CommunityNewsResourcesWaxingMountainFLOW Fluoro Takeback Program: Giving skiers the option to safely dispose of fluoro waxes from anywhere

Benjamin TheyerlApril 30, 2022

The ski community has known there’s a problem for awhile now. Fluorinated waxes, whose extreme hydrophobic properties make them ideal for fast skis, also are by that same property impossible to break down in the environment, allowing them to permeate through the soil into water supplies. The compounds are also known carcinogens, and frequent exposure to these compounds, particularly when heating and inhaling the fumes of waxes in which they are contained, is linked to a myriad of cancers.

That vice has outweighed their virtue, and now, perfluorinated waxes are inching ever so slightly toward taboo in the ski world. That story has been one which FasterSkier has tracked for years, but up until now, there have been insufficient resources on the safe disposal of these waxes, as well as a lack of available options to facilitate skiers safely getting rid of what they have accumulated in their boxes.

MountainFLOW Eco Wax launches a fluoro takeback program May 1 – 31, 2022, allowing skiers to mail in their stash of harmful fluoros for safe disposal. (Photo: MountainFLOW.com)

That’s when Peter Arlein, the CEO and founder of MountainFLOW Eco Wax, had an idea. “When the FIS started talking about prohibiting fluoros two or three years ago, I visited ski shops and realized they were using the stock of fluoros they couldn’t sell on their rental fleets. I thought that was missing the point – we need something that’s going to take fluoros out of the snow, not just the market. We’re a plant-based wax company, maybe there’s a program we could design where we could take back that fluoro wax from them, and replace it.”

For Arlein, whose company was in the process of pioneering high performance biodegradable alternatives to fluoros, the idea was one that he knew was necessary for the ski world, but also one they wouldn’t have the capacity to institute without willing partners.

Then in 2021, a representative from the state of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office reached out wondering if he would have any ideas for that year’s Wright Collegiate Challenge. The Wright pairs undergraduate and graduate business students across Colorado with partnering outdoor recreation companies to help pioneer new initiatives and niches. Arlein’s idea of a takeback fluoro program seemed tailor-made. “The students at Western [Colorado University] and [Colorado] Mesa came around and not only did they have the bandwidth to get [this] off the ground, but also to bring their ideas as skiers and students too.”

MountainFLOW Eco Wax has created a biodegradable plant-based line of race waxes, allowing skiers to have fast race skis without the harmful environmental impacts of petroleum based products. (Photo: mountainFLOW)

The result, a full-fledged MountainFLOW, is set to launch its first wave of a fluoro take back program May 1st – 31st.

The overall mechanism of the program is fairly simple: skiers donate their wax, and in return get a discount from MountainFLOW on their waxes.

Skiers have the option to donate wax either by mail, sending the wax directly to MountainFLOW’s headquarters in Carbondale, CO, or by dropping off their wax at three retail partners in Colorado; Evo (Denver), Salida Mountain Sports (Salida), or Powder7 (Golden).

MountainFLOW and the team of Wright students will take it from there. The process on the disposal part is, like all things on fluoros, still evolving. Leyla Ericson, an Outdoor Recreation MBA at Western Colorado said in a call with FasterSkier that “there’s only provisional guidance from the EPA right now on PFAs (the environmentally harmful class of chemicals that fluorocarbons belong to) disposal. From our understanding, they’re hoping to finalize those guidelines by summer of 2023, and so if we launch now we can hopefully scale and build a program that’s fully able to quickly process wax when there is a firm procedure for getting rid of these [waxes].”

MountainFLOW’s launch of their take-back program now also coincides with the end of the last ski season where fluoros could be used in races in the US. With the US Ski and Snowboard instituting a ban after the Olympic qualifiers back in January, programs that were hanging on to their fluoro boxes for when the SuperTour came to town now have an opportune window to look for what’s next in the waxing world. That’s a reality that Arlein says will only continue to encompass more and more organizations, especially, as he says “when the FIS inevitably will put a full ban into place.”

Kevin Bolger races a freestyle sprint qualifier in late February, 2022. (Photo: NordicFocus)

With the timing factor for both ski-world and government policy coming together, Ericson said that the Wright challenge students wanted to take the step that many in the wax industry were tip-toeing around with fluoros:

“We got to a point where we said, well someone has to launch this type of program. The idea has been around for a while, but either because people don’t understand the pressing need or because it wasn’t readily available, there’s been no movement on actually making it happen.”

And while the program’s on-the-ground footprint will initially be limited to Colorado, the MountainFLOW team is hopeful it can rapidly expand the buy-back program, with Arlein saying “people all over can mail in right now, and then we’re for sure looking to open up disposal sites with more partners…A good example is this year we were at the Birkie expo (read our story on MoutainFlow’s trip to the Birkie here) and talking to their sustainability people, and they were like, you should come next year and have this be a site. It was pretty remarkable too, we were at the expo and the number one question we got from people was ‘How do I get rid of my fluoro waxes?’”

With enough investment and the right partners, Arlein is hopeful that “we can get all of the fluorinated waxes off retail shelves, and hopefully, off nearly all wax benches too.”

It’s a goal that requires creativity, cross-industry collaboration, and above all, action. With that coming in equal parts from MountainFLOW and the Wright students, the tip-toeing around the fluoro issue is being stamped over by decisive steps towards action.

Action that you, me, clubs and teams can all participate in – starting here.

Note: Skiers wishing to mail in wax to MountainFLOW can send their waxes to 201 Main St., Suite 303, Carbondale, CO 81623. You can also donate to support the MountainFLOW program as it grows and expands here.

Benjamin Theyerl

Ben Theyerl was born into a family now three-generations into nordic ski racing in the US. He grew up skiing for Chippewa Valley Nordic in his native Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before spending four years racing for Colby College in Maine. He currently mixes writing, politics, and skiing (not necessarily all related) while based out of Crested Butte, CO, where he coaches the best group of high schoolers one could hope to find.

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