Ski Wax History

Here is a little glimpse of the history of ski wax as told on www.wikipedia.org. Click here to learn more about ski wax on wikipedia.

"Johannes Scheffer in Argentoratensis Lapponić (History of Lapland) in 1673 probably gave the first recorded instruction for ski wax application[1] He advised skiers to use pine tar pitch and rosin.

Beginning around 1854, California gold rush miners held organized downhill ski races.  They also discovered that bases smeared with dopes brewed from vegetable and/or animal compound helped increase skiing speeds. This led to some of the first commercial ski wax (even though they contained no wax at all), such as Black Dope and Sierra Lighting; both are mainly composed of sperm oil, vegetable oil and pine pitch. However, some instead used paraffin candle wax that melted onto ski bases, and these worked better under colder conditions.

A significant advance for cross country racing was the introduction of klister, for good kick in warm snow; klister was invented and patented in 1913 by Peter Ostbye.

Ski waxing has developed into a very complex pseudoscience, its advancement motivated by ski racing. Many companies are dedicated to ski wax production and have developed full lines of wax to cover every condition for the maximum performance. The most recent great advancement in ski wax has been the use of surfactants and fluorocarbons to increase water and dirt repellency and therefore increase glide.

Surfactants were introduced in 1974 by Hertel Wax. Fluorocarbons were introduced beginning in 1986, as the result of parallel research conducted in California and Norway.

Terry Hertel is a recreational skier from the San Francisco area. He had made money during the Silicon Valley computer boom and in 1972 introduced the original ski Hot Wax applicator drum for home use. To go with it he invented a line of high-melting-point paraffin waxes branded as Hot Sauce. As a Lake Tahoe skier, Hertel was fascinated with the problem of glide at all temperatures of snow. In 1974 he formulated a surfactant to his paraffin wax to produce a all temperature wax he trademarked HotSauce. A surfactant is a wetting agent, the exact opposite of a hydrophobic agent. Surfactants are closely related to detergents: they shouldn’t normally work as hydrophobes. But the stuff Hertel used, sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), is an odd columnar molecule with a hydrophobic end. Suspended in wax, the molecules clump into spheres with their hydrophobic ends out, making a kind of water-repellent ball bearing.[2] Hertel said his surfactant ingredient was "microencapsulated", referring to a common technique using SDS and related surfactants in pharmaceutical preparation.[3] Super HotSauce earned an insiders’ reputation for great glide in heavy snow. Town racers liked it. HotSauce gives the skier and snowboarder additional control.

A couple of years later, Hertel started research for a "Spring Solution", something that would work in very wet snow but repel the pine pollen, diesel exhaust particles and other dirt that darkened the ski slope snow in April and May. He tried polypropylene glycol, a food-grade antifreeze used to keep ice cream from melting, and it worked. But he also talked to Rob Hunter, a chemist at 3M, who mentioned that the company sold a liquid fluorocarbon to the cosmetics and paint industries: it dried to a smooth, glossy surface. Hunter thought the liquid fluorocarbon would work well in a ski wax at colder temperatures, but warned that at $1000 per pound, it was far too expensive.

Hertel wound up buying the 3M perfluorocarbon liquid in five-gallon drums, formulated it into a high-strength candle wax called Paraflint, and in 1986 introduced a hard block wax he called Racing Fluorocarbon 739. It was very hydrophobic, and very fast. (Perfluoro means that all the lateral links in the polymer chain, not just some of them, are capped with fluorine atoms.) Hertel invented White Gold a high performance racing wax by formulating perfluoropolyether diol with the SDS formula.

Meanwhile, at Swix, chief chemist Leif Torgersen was also looking for something to repel dirt. A hard glide wax was essential to last throughout a 50 km race or a ski marathon, but the softer kick wax picked up pine pollen and other dirt, slowing the ski progressively through the course of the race. So he sought a form of fluorocarbon that could be ironed into the base. In Italy, he found it: Enrico Traverso at Enichem SpA, a state-owned industrial giant, had a fluorcarbon powder with a melting temperature just a few degrees below that that of sintered polyethylene. That meant that if you were careful, you could iron it without destroying the ski base. Enichem had no other commercial customers for the material, but were willing to produce small, expensive lots for use in ski waxes.

Swix began experimenting with the stuff on race courses and found that it improved glide by about 2 percent over the best non-fluorocarbon waxes. In 1990 the company introduced a commercial version called Cera F (cera is Italian for wax). The price: $100 for 30 grams. The parents of young racers screamed in agony: apparently you couldn’t win without it. Fortunately, a little went a long way. Speed skier C.J. Mueller remembers waxing his skis with the scrapings from another competitor’s skis.

Belatedly, it occurred to the various parties in this technology race to patent their products. On March 2, 1990, Enichem applied for an Italian patent on a "ski lubricant comprising paraffinic wax and hydrocarbon compounds containing a perfluorocarbon segment".[4] The same day, Hertel filed for a U.S. patent on a "ski wax for use with sintered-base snow skis",[5] containing paraffin, a hardener wax, roughly 1% per-fluoroether diol, and 2% SDS surfactant". Enichem received a U.S. patent a year later.

These are the two earliest patents for fluorocarbon ski waxes. Later patents have been granted to Dupont and to a New York chemist named Athanasios Karydas.

Hertel claims his Racing Fluorocarbon 739 product quickly found its way into the waxing kits of World Cup technicians and has been used in a number of medal-winning performances. However, he’s never been a member of any alpine supplier pool (minimum annual buy-in costs $50,000). Hertel has provided specialized waxes for freestyle aerials, because in corn-snow conditions are rough at the entry to a kicker and can hold a large volume of water. Swix, Toko, Holmenkol, Briko, Maplus and Dominator, the large European wax companies who comprise the supplier pools for ski wax, don’t talk about the advanced technology they may be using on World Cup skis."