High-tech ski wax promises new record times

Zurich – Researchers from the Greater Zurich Area have developed an innovative ski wax that remains in place for twice as long as existing products. Able to enable a 1.5 per cent improvement in performance, it will be deployed during the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Conventional ski wax contains effective, highly fluorinated carbon compounds instead of paraffin wax to improve the gliding properties of skis.

However, there is a problem with these compounds: they rub off after only a short space of time.

“Conventional ski wax will not even stay in place for the duration of a race,” explained Konstantin Siegmann, project manager at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), in a statement.

The reason for this lack of durability is that ski surfaces are made of an extremely unreactive synthetic material, which hardly forms any chemical bonds.

Working with the company TOKO, ZHAW researchers have now developed a wax to solve this problem.

They first built a novel designer molecule. When a mercury vapour lamp is shone onto this synthetic molecule, the wax forms a tight bond with the ski surface and thus remains in place for longer.  

The molecule reacts with UV light by splitting nitrogen, leaving a highly reactive nitre, which bonds the wax to the unreactive plastic.    

Abrasion tests in the laboratory have shown that the new ski wax rubs off twice as slowly as conventional high-performance ski wax.

The wax has also been tested by ski specialists in the mountains. The time gain compared to conventional high-performance ski wax was between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds in 20-second downhill runs. This equates to an improvement in performance of up to 1.5 per cent.    

Soon, these successful test runs could be reflected in new best times at tournaments. The new wax will be deployed at the Winter Olympics in South Korea this February.   

Amateurs will have to wait a bit long longer for the wax, however. Applying it using mercury vapour lamps is currently too expensive.

“As soon as the wax can be applied more cheaply, it will be made available at grass-roots level,” promised Siegmann.

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