The wax applied to the bottom of skis helps them glide smoothly across the snow, but it also has a heavy environmental footprint. The wax contains perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, or ‘fluoro’ in the ski world, which are harmful to ecosystems and human health.
The chemicals can easily contaminate water sources and are known as “forever chemicals” as they persist stubbornly in the environment for long periods of time. Given that skis are in constant contact with our natural world through snow, this is a big problem. Now, the ski industry is taking a stand against these harmful toxins.
The International Ski Federation plans to ban fluorinated waxes by the 2020-21 season and the Norwegian Ski Association banned it in 2018 for all skiers under age 16. Nordic Canada also banned high and medium fluorinated waxes in most races this season.
Beyond prohibiting the use of these harmful chemicals, the industry is actively searching for alternatives. Swix, a wax producer, is working to develop fluoro-free formulas and the International Ski Federation is increasing screening procedures to prevent the illegal use of these waxes in banned races.
Many athletes have called attention to the equally, if not more, detrimental effects of other polluting snow sports such as snowmobiling, but if we can find a feasible solution to reduce harmful chemicals, why not try? A PFAS-free alternative would benefit the health of our winter ecosystems, athletes, and technicians, and researching feasible solutions is the first place to start.