When Randy Gibbs looks at the high-end ski wax on his bench, he finds himself uninspired by the plain vials of powders laid out before him. As a U.S. Ski Team service technician for the past seven years, few know better than he does how important wax is to any successful ski race. But when it comes to the brands of fluorocarbons available to most consumers, Gibbs sees a hole in the market for a product that’s cool, something skiers and coaches would be proud to own.
“Right now everything is so lame out there. They’re all boring and there’s nothing creative,” Gibbs says. “Not that those products aren’t great; we use every brand, for sure. Everyone has the best wax at certain times for certain things.”
But Gibbs thinks there’s room for another player at the service room table, and he’s hoping his new company, called Mantra Wax, will be it. Using raw materials that have been developed and tested over the past year and a half by a Russian manufacturer, Mantra aims create a line of top coats that will bring something to the wax market that it hasn’t seen before.
Mantra’s origins are certainly unique. This past winter, Gibbs and fellow U.S. team serviceman Oleg Ragilo obtained exclusive rights to package and sell the wax, and by October they plan to be delivering the high-end liquids and powders directly to coaches and technicians all over the U.S. and Europe, as Ragilo lives in Estonia and will head Mantra’s presence there. And because they plan to integrate small-batch, limited-release products into the wax line, Mantra aims to make its products cool and somewhat exclusive.
“It’s going to be more like a whisky bottle or small-batch bourbon where…it’s a cool thing to have in your wax cabin,” Gibbs said. “You put it on your table and the other guy is like, ‘Oh, man. We’re screwed.’”
Gibbs and Ragilo have started with branding to establish that image. Mantra’s name was inspired by a David Grohl song with the same title, and their wax label could just as easily be an album cover.
Creative branding aside, Gibbs knows the most important thing in a wax is performance. So how does Mantra stack up next to products from major companies like Swix, Holmenkol or Toko?
Apparently, pretty favorably. At SuperTour finals, Mantra Wax had the opportunity to answer that question when the Craftsbury Green Racing Project hired Gibbs and two other technicians to help work on the team’s skis. The job became Gibbs’ chance to test Mantra’s new waxes on race day and generate some attention in the process, if the wax was successful. CGRP’s hired service crew included Eli Brown and Gibbs’ fellow U.S. serviceman Corey Wubbels to help him, and in addition to waxing CGRP’s skis all week the team also adopted Liz Stephen’s fleet.
The results turned out as well as Gibbs could have hoped. Stephen won SuperTour Finals and the 30 k classic championship, CGRP’s Ida Sargent and Pat O’Brien both podiumed in the classic sprint in miserably wet waxing conditions, and they were joined in the A-Final by Tim Reynolds and U.S. biathlete Susan Dunklee. CGRP head coach Pepa Miloucheva, able to leave the wax room and watch her skiers race for the first time in three years of coaching them, called her athletes’ results in the sprint “one of the best days” for her team all year. Skiers from other teams noted the speed of Craftsbury’s skis all week.
What were they skiing on? Mantra Wax. The new powders won or were near the top of pre-race tests throughout the series and Craftsbury and Stephen raced on Mantra powders and liquids in each race at SuperTour Finals and distance nationals.
“They were awesome,” Stephen said of her skis in the 30 k.
Gibbs didn’t know what to expect from the results, but was pleased with the successful outcome of Mantra’s U.S. debut. He brought a small amount of powders with him to California to sell throughout the race series, and by the end of the week he was sold out. Gibbs said coaches returned to him to say that Mantra won a lot of their tests.
What’s so special about Mantra Wax?
“Nothing, really, other than it works really well in a lot of conditions,” Gibbs says. “It’s not a risky powder. Some of these powders, if it snows you might as well put paraffin on your skis and go out on training wax, because they get so slow. And this stuff seems to be great in new snow, old snow, manmade snow, wet snow, clean snow, fine-grained, course like out here — so it just works well. I’m not saying it’s going to win the test every time, but it’s going to be near the top more consistently, from what we’ve seen so far.”
Mantra Wax is so new it’s not yet widely available, but by the fall Gibbs hopes to have an introductory line up and running from the website and from select retail outlets. In Truckee, he sold 30-gram vials of powder for $100 each to help get the brand off the ground, but Gibbs thinks they will eventually retail for closer to $150.
Mantra Wax turned some heads in Truckee, and to increase the company’s visibility throughout the country it will put sales reps at major U.S. events next season. Gibbs also has his eyes on a few elite athletes to represent the brand, and at SuperTour Finals he and Stephen made plans to make Mantra Wax Stephen’s casual-wear sponsor next year.
“So far we’ve used their wax every day this championships,” Stephen said. “I want to support Randy and Oleg and what those guys are doing, and at the very least I want to wear what they have going on.”
Gibbs and Ragilo will continue to work on skis for the USST in the winter, by which point they hope to have two to three powders and four to five liquids as part of the Mantra Wax line, with plans to add klisters, paraffins and kick wax down the road in small-batch, special-edition releases. Gibbs foresees keeping the company relatively small, but for now things are still in the planning stages. He’d been thinking about starting a wax company for years, and now that the pieces are coming together he’s taking things slow.
“We’re not going make a million dollars or anything, but if we can make a great wax that’s better than everything else and have fun doing it, that’s what our goal is,” he said. “We don’t know what it’s going to evolve into. The Mantra is coming in hot.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.