Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
In fall 2021, following last-minute revelations that a long-promised fluoro-detecting device did not, actually, work as efficiently as planned, FasterSkier previewed an upcoming domestic race season in which U.S. Ski & Snowboard-sanctioned races would ban the use of fluorocarbon waxes, but anything would be fair game at FIS races. (For an overview of the difference between the sanctioning bodies and the rankings lists they generate, see here.)
Last week, USSS Cross Country Program Director Chris Grover, writing on behalf of the USSS Cross Country Sport Committee, announced identical standards for roughly the first half of this season: no fluoros at USSS races, anything goes at FIS races. The announcement explains that the substance, and the timing, of the decision are an attempt to maintain a level playing field through the selection period for international competition, most notably the 2022 Winter Olympics but also World Juniors and Period 2 and 3 World Cup races. It specifically cites the lack of a quick-turnaround test for detecting fluoros, and an inability to insure the integrity of a ski race in real time.
That said, once the selection period closes, things will change for the second half of the 2021/2022 race season.
“Beginning January 17, 2022,” Grover wrote, highlighting a date after the final January SuperTour race in Sun Valley, “fluorocarbon waxes will be banned at all FIS Cross Country races in the USA, and testing will often support that ban.”
If you are a Masters or citizen racer in this country, none of this announcement applies to you, at least so long as you are not in the very small minority of Masters racers doing USSS or FIS races. You should instead look to the policies enacted by your local ski club for guidance. A quick, unscientific roundup of some prominent citizen racing areas in this country suggests that the Birkie banned fluoros for the 2021 race; that the Loppet Foundation has banned fluoros at Wirth Park and at all Loppet Foundation events; that all NENSA events have been fluoro-free as of June 2020; and that the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage has not yet taken a public position on the issue.
Grover’s announcement was dated September 29th, and was sent to current USSS members on Friday October 1st. It may be found online here, and is reprinted in full below.
September 29, 2021
Dear Cross Country Community,
This past week, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross Country Sport Committee has voted to support the following fluorocarbon wax protocols for racing within the United States during the 2021-22 season:
U.S. Ski & Snowboard sanctioned races remain fluorocarbon-free. FIS races will remain open for the use of fluorocarbon waxes from the start of the season through January 16, 2022. This timeframe mirrors the selection period for the Beijing Olympic Winter Games, and also contains team selections for the World Junior and U23 championships, the U18 Nordic Nations team, and selections to World Cup Periods 2 and 3. Beginning January 17, 2022, fluorocarbon waxes will be banned at all FIS Cross Country races in the USA, and testing will often support that ban.
We realize that the use of fluorocarbon waxes is an understandably contentious issue, and we’ve had months of debate as a community about the best way to balance the transition away from these products with preserving a level playing field for all athletes. Our primary challenge is that the development of fluorocarbon testing technologies has not kept pace with the rapid evolvement of fluorocarbon bans. We do have a proven testing methodology at our disposal, but it requires weeks to get results, a lot of money for each test, and results/penalties can obviously only be applied retroactively. We are in a situation where we wouldn’t have fluorocarbon testing results until well after Championships teams are named, and we may or may not have the ability to remove athletes at that time. This includes the Winter Olympic Games. We are moving in a technological direction that will eventually provide definitive fluorocarbon testing of skis prior to a race start, but we are not there yet.
As much as our U.S. Ski & Snowboard staff and our community wants to be fluoro-free immediately, the Cross Country Sport Committee felt it was imperative to guarantee the sanctity of the Olympic selection process, as well as the selection of all of our Championship development teams. We owe this to the athletes, coaches, parents, and race organizers to ensure a level playing field that all participants can feel confident in.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns you might have.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross Country Program Director
FIS and IBU Pull Back from 2020-2021 Fluoro Ban, October 2020
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.