We see them whizzing on the slopes of the Beijing Winter Olympics, competing in straights on very narrow skis and zigzagging in pairs in snowboard cross (a discipline in which the Italian Omar Visintin won the bronze medal ): but have you ever wondered how the professionals do it? of skis and snowboards to overcome the friction with the snow and slide fast on the slopes? The merit is, at least in part, of a waxy substance, called wax , which is applied to the insoles (the “back” of the board and skis) and serves not only to make them smoother on the snowy layer (or to have more grip, or grip , in cross-country skiing), but also to protect them from damage.
WHAT IS WAX MADE OF? The first rudimentary example of wax documented in literature dates back to the seventeenth century : Johannes Scheffer (1621-1679) talks about it in his Lapland , where he narrates that the Sami applied pine resin on their skis to overcome the friction of the wood on the snow and slip better. Since then, wax has evolved, and today we find it mainly in two forms: the one based on hydrocarbons (ie carbon and hydrogen chains), the most widespread and economical, is used above all by amateur skiers; that based on fluorocarbons(carbon and fluorine chains), widespread since the Eighties, is instead more performing because it is more water-repellent, and for this reason it is used above all by professional athletes. «The price difference is considerable», Simone Carli, production manager of the Rode wax company explains : «For the same quantity, if a hydrocarbon wax costs five euros, a fluorocarbon wax costs a hundred».
PFOA AND HEALTH RISKS. But the difference is not only in the price: the fluorocarbons used until a few years ago for the production of waxes contained a substance called PFOA (perfluorooctane acid, one of the PFAS, or perfluoro alkyl substances, more widespread), which is harmful to both environment and for the health of those who inhaled the fumes that were dispersed during the application of the waxy substance.
For this reason, on 4 July 2020, the EU banned the sale of products containing PFOA in quantities greater than 25 parts per billion (0.025 mg per kg): a decision that aims to make this toxic substance disappear from the market, and which has been followed. also by the FIS (International Ski Federation), which has banned the use of waxes containing PFOA in sports competitions organized by it starting from the 2021/2022 season. Today, fluorocarbon waxes sold in Europe are free of PFOA or contain them in infinitesimal quantities.
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life’s biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.