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Ditch your petroleum-based ski and snowboard wax already: “eco-waxes” are here to stay

The International Ski Federation and U.S. Ski & Snowboard have gone plant-based, and so should you (or at least your skis).

Like peanut butter and jelly and sandwich bread, waxes have been paired with skis and snowboards for ages, fully optimizing the user (er, snack-consumer) experience. Throw on a fresh coat of wax, and you’ll feel your downhill speed increase out on the slopes; this works because the wax reduces the friction between the surface of your skis and the snow, and additionally prevents snow, ice crystals, dirt, and moisture from sticking to the bottom of your skis or board.

The thing is, for decades, ski and snowboard waxes have been made from petroleum and contain long-chain fluorocarbons. Sometimes referred to as PFCs, which are great at creating a waterproof finish on the surface to which it’s applied (like a ski or snowboard)—but, unfortunately, they present many concerns for both the health of ecosystems and our human biology.

Over the last decade, several scientific studies have confirmed negative environmental and health impacts from the application and use of long-chain fluorocarbon compounds found in traditional petroleum-based ski waxes—the major concern is that the molecules don’t degrade, thereby introducing cancer-causing and pregnancy-threatening pollutants that may be practically impossible to now remove from our ecosystems (and food chain). According to the national governing body for Olympic skiing and snowboarding, U.S. Ski & Snowboard, many of these fluorocarbon compounds are now listed in the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act.

Spencer Hennigan, national sales director for the environmentally friendly (plant- instead of petroleum-based) wax company mountainFLOW, explains that as you go down the slope, the wax applied to your ski or snowboard’s base is being scraped off and deposited into the snow pack. “So, as that goes into the snowpack, the snowpack melts and becomes our watershed, and then it moves up the food chain. It's not only affecting environmental health in breaking down ecosystems, but it's also hurting our own personal health as well,” he says. “Long-chain fluorocarbons are ‘forever chemicals,’ and they're also bioaccumulative, so they collect over time. They're not going to go away.”

But in recent years, education about the negative environmental and biological impacts of traditional waxes have motivated the ski and snowboard industry to begin a movement away from such petroleum-based waxes and towards plant-based alternatives. “It's slow moving, but it's moving in the right direction,” Hennigan says.

Is performance compromised with plant-based waxes? 

In short, no. In 2020, mountainFLOW’s plant-based Eco-Wax won an “Innovation Award” at that year’s winter Outdoor Retailer, and Outside Magazine bestowed upon the company its coveted “Gear of the Show Award.”

As Outside reported at the time, mountainFLOW “is the first company to make a wax that is entirely plant based and thus free of petroleum hydrocarbons. The brand’s Eco-Wax, which comes in four temperatures (warm, all-temperature, cool, and cold) melts on just like your run-of-the-mill hot wax. … The concept is revolutionary.”

While the plant-based technology is patented and details are unable to be disclosed, Hennigan explains the company’s research and development team spent years (with more than 200 product iterations) nailing down a plant-based wax that mimics the hydrophobic (water-repellent) properties of petroleum products.

“We always think that it's about going fast, and fast is definitely one part of [measuring wax performance]. But there's also durability and consistency, [which] I think are the underrated aspects of wax,” Hennigan says. “When you're skiing, you want a nice clean glide all the way through compared to, like, screeching on the brakes or your skis running at two different speeds.” As such, mountainFLOW has focused on these two aspects in their development to provide consistent and reliable performance on the slopes.

For the competitive racing scene, the company has also created a specialized non-fluorinated line of race ski wax. Hennigan explains: “It's a completely different formula [and] uses a ceramic nano powder that we license from the Department of Defense.” It’s currently being used on the World Cup circuit by Alexander Kilde, a Norwegian world-cup skier who won the overall world cup in 2020, and who has podiumed multiple times this season using mountainFLOW’s wax.

The movement is moving mainstream, not just in the U.S. but internationally. 

In 2020, U.S. Ski & Snowboard joined the International Ski Federation and the Canadian Ski Association in banning the use of fluorinated ski wax in competition from all ski/snowboard disciplines in North America. “In order to preserve the health and safety of our environment and our community, U.S. Ski & Snowboard (all sport disciplines) will move forward with banning the use of wax products containing fluorocarbons,” the organization said in a press release. Though the pandemic has delayed the new policy’s roll-out, they are planning to implement the scientifically informed regulations soon.

The organization came to the decision after creating a “The Fluorocarbon Free Policy Working Group,” which met on a regular basis to develop new policies and rules leading to a complete ban of fluorinated wax products at all levels of sanctioned competition. Per the U.S. Ski & Snowboard website, the Working Group is committed to asking manufacturers to work toward more free-of-fluorocarbon products; working with FIS to coordinate the testing process; and establishing rules, deterrents, and appeals processes.

As fluorocarbon-free competition begins, U.S. Ski & Snowboard plans to test skis and boards for the presence of fluorocarbons at certain events. The organization says tests, which will be randomized, will be conducted primarily in the start pen.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard also recommends the following brands for non-fluorinated wax products: Boulder Nordic, Dominator, Holmenkol, Purl, Start Wax, Sun Valley Ski Tools, SWIX, Toko, Tools4Boards, and Wend.

Tips for cleaning off previously-used fluorinated substances to reduce future contamination and prep your equipment for non-fluorinated waxes: 

Skis and snowboards: 

  1. Remove as much of the fluorinated wax with a scraper as possible.

  2. Clean the bottom of your skis with a non-fluorinated base cleaner, such as Swix’s Base Cleaner with an included scrub brush. Rub the base surface (use a fluorinated-free cleaning brush or towel if not using the included scrub brush) and then let your skis dry.

  3. Perform a “hot fluorocarbon-free wax cleaning” 10 times on each ski and board: iron on hot wax, scrape while warm, then brush.


  1. Scrape off excessive wax.

  2. Warm the iron and clean liquid wax residuals with a cloth.

  3. Melt non-fluorinated wax and clean with a cloth.


  1. Scrape off wax residuals.

  2. Clean with base cleaner, then wash with water and soap.

  3. Rinse thoroughly.

Brushes: (pro tip: as brushes may be the most difficult equipment to clean thoroughly, one should consider replacing used brushes with new ones.)

  1. Vacuum clean the wax dust from the brush.

  2. Use the brush extensively while cleaning skis with hot wax and vacuum clean between every application.

  3. Dip the bristles in a base cleaner and brush over an edge to further clean the brush.

  4. Let dry and vacuum clean.

  5. As a final cleaning step, one may consider washing the brushes in a dishwasher in a high temperature programme.

Files and file guides:

  1. Brush the equipment with a soft file brush.

  2. Vacuum clean.

  3. Dip into a base cleaner, wipe off and vacuum clean.

Ski Bags: 

  1. Vacuum any dust.

  2. Wipe clean with cloth and base cleaner.

  3. Wash with water and soap, rinse thoroughly.

To secure a healthy working environment, whatever room you wax your skis and boards in should be thoroughly cleaned—remove as much dust as possible.

Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit


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