For six in the morning, the text message was dark and terrifying. “They are not selling ski crack any more. WTF they can’t be out.”
At the time of the message, Jarrod had no idea he had a substance abuse issue or how far it would take him down a path of desperation. He just wanted to ski faster. He continues recounting the morning he hit the bottom.
“With the realization, I might be out I was wide awake and sucking down a second cup of coffee. Not gonna lie, I was super anxious when I opened the dealer’s website. Clicking to the fluoro overlay page; my friend, Bill, was correct. Each fluoro product just said: THESE PRODUCTS TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE. Not just pure powder overlay but any wax containing fluoro compounds had the same banner: THESE PRODUCTS TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE. Looking around to see if anybody else had been reading my screen, I closed the laptop and hastened out to the shop. Unceremoniously I dumped my wax kit on the work-bench pawing through everything to check on my stash. Ut-oh. I was in trouble.”
Jarrod was beginning to see he had a problem. His wax kit was almost out of fluoro powder and a web search indicated “ski-crack” as he had joked about, was currently unavailable in the US and foreign distributors would not ship into this country.
A bit of research found the unavailability is due to wax companies having to comply with The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which regulates the import or development of new chemicals. Fluorinated compounds have been in use since the 1950s and it is only recently the wax companies have been under scrutiny by the EPA and subject to the petition and request to import or manufacture anything containing a fluorinated molecule.
A bit more research into fluorinated chemicals determined most of the EPA worries stem from a class of compounds falling under the C8 designation. These compounds are commonly used in the production of plastics used to insulate wire. Bennington Vermont had a very public court battle over an aquifer contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonic acid (PFOS). Both chemicals are known to bioaccumulate in wildlife and are suspected to be human carcinogens.
Whether the impounded ski waxes contain C8 compounds is unknown. In order to avoid potential jail time and large fines, many wax companies voluntarily quarantined the stock of waxes containing fluoros until obtaining EPA approval to import, manufacture and distribute the products. But this may have created a black market for fluoros:
Jarrod continues explaining his anxiety. “ When I pressed my wax dealer to sell me some fluff he said, ‘Hey, man, the feds are sniffing around. I gotta play it cool. Can’t do any deals online or over the phone. Sorry. No way. But if you’re in the area, dude, stop by the shop for a cup of coffee. Come alone.’ ”
When Jarrod first approached me with his dilemma it felt surreal. Ski wax is a micro market and fluoro waxes an even smaller slice of a niche market. The expense of covering all bases to comply with TSCA could be significant and delay access to Jarrod’s ski crack.
Describing how he fell into the almost daily use of fluoro powder Jarrod said at first it was just a fad used for fun.
“I had found at a price so reasonable powdering the bases was an everyday affair. My racing days are long behind me and having skis move across the snow enhanced by the miracle of better living through chemistry brought pure joy to every day on the trails.
“This season my habit resulted in using almost 200 grams of pure powder. My stash was down to 15g. With rationing I might make it through this season, but what if my dealer can’t get the dust for next year? To satisfy this dependency another source needed to be found – the sooner the quicker.” Jarrod’s voice began to tremble.
“The snow was perfect. A few days old with a bit of freeze thaw cycles and impeccable grooming. The skiing would be fast if tar was applied to the bases. But with a touch of crack, orgasmic. I was starting to feel the jitters, that need pulling at my gut, my bases dragging across the snow. The fear of running out.”
Jarrod skied that day using HF wax with a bit of structure rolled in for good measure. The skiing was fast but it might have been better. While sipping a beer he began hatching a plan to keep his supply of powder and maybe a way to make a little cash too.
Scenes of young kids in hoodies hanging trailside at busy intersections, furtive glances, a brief exchange of words, a $20 bill handed over, the kid giving instructions like a ski-o map to the pickup intersection, where, with relief and craven fulfillment the small ziplock bag of sanctified white powder, the powder of the Nordic gods, is placed into my gloved hand, quickly stowed in pocket, zipped securely and I ski off knowing I’ll make it through another week of ski waxing.
The fantasy began to become a reality after receiving a spam text from Expedia advertising cheap airfare. “I considered the lucrative black market potential here. Fly round trip JFK to Oslo (Norwegian Air has convenient, affordable, direct flights and allows two huge checked bags in the Premium Cabin), fill my duffle bags with pure unadulterated dust and set up shop trailside with a few warmly dressed outdoorsy juvenile delinquents as runners. With a little mob-style enforcement I was confident that I could secure exclusive dealer intersection concessions at the largest nordic centers in Vermont. True, I might have to break a few skis or loosen some grips to gain the respect this trade would demand, but I’d be swimming in cash and the demand for product would only grow.”
In fact, the growth of demand was going to be problematic. Affordable fluoros create quick dependencies. With the EPA banning all fluoros, skiers who have even once felt the bliss of powdered skis might succumb to temptation and be unable to help themselves.
Now looking relaxed and contemplative Jarrod finished explaining his plan. “I needed to think bigger. Not regional but national in scale. I would need to franchise and manage dealer thugs from Fort Kent, ME to Snoqualmie, WA. I would need a whole crew of travelers going back and forth to Europe with huge duffle bags stuffed with ski fluff – the stuff likely poofing out in huge white clouds as the bags get tossed around. I would need a trucking network. Or perhaps I could piggy back my supply and distribution chains onto an established elicit network….. Perhaps using Russian diplomats in black stretch limos on route to Trump Resorts. Nobody would mess with those guys and they probably had connections to the Chinese who routinely scoff at US environmental laws. Hell, they’d make fluoro powder cheap and maybe for free if it meant they could flip a political finger at the US.”
“Perhaps” Jarrod paused, “distribution could be piggy backed onto the untold legions of drug dealers and ruthless criminals we’re told are hiking for miles through tortuous desert terrain to enter the US illegally at the virtually unguarded southern border?”
Looking at his hands before wiping his face he jumped up off the Windsor chair, took a deep breath and continued.
“NO.” He began thinking about his mom and how she believed her ability to raise a child could only be considered a success if the kids were not a burden on society or in jail by the time they turned 30 years old. Jarrod was 29. His introspection continued. Here he verbalizes his thoughts.
“There must be a better way to source ski crack – legally – above reproach. More research indicated the industry using the majority of fluoro compounds was the printing and food industries. Floriated compounds along with titanium dioxide are added to inks to harden and brighten the color. The fluoros are added to keep the ink from sticking to other boxes and also from sticking to the shelves. A conversation with my powder supplier revealed the C6 class of Fluoros used in ink is the same used on non-stick cookware and just might be the same compounds used in ski wax. Fluoros are added to ink at a concentration of 100 parts per million (PPM) or one gram per ten kilograms of ink.”
With less dark thoughts Jarrod recalled some of what he learned in law school which he graduated from but never did anything with his degree but pay for it. A review of RCRA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is explicit mentioning Pulping liquors, the solution used to disperse and suspend wood fibers for the paper making process, that are reclaimed as defined in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 261.1(c), are exempt. A subset of 261.1(c), 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(6) gave him a loophole to extract the C6 fluoros from the ink and apply it to skis. The only TSCA requirement was filling out a one-page form informing EPA of the exemptions.
The extraction process is relatively simple although it requires a huge volume of ink covered material. The highest concentrations of fluoro is added to inks used in grocery products. The food producers discovered a long time ago the integrity of the packaging matters to consumers. A deformed or blemished box reminds them of second hand or discount food and is significantly less appealing therefore they buy less of the product. Brand loyalty is also reduced when consumers continue to see blemished boxes on shelves. Boxed food is subject to a wide range of humidity during the manufacture, storage, distribution and display. This moisture causes the boxes to stick together and to shelving hence the value of the added fluoro compounds. More fluoro equals less sticking equals greater sales, market share and profits.
Finding the products and brands with the highest concentration of fluoro was difficult due to the trade secret protections of the Patent and Trade Office of the US Government. Many corporations do not file for patents on their products because the patenting process demands full disclosure of materials and methods in order to obtain patent protection. Anything declared a trade secret does not carry any exclusive rights to manufacture but unlike the patent process, a trade secret does not have to disclose anything about the product. The trade secret laws, CFR 4.01.2019(a)(f), are how big oil remains exempt from disclosing what is contained in the fluids used during the fracking process.
With a newfound and responsible way to obtain his desired ski crack, Jarrod became animated describing the next step in his journey.
“If I was going into business, I intended to do it right. Research-based information would be the foundation upon which I would build this financial empire. And that starts with testing.”
After a disastrous grocery store aisle experiment designed to ascertain which cereal boxes have the most fluoros, wherein shelves were tipped to (and, sadly, far beyond) the exact angle of boxed product repose and slippage was measured, a better idea presented itself – as is so often the case with such complicated testing procedures. “We made a spring clip to grasp the box by the corners and attached the clip to a scale. By pulling on the scale and tracking the measurements we were able to see which products and brands had the least amount of stiction. Turns out the boxes with the lowest shelf friction contained the highest levels of fluoros. The best part is the test is easily administered right in the store which gave access to a wide variety of products.
“As a generalization, packaging without liners like pasta are significantly slipperier than packages with an internal plastic liner like cereals and cookies. We found that the spring tension when testing unlined boxed product needed to be significantly lower than for lined boxes – like breakfast cereals – because the test apparatus flung three-pound boxes of spaghetti down the aisle 20 or 30 feet smashing into displays of K-Cups and Yodels, scattering the dry noodles all over the aisle. We surmise the hydrophilic nature of the pasta is countered by the higher levels of fluoros in the ink. If the product requires a liner there is less incentive to use HF inks, which like ski waxes, are more expensive. For our purposes, the cereal and cracker boxes are less appealing.”
Acquiring and processing the large volume of pasta boxes was going to take a large capital investment. More research into environmental regulation turned up. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 22, 1996 has a provision to grant $1.1M for startup entrepreneurs who build a business around recycling. The current Administration’s trade tariffs with China has this far east nation once hungry for US recycled paper products finding the raw materials from South America. There is a glut of recycled paper with much of it ending up in landfills as there is a very limited domestic market for this paper. After finding a sympathetic clerk in the Commerce Department whose job it is to find uses for this glut, the paperwork was pushed through and financing was secured.
“Once we had a process and financing it was as simple as asking the local recycling companies for as much recycled boxboard they had. There is a glut of recycled materials and all suppliers were ecstatic to have a place to offload some of the stockpile. They are even willing to sort the product removing as much of the desired pasta boxes in order to receive the best price for the materials. They even deliver the materials for free just to get rid of it. It’s a win-win all around.”
The material science and chemistry involved in extracting the finished fluoros from recycled pasta box ink is proprietary. Soon enough boxboard was being processed and the operation moved from the basement into a 20’ by 30’ shop. Employees were hired and the business was legitimized.
“The quality of the fluorocarbons recovered exceeds our wildest hopes,” says the plant manager and general ski bum who asked us to refer to him only as Jeff K. “By tweaking the extraction with a Birch Extraction we are able to link hydrocarbon molecules from the inks with the fluoros we were after. There were two benefits to this. By selecting for the right colors consistent with the familiar waxing chart we have modified fluoros that are temperature specific and color coded. We also found that when our unique mixes are applied to ski bases they bond structurally to the pores of the ski base – somewhat like the crisp shiny smooth surface on the outside of a pasta box compared to the un-printed inside of the box board – creating an incredibly durable and long lasting fluoro treatment high. In testing we found no deterioration of the glide even after 100km of the gnarliest, most crusted, corn snow you can ski.”
Jarrod, the ski crack addict turned environmental entrepreneur named the company Box Butter. This wholly US based company has removed 30 million tons of box board from the recycling stream heading to China. All production energy is solar sourced and they are a Green Initiative Certified Zero Emission Company. A side product still in development to repurpose much of the fiber will hit the market shortly: Cracklin’ Cubes fire starters, light easily – even when wet – and burn for 10-12 minutes. “Another totally addictive, environmentally friendly,100% recycled product from the company that brought you environmentally friendly skier’s crack fluoro overlays,” says John Rollings, a competitive biathlete and an early investor. “These guys brought the fun back into skiing after the feds tried to shut down virgin fluoros. And when you’re comin’ down, ready to peel off the boards and sit by a roaring fire, they make it easy to spark up!”
Jarrod sums up his 11 month journey from crack addict to wealthy businessman. “Sure I still use powders, every time I ski. After setting aside a 55-gallon barrel of the stuff for my own use I can relax. Even if the feds ban the stuff there is enough for me and my ski buddies to last a lifetime and if I run out there is really no point in living through another winter without the powdered white stuff to enjoy.”
For a limited time Box Butter is offering free samples of Skier’s Crack Reclaimed Fluoro Overlays through their website https://boxbutterbuzz.bz.