Anchorage-area schools decided that it had gotten out of hand, so they called a truce.
“Anchorage region coaches agreed to not use fluorinated glide waxes during all non-championship races,” Anson Moxness, head coach at West Anchorage High School in Anchorage, Alaska, wrote in an email. “Because flouros are expensive and bad for your health. None of the schools really have adequate ventilation systems and many are doing waxing around the skiers.”
Such bans on fluorinated waxes are becoming increasingly common around the country. Moxness cited various divisions and regions around the country that had agreed to similar bans, including the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association (EISA).
Different coaches had different reasons for supporting the ban, but among coaches interviewed, support was unanimous:
“I am all for this for many reasons,” Cory Schwartz, head coach of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) nordic team, wrote in an email. “First is the health concerns around putting on powders — even though we all use masks and try to the best of our ability adhere to safety suggestions, none of the college teams have a ventilated wax truck. So we are using masks while ironing on and brushing but the powder gets all over the truck, our skis, and body.”
Evidence suggests that there are health risks associated with fluoro waxes. Fluorinated compounds are useful in waxes for their ability to repel water, making the skis faster. But they’re also much more expensive.
“We’re looking at an order of magnitude difference in per gram wax costs of CH and HF waxes,” Moxness wrote. “I don’t see a reason to be spending that much money on waxes for non-championship races.”
He added that the success of this rule depends on coaches’ compliance.
“If skiers choose to wax skis at home, which some of them do, we have no control over what they put on their skis. If we establish that it is cheating to use anything with fluorination and are consistent in our message, I think it will succeed,” Moxness wrote.
“Where this will fail is if the coaches aren’t fully behind the fluoro ban, which we all were at our preseason meeting. From what I’ve seen, my skiers realize what we’re doing and the reasons behind it and they respect the ban.”
“I think the success of the ban lies on the shoulders of the coaches and the parents,” South Anchorage High School Coach Sam Sterling wrote in an email. “If they advertise it as something that is good for the sport, I think it will succeed. If they give their athletes reason to doubt it … then, maybe it won’t. Hopefully, in a couple years the ban will just be a normal part of the AK high school ski scene and nobody will give it a second thought.”
Chugiak High School in nearby Eagle River is one of the schools involved in the truce. Head coach Cody Priest also supported the ban.
“Another reason it’s nice,” he wrote in an email, “is that I don’t have to ‘draw the line’ on my team on who gets what wax. With a competitive girls team I would want to use expensive wax on at least my first five, then maybe not the others. How do you explain that to the team?
“Plus on race day I wont be testing different top coats,” he continued. “I will be just ensuring that I have the correct hardness of base wax.”
The coaches contacted were also unanimous that the extra time spent testing skis with fluorinated wax was not time well spent.
“The main thing I see is that [the ban] allows the coaches to actually… coach,” Sterling explained. “The impact of the ban goes beyond the obvious benefits of decreasing exposure to fluoros and reducing overall expenses for high school programs. Each team ranges from junior national champions to foreign exchange students who have never seen snow until coming to Alaska. The more time coaches can spend working with these athletes, and not dealing with waxing, the better off the sport will be.
Sterling sees it as a simple misallocation of resources.
“There’s a lot of [coaching] experience and motivation in Alaska high school skiing,” he wrote. “It’d be great to see this resource going more to the development of the athletes, and less towards making a fast pair of skis. It’s a step in the right direction and it was great to see unanimous approval from the Region IV coaches in adopting the ban.”
Schwartz explained that in the East, there is some concern their region is falling behind others when it comes to testing wax in different snow conditions, “But I do not agree with that,” he wrote. “I actually am more excited to go to the race to see the race instead of being in a wax trailer all day.”
In addition to being better for individual families bottom lines, Sterling and Moxness explained it’s better for the sport as well.
“It also lowers barriers of entry into the sport,” Moxness wrote. “If a parent is interested in waxing their kid’s skis and they only have to invest maybe $50 in waxes to have skis that are competitive, instead of $300, they are much more likely to get and stay involved.”
“That means more growth of the sport and parents who may be more likely to invest that saved money in better quality equipment, which makes way more of a difference than wax.”