A team of familiar faces is soon headed to the American Birkebeiner, and rumor has it, their race suits will be something to behold.
Spearheaded by brand ambassador Simi Hamilton, the team of Sophie Hamilton (Caldwell), Sadie Maubet-Bjornsen, Liz Stephen, Matt Gelso, Sylvan Ellefson, and Erik Bjornsen will be racing as members of the mountainFLOW Eco Wax team.
Based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado, where Hamilton grew up, mountainFLOW Eco Wax is the maker of a line of plant-based ski waxes and bike maintenance products that spare the environment without compromising the performance skiers and riders expect. The company officially began in 2016 after years of tinkering in founder Peter Arlein’s kitchen. Experimenting with various plant-based alternatives to the petroleum based products that the ski industry has historically relied upon, Arlein ultimately concocted a solution that he felt checked all the boxes.
Why consider an eco-friendly wax?
“It’s a classic micro-pollution problem where you can’t see the wax coming off [your skis],” Arlein explained in a call. “It’s not like you’re littering and you can see what you threw on the side of the road, but in aggregate, it becomes a big issue. And all of these pollutants are collecting and accumulating in the rivers because they melt in the snow, and then that melts, and then it all flows down into the local watershed.”
Arlein, who has worked in the ski industry for more than 20 years as everything from a fry cook to a patroller, explained that prior to mountainFLOW, he had tried all the available eco-friendly products, but was never satisfied with the performance relative to the traditional petroleum based products on the market.
“Eco waxes, for a while, were really bad,” Arlein said simply. “So we’re here to show, first and foremost, our waxes are high performance — and they happen to be non-petroleum and made from plants. Because it can be as green as possible, but if it’s slow, then it’s not a very good product.”
He explained that most eco-friendly products had historically relied on soy wax as a main ingredient, which is readily available, relatively cheap, and easy to work with.
“But it’s also super soft,” he said “So, in anything colder than 30 degrees. It’s just too slow.”
Through experimentation and research, mountainFLOW has developed a set of recipes that use a variety of plant-based waxes to account for the variation in moisture and friction of different temperature ranges, with which cross country skiers are well-accustomed. The ingredients they landed on had traditionally been used in the organic health and beauty industry, which is ultimately where mountainFLOW sources them.
“We’ve tweaked the ratio of plant waxes, and the different types of plant waxes that we’re using, to mimic the qualities of a traditional wax. You can measure hydrophobicity, you can measure hardness, which are the main characteristics that a normal wax has.”
Expanding well-past Arlein’s kitchen, the company began to take off in 2019 after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank.With patents on the wax formulas in hand, mountainFLOW eco waxes quickly found their way into over 600 doors. The products are now sold at retailers nationwide and now reach as far as New Zealand and Europe. Demonstrating commitment to protecting the environment, mountainFlow is a Certified B Corporation with all USDA Certified biobased products, with biodegradable and 100% post-consumer recycled packaging materials to boot.
With the harmful effects of fluorinated waxes and how to halt their use at the forefront of discussions in the cross country ski community for the last several years, the concept of eco-friendly alternatives should pique the curiosity of environmentally conscious skiers. But what the elimination of fluoros has also perhaps highlighted is that cross country skiers are reluctant to compromise when it comes to ski speed on race day.
Arlein explained how mountainFLOW has stepped up to this challenge in creating its line of race waxes, innovating with materials developed for purposes well-beyond the scope of sliding around on skinny skis as quickly as possible.
“We were able to source this ceramic nanopowder that mimics qualities of fluoros, but it’s totally non-toxic and biodegradable,” Arlein shared. “It was actually developed by the Department of Defense for use in bulletproof vests, because it’s really durable and hard. But it also happens to be super hydrophobic and slippery, so then it started being used to coat runners for luge and bobsled. We found this little lab that was making it in the Midwest, and we licensed the rights to use it for ski wax. And so that’s what we’re putting in our non-fluoro race wax, and that’s what everyone will be skiing on at the Birkie.”
The mountainFLOW race wax lineup includes three temperature ranges – cold, cool, and warm – which they’ve tested against comparable products from companies like Swix and Toko.
“We’ve found that the wax works especially well in cold temperatures with hard abrasive snow.”
The mountainFLOW team is in luck. Temperatures in Cable, WI the three nights prior to the American Birkebeiner on Saturday the 26th are currently predicted to be -8, -6, and -1 Fahrenheit.
Arlein comes from an alpine ski background and says his progression with cross country skiing began last year when he headed out with his wife on skate skis. “We did not go very far. And I was dying. And I looked terrible,” he laughed.
Luckily, he was already connected with Simi Hamilton, whose older sister had grown up with Arlein’s wife. Knowing the mountainFLOW products would perform just as well on cross country skis as they did on alpine and backcountry boards, he called Hamilton from his car that day hoping to rope him in for some guidance.
“I was like, ‘Simi, I need help. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not good at this sport. And I don’t know enough about it to speak from an authentic place. Can you help?'”
Hamilton, who has been a long-time ambassador for Protect Our Winters and spokesperson for environmental policy, quickly agreed. Hamilton paired technique advice with perspective on mountainFLOW’s ability to meet the demands of committed cross country ski racers. Having spent decades racing on the best and most expensive waxes, filled with some of the harshest chemicals, he can speak better than most to the performance of mountainFLOW’s products relative to alternatives.
“I’ve been super impressed at how well their waxes have performed,” Hamilton wrote in an email. “I haven’t had a chance to try any of their products in super wet or dirty snow yet (after all, this is Colorado), but I really think the moly is going to work awesome for those springtime conditions. We’ve had a pretty wild winter here with huge temperature fluctuations and periods of big snowfall followed by seemingly endless dry spells, and all of the waxes I’ve used thus far have performed just as well if not better than the fluorinated paraffins I’ve used in the past for hard training sessions, etc. Because I’ve been able to get out on my alpine and backcountry skis more than normal this year, I’ve definitely been better about keeping my gear in good shape with somewhat regular waxing. Without a doubt, I can say that arcing turns in powder or on groomers is way more enjoyable with some fast planks under your feet.”
Though Hamilton says he has used mountainFLOW products since the early days of tinkering in Arlein’s kitchen, it was not until this summer when he joined the team as an ambassador and consultant, first testing some of their bike lubes and cleaning products.
“I was super impressed right off the bat with their stuff. Like the ski waxes, it worked just as well, if not better, than the very best traditional (petroleum-based) lubes and cleaners I’ve found. I’ve gradually become more involved with the company over the last handful of months mostly because I really believe that what they are doing is making a difference in our ski and bike communities. They are throwing out the conventional belief that the petroleum-based products that are already out there are the only products that work well.
“MountainFLOW is showing the outdoor industry that we can venture into the mountains and use products that are both 100% sustainable and enrich the important mountain experiences we seek,” Hamilton emphasized.
“And perhaps most importantly, they’re just an awesome company with some incredible people at the helm who love to share the stoke they have for being outside and doing really fun things.”
As the two schemed ways to reach the cross country ski market with mountainFLOW products, bringing a team to the Birkie seemed like an obvious choice. Arlein said the team would be “super fun, and maybe not super serious.” Perfect for a group of retirees looking for an excuse to get together.
“I was immediately psyched about the idea mostly because Peter’s number one objective was to just go have a great time at what is probably the most iconic ski event in the country. I think cross-country skiers in general are some of the most attentive people out there when it comes to climate change and other important environmental issues, so to be part of a team that can introduce this company, their ethos, and their standard-setting products to a community of people who want to be a part of the solution and not the problem, is super cool. Not to mention it’s just going to be a heck of a good time to hang out with [my former teammates] for a few days. We’re gettin’ the band back together and I couldn’t be more psyched about all these pieces falling into place!”
Those heading to Hayward this week can find the mountainFLOW team at the Birkie expo, where you can chat with Arlein and the race team about the products and race-day wax recommendations, buy waxes and tools, or have your skis waxed – for free! – by the crew. Otherwise, find mountainFLOW online or at a retailer near you, and try knowing there is a 100% money back guarantee should the products fall short of your expectations.
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646