test, wax, etc…

    There can be a huge discrepancy on the level of on-site support.

    I’m not advocating one way or the other at this point, but I do know that I want the fastest skiers on the team, not the fastest skis.

  • FasterSkier

    December 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    One more thing on the other side – look at the amount of money that goes in to catching dopers. The more rules you have, the more resources that have to go into preventing people from breaking the rules.

    If this type of wax protocol becomes standard, someone will try to cheat. Are we going to need tests designed to determine the level of flouros in a ski. What about prep wax prior to the event.

    Enforcement seems fraught with logistic and technical challenges.

    The local high school leagure in my area has decreed low flouros only. At that level, this is a great thing, but it will basically be the honor system.

  • justsayin

    December 12, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    There seems to be a tremendous amount of misinformation about what is happening at these trials with regards to normalizing waxing procedures on race day. Let’s be clear about what is happening:

    1. Athletes are only permitted to test 2 pair of skis on race morning.

    2. Those skis were both prepared with the race wax of the day, and thus are both race-ready before testing even begins. So after the athlete has chosen his/her skis, they must go directly to equipment control and check those skis into the start area.

    3. That wax was applied to the skis the night before at the venue along with EVERY other competitor’s skis in a single wax room presided over by ALL of the wax techs (coaches).

    Are there ways to cheat and circumvent this process? Yes. Is anyone here at the trials talking about that, or legitimately concerned about that? No. Well, at least one person is – undoubtedly the source of this article.

    The point is, virtually no one racing in these trials gives a damn about the fact that we aren’t allowed to “go all out” with respect to waxing. That is not the culture of biathlon in this country. Does normalizing race-day wax procedures bring 100% fairness to these trials? Certainly not. But it is a meaningful gesture in the spirit of picking the best team, and 99% of the athletes here are not complaining.

  • Reese

    December 13, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Banning wax that costs a lot of “$$$” puts even greater emphasis on hand picked skis and uber grinds. Now instead of being able to adapt one or two pairs of skis to the conditions by just slapping on a different color of JetStream, athletes will feel they need to have a monster selection of skis with a monster selection of grinds, one for every concievable temperature and snow condition and then some… now were talking big “$$$”

  • FasterSkier

    December 13, 2009 at 7:58 am

    To justsayin: I don’t think anyone was saying that athletes at the trials are considering cheating. Most commenters (including myself) are thinking about what could happen IF this type of protocol became standard.

    Thinking critically about the repercussions of rule changes is very important. I think there are lots of good points above – and none imply that athletes at the World Team Trials are either upset with this rule or would ever consider cheating.

  • Aubrey Smith

    December 13, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    You may be able to criticize the idea of a “same wax” protocol on any other level, but I really beleive the USBA has the right intentions here and also beleive they took the smaller size of race facilities and field into consideration when they decided to try this protocol out.
    And really, I should hope wax cheating would not be an issue at Itasca: Yes, there are team spots on the line, but that is a far cry from the Olympic medals, fame, and millions of dollars which corrupt most of the athletes who cheat/dope at the highest levels of competition.

  • DOC

    December 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    The cost of flouro waxes is staggering if one pays full retail. Who pays full retail anymore? I wait until the end of the season and buy the expensive stuff at up to 75% off retail, then use it sparingly for racing only. I just dont buy the cost argument. I also think alot of the wax products are extremely over rated. I am not going to list names but any product being sprayed from an aerosel can never seems to live up to the hype. Face it, competitve sports are expensive to take part in. I also do not believe that a wax job is going to produce a champion. I regulalry get my ass kicked by guys I know cannot afford and dont use the more expensive flouro’s my skiis are waxed with on race day.

  • Brian Olsen

    December 14, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Thanks for bringing up this topic, Fasterskier.

    U.S. Biathlon (USBA) has used this approach for ski preparation during Trials events even as far back as 2002. Because of the size of the field and number of teams at biathlon competitions in North America, this policy is often practiced informally, even at races where team selection is not taking place. It reduces the amount of hours that need to be spent by coaches and wax personnel (often the same individuals) and maximizes the amount of time they can use to enjoy the fun and important parts of coaching in our sport — preparing athletes to race, zeroing them in the morning, and getting further out to watch the action on the race course.

    To those with the nihilistic view that there are too many factors present in sport to justify removing wax selection, I say, “Where is the harm in removing THIS one?” We already try our best to ensure that athletes are not using banned substances and doping methods. That’s certainly a good thing, right? Sure, we could try to eliminate more factors to level the playing field. If you have suggestions, let us know. At a point, we obtain diminishing returns, where the costs of compliance, integrity, and verification outweigh the benefits to furthering that level playing field.

    Waxing is an easy one to implement in this situation, however.

    The athletes that are in serious contention for spots on the IBU Cup (biathlon’s World Cup “B”) were offered access to the same German-sourced structures used by their teammates who are now taking podiums on the World Cup. If you’re an elite athlete seeking to compete at an international event, like the WC, WC B, or Olympic Games, you and your ski sponsor are incentived to obtain the best skis possible. That process happens months in advance of a competition.

    We’re not advocating that other ski sports implement this model, nor are we trying to push this onto the World Cup. What we are trying to do is identify the athletes that have the greatest likelihood to perform well in January at the IBU Cup in Altenberg, Germany. There, athletes will vie for the remaining spots on the U.S. Olympic Team while simultaneously competing against the normal field.

    The trials system we are using this season is the culmination of many years of trials experiences. It is the fairest system I have seen in my 10 years associated with the sport. What I’m most proud of is that, when this season concludes, we’ll likely sit down, examine what happened, and try to make it even better. If you have suggestions, post them here.

    Good luck to everyone in Grand Rapids.

    Brian Olsen in SLC, UT
    USBA Athlete Representative

  • Aubrey Smith

    December 14, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Brian – thank you very much for your comments. Though I tried to not write my opinion into the article, I do think the wax protocol is a fantastic idea – for this event, for this level – and the fact the USBA seems to know its coaches and competitors fairly intimately and can confidently implement these procedures, take feedback, and keep working to provide their athletes with the best experiences year after year is highly commendable.
    I would be interested to know what kind of changes you have made since first trying the protocol at the 2002 trials.

  • bigski

    December 14, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    I remember the days when skiers skied and did not test glide wax at all. Yes, I am old but those days were much simpler. I would say that glide waxing iat Itasca in December is so simple a cave man could do it. However, controling the wax a skier uses, does take away some of the challenge of the sport. In biathlon, the sport is pretty complicated alread with the skiing and the shooting and rifle maintenence so it should not be a total shock for them to limit the waxing. I mean, when the went to total skating it was to limit the futsing with the kick wax. With skiing and shooting you have enough variables, why add any more?

  • kamikaze

    December 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Some people are mentioning that one grind or ski brand will end up reigning supreme should waxing be eliminated from the situation-perfect! That should encourage companies to make the most technological adjustments to the skis itself. Maybe weight or flex or some completely new varaible will be closer looked at to make a ski faster. Looks like the Hole Ski will just be the first of new changes to the current ski we know (On that note someone found a pending patent from Salomon about creating their own movable binding plate- the first step of many)- if waxing is not an option, lets let innovation make the athletes faster.

    Another note: This waxing protocool is for the Team Trials. Are we forgetting the bigger picture, that we WANT to win WC races against other countries? Play wax tech for the world stage, now is about putting forth the best athletes from the US as possible- not the richest.

  • Tim Kelley

    December 16, 2009 at 4:25 am

    This system for wax standardization may not be perfect, but it is good to finally see an attempt at reducing the complexity and cost of xc skiing and biathlon for younger skiers. I agree with OldManWinter … if the Swix wax manual shows a team of service techs wearing a full face masks, then ski waxing is very out of control. Running is more about athleticism than shoes. Skiing should be more about athleticism than skis and wax.

  • kboyer5

    December 17, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I dont know why everyone is making such a big deal about this. Not only does this level the playing field, but it makes things easier! The USBA has been doing this for years and it has worked great. Every ski is prepared exactly the same, and even though it may not be the fastest wax of the day, everyone will have the same speed ski. I think that there are too many competitors for this system to work anywhere other then the small biathlon field, but where it is used, this is a great system.

  • biathlete

    December 24, 2009 at 12:32 am

    It is interesting that many people keep commenting on the lack of fairness because of differing ski brands and grinds. One thing that helps alleviate this issue is that many, if not most, athletes in contention for the Olympic Team have the same kind of grinds on their skis from USBA’s grinding system. However, I also think this is a silly argument since there is virtually no way to make trials like these 100% fool-proof and fair, but this is a huge step and I think most people there would tell you it was successful and a good system.

  • LeifKJ

    December 24, 2009 at 1:50 am

    In my (admittedly small) experience, waxing is an aspect of racing that will always keep ski racing interesting for me. Skiing IS about more than physical ability; one needs to master technique, and waxing is just another skill that adds to the challenge. I have done far better (and far worse) in some races because I or my coach had some insight about particular waxes and conditions, so I treat building up waxing experience just like training as a critical part of becoming a better racer. This being said, for a series of trials where the goal is a future competition, eliminating the waxing variable makes sense. I make this assertion on the guess that at the Olympics, the whole team will be using the same wax anyway, and that wax will not be picked by the individual racers, therefore making waxing skill on the racer’s part irrelevant.

  • Ken Swarner

    December 29, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Absolute Stupidity!
    As a long time coach we teach basic waxing and race waxing that is very simple yet effective. WHY THE HELL did this promoter require athletes to use the slowest, most crappy wax out there… holmenkol and toko… please – are they afriad of good glide OR was there an alternative plan for giving some athletes an edge that perhaps showed up with better wax already applied????

    Swix is our teams ONLY choice because it is the best in every condition – why are they penalizing teams, and Ski companies for that matter, that try to push the sport – RIDICULOUS!

    As far as masks I encourage the morons (that have not spent more than 3o seconds in a World Cup wax room) to get a grip. Resparation gear is used primarily for reducing particulate (dust) inhalation from brushing and smoke for colder waxes and powders – BOTH of which are bad to inhale. It has NOTHING to do with fluoro/non-fluoro OR the damn enviroment. For 7 years every major event has utilized air testing stations – the wax room is 100% clean with respect to user and earth more so that the food court in most cases!

    How about if pro cyclists were required to use bikes from Wal-Mart… hmmm that would make it fair?!?! DUH.
    Skeeer Later-

  • bbrooker

    January 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    better late than never……do you know the expense it took for me to get a comparable biathlon rifel? anschutz with a fortner bolt from a gun dealer…$3,000. then to glen eberle for a new stock with kevlar(remember those classic state of the art stocks?) stika spruce to reduce weight…$750. then to a gunsmith to glass bed it….$450. then a purchase of 5000 rounds of ely tenex of the same lot for training and racing….$1600. and that put me on the same level playing field as other biathletes trying to make it to the top! you think wax is the determinate? how about buying the plane tickets for everyone to get there, because i am sure a few athletes couldn’t afford to get there let alone the rifle or flouro wax!
    how about i bring in my team and we wax all the skis with an observer there as a monitor….kind of like the way they do the ny lotto! my fee 20 bucks a pair, when do i start?
    bill brooker

  • DonJ

    January 11, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    As a high school racer, I can understand and support the theory of reducing costs of waxing by limiting the kinds of wax that can be used in races. I whole-heartedly support the banning of waxes with fluorocarbons for certain levels of racing, primarily junior races. However, I feel strongly that part of the art of cross-country skiing is choosing the right wax, and applying it in the correct way. Although fluorocarbons present certain undeniable advantages (although they are sometimes no faster than waxes without fluoros, they are almost never slower), I believe that if you control the exact color and brand of wax used, then you loose something special about cross-country skiing.

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