Listen To This: Ski Wax Is Silently Polluting The Mountain

wax for mountain equipment is toxic
For more than 100 years skis have been waxed with topical, petroleum-based wax, which wears off quickly and is not environmentally friendly. Image: Purlwax

It’s the year 2019 and everybody knows that everything we do has a consequence, at some level, on Planet Earth. We have come a long way in developing awareness about this, we have messed up a couple of times in history, but we are finally starting to realize how important it is to take care of the places we live and visit.

Nobody likes to pollute and nobody likes somebody who is polluting.  Recycling has increased substantially and is the new standard practice, people don’t take straws in their drinks anymore, and plastic bags are starting to be banned in many places around the world. You wouldn’t throw an empty can to the ocean, and you wouldn’t litter the mountain when you go skiing, right?

A very recent study published in the American Chemical Society (ACS) determined that some chemical substances found in ski wax are effectively being transferred from ski bases into the environment. Such transfer follows a domino effect in which the substances end up in the food chain of worms and animals in the area. In other words, there might be a little bit of polluting when we go skiing.

pollution chain from products to living things and food
The biomagnification process. Chemicals are left in the snow, trespassed to the soil and into the organisms’ food web. Image: American Chemical Society

The term used to describe this phenomenon is bioaccumulation and biomagnification. It consists of the release of substances from products into the environment and the resultant uptake in biota and transport in food webs.

The study was carried on by scientists funded by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and investigated soil, earthworms, and Bank voles from two places: A skiing area, and a forest with no skiing activity. The two places are about 9 miles away from each other, in Trondheim, Norway.

The subjects of the investigation were the perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).

PFASs are a group of petroleum-based chemicals that include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctansulfonate (PFOS). Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in organisms – meaning they are nor biodegradable at all and they accumulate over time.

The research showed significantly higher PFAS levels in the skiing area compared to the reference area with no skiing activities. Bank voles were the most affected subject, presenting 5.7 times more total PFAS levels in their livers than those at the reference site. These organisms represent the base of the terrestrial food web, and PFASs originating from ski wax may result in higher exposure in organisms at the top of the food chain.

Ski tuning
Phantom Station Image: DPS

Considering the number of times (more than we would like to) skiers and snowboarders wax their equipment during the winter season, this study could be showing us a very complex situation and definitely something to worry about.

Fortunately, some people already thought about this and took a step forward doing research and creating new, nontoxic and ecofriendly solutions.

One of them is the ski brand DPS. Alongside engineers of the University of Utah, they have developed a permanent, one-time application, waxless base treatment that forever eliminates the need for waxing skis and snowboards over and over again. This treatment called PHANTOM uses a polymer technology that offers great glide performance that never wanes across all snow temperatures, and for the life of a ski or snowboard’s use.

PHANTOM’s technology doesn’t cause biological damage and doesn’t present any long-term environmental risks, according to DPS. One of the reasons is that it never wears off, so there is no substances left in the snow.

• Related: Wax on. Wax… Still on? Not Quite Wax, Phantom

alternative wax for ski and snowboard, ecological not toxic
All 4 varieties of MountainFlow, 100% plant-based wax. Image: MountainFlow

Another brand who is focusing on the environmental side of waxing equipment is mountainFlow, North America’s only fully plant-based ski wax. After testing hundreds of different formulas, they claim to have replicated the performance of a conventional (petroleum-based, toxic) ski wax.

“Other plant-based ski waxes have been made primarily with soy.  While we do use some soy wax in our product, it makes up a small percentage of our formula. Instead, we are using a combination of waxes that are faster and more durable”.

They are currently on Kickstarter, offering 4 different waxes for different temperatures. Their packaging is made from 100% recycled material and is completely biodegradable, which is pretty cool. If you want to check them out press here.

This is clearly an interesting and very relevant topic, and will surely play a part in the future of skiing, mountain sports and product consumption in general.