The ski industry, despite the pristine mountain settings, is not what you’d call environmentally friendly. From the fleece cap on the top of your head to the plastic toes of your boots; from your polypropylene inner layer to your water resistant outer shell, everything is synthetically produced. The thin wood core inside your skis or snowboard could be the only natural material you bring to the hill on any given day, and even its been treated and glued with chemicals.
One Vancouver company is hoping to replace at least one of the synthetic materials in your ski equipment with an environmentally-friendly substitute – biodegradable, non-toxic ski wax.
Tyler Bradley set out about three years ago to develop a wax that wasn’t based on fossil fuels – "an alternative fuel for skis and snowboards," he explains – and in the course of studying alternatives he learned a lot more about the other ingredients that comprise ski wax.
"What we wanted to do was take the paraffin out, because paraffin comes from fossil fuels, and that’s when I started to learn about the whole perafluorocarbon thing. It’s really just a Pandora’s Box from there when you see how nasty this stuff is and how little the public knows about it," said Bradley.
Recent revelations suggest that a wide variety of chemical compounds like fluoroploymers, PFOA, C8, flurorotelomers and other related chemicals are much worse than previously thought. Not only have some of the chemicals been linked to cancer, birth defects, and organ damage, they are extremely persistent in the environment and won’t break down for thousands of years. When they get into the water system, they can have a major impact on aquatic life as they progress through the food chain.
Although he’s not a scientist by training, Bradley has spent the last few years gathering research on chemicals used in ski wax. Most of the worst data has only been released within the past year as the public and governments have placed more pressure on chemical companies to release their data.
At the same time, Bradley hired scientists at UBC, SFU and the private sector to develop an environmentally friendly alternative for skiers and snowboarders. HillBilly Wax products should be on shelves by next winter.
Rather than push his company, however, Bradley would like to see public awareness of the issue grow and for other wax companies to stop manufacturing waxes that contain chemicals like PFCs.
The ski wax industry is unique in that some brands actually promote the high content of certain harmful chemicals, because that’s what consumers are looking for.
"We don’t want to come out and throw mud at ski wax manufacturers… but the fact is ski wax companies and the ski industry have been unwittingly co-opted into polluting mountain areas and watersheds for about the past 20 years," said Bradley. "The reason is that things aren’t regulated in the chemical industry, and chemical companies… weren’t regulated to release their medical records and test data. Up until recently everybody assumed this stuff was safe.