A Look at SWIX’s Responsible Waxing Project

Jason AlbertApril 26, 2021
Biathletes training in Nové Město, Czech Republic. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Some skiers have tossed them, some have squandered them, some have disposed of them according to specific guidelines for toxins at their local landfill. Some have donated their speed-goods to the U.S. Ski Team as it burns through its supply of high-quality fluoros. Some have simply stored them in a wax cabinet, a symbol of what was. We’re talking fluorinated wax, powders, gels, liquids, and yes, small-batch slurries. U.S. Ski and Snowboard has banned fluoros while the International Ski Federation (FIS) banned them, postponed the ban, and now orbits in a will-they won’t-they quagmire. The move to ban fluoros has gained momentum.

Several years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pursued Swix for several violations of the TSCA, or Toxic Substances Control Act. Swix was fined a substantial monetary sum. It was also tasked, as part of the penalty, to develop a “responsible waxing project” (RWP). 

According to the EPA’s ruling, SWIX was to address two main issues with its program:

  • Educating the ski racing community about PFAS chemicals (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in racing waxes and their impact on the environment
  • Promoting the use of wax alternatives with lower environmental impact, including but not limited to racing waxes that are PFAS-free

Swix fulfilled its obligation. The course is open as part of Swix’s learning center. Access to the course requires registration with an email and password. The RWP takes roughly 30 minutes to complete. 

Swix does not provide a master class on PFAS chemistry and the adverse environmental effects associated with their use. Think of the RWP as a basic intro-level course discussing how perfluorinated compounds are bad and using non-fluorinated waxes are good. You’ll learn about C8 and C6 compounds and the concept of a “forever chemical”. There’s no discussion of more complex terms like bioaccumulation. This is not a Silent Spring treatment of PFAS, although that was not expected

The course provides simple and sound advice to keep the ski bench area clean and well-ventilated. If you do not have access to a World Cup wax bus and their HVAC systems, the RWP will likely improve your waxing hygiene. In other words, you’ll be encouraged to wax in a well-ventilated area, wear gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, an apron, hat, and HEPA-certified mask when waxing and prepping skis. “The filter should be a minimum of A1P3. Don’t forget that particles can be retained in the air for hours so wear your mask at all times while in a waxing facility,” states one of the slides in the RWP. You’ll be reminded to swap out those waxing clothes as soon as possible before contaminating other spaces — even if working with non-fluorinated products.

There’s advice on cleaning brushes and choosing an appropriate roto-brush (preferably one with a “suction cover”). The RWP also urges waxers to clean the workspace with a HEPA filter vacuum.

If you are a family getting into the game, and you’d like to be self-reliant and safe with the waxing, none of this comes cheap. Gone, or at least they should be, are the days of cranking the iron, melting the wax, smoke be damned, and brushing the wax out in a windowless side room.     

The visuals alone in the RWP provide a simple model for maintaining a cleaner and safer waxing workspace, and how to clean up that space afterward. That is of value.  

This brings us to the next point which FasterSkier raised with the EPA when discussing the penalty phase for Swix. The online video-intensive platform is an unsubtle piece of Swix branding. Does this provide Swix with a competitive advantage as the ski scene evolves to a fluoro-free future? It certainly cannot hurt. Back in August 2020, FasterSkier asked the EPA how it would ensure the RWP was not a Swix branding opportunity, as this was considered a penalty for an EPA violation. The EPA, at the time, seemed less concerned with the marketing potential, or outsourcing production of the RWP to an independent party, and more focused on the deliverables.

If you’ve not been following the move to fluoro-free waxing, none of this might matter. The RWP comes off like much of Swix’s video branding: solid information, polished and simple syntax, a whitewashed background highlighted with a catalog’s worth of red Swix product. The only piece of clothing or product that resonated non-Swix, was the presenter’s earthy-green flannel. Even the ground tarp under the wax bench was a Swix-specific tarp. One slide, though, features a block of yellow Toko wax, a brand also owned by Brav, the parent company of both Swix and Toko.

Beyond the branding and the well presented best practices, there’s some corporate moralizing too. “True competitors ski on skill,” is one verbal plug in the RWP to dissuade users from partaking in the game of speed enhancement through fluoro chemistry. 

The RWP also mentions that U.S. Ski & Snowboard and Nordiq Canada have banned fluoros. And FIS intends to enforce a ban… maybe next year. It remains true, using fluoros at some races in the U.S., for example, is cheating.

The RWP also includes this statement in the learning module’s opening video:

“By complying with these new rules and choosing to ski fluoro-free, we can further protect our precious environment and be sure we are all competing on an even playing field. Conditioning, technique, and mental toughness will set you apart from the competition. So let’s all ski on skill and commit to doing our part to keep our environment safe and clean.”

Ski racers, coaches, and pretty much anybody who has skied on poor skis knows this: pick the right ski for the conditions, add a gem of a fluoro wax job in warming or dirty snow, and you’ve likely got skis in the mix. 

Beyond a true competitor’s “skill” and willingness to “ski fluoro-free”, there’s the ski fleet and the ski service to consider. That’s just for starters. There’s also easy access to snow that can set an athlete apart. The  5k to 10k (even more for a ski academy) a year it might take to pay to play. Good coaches matter. Hard work matters. So too does The Sports Gene

I think we are all in agreement with doing our part to be safer. And the Swix RWP is a step in the right direction. But the platitudes on training, technique, and fortitude? The playing field has other variables to consider beyond skill to even it out, even in a fluoro-free world. 

Wax safely out there. 


Jason Albert

Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.

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