Toko has been working on waxing solutions that don’t involve fluorine for the past 13 years. However, when the FIS announced three years ago that they would be banning fluorinated wax use at the World Cup, it gave all of the wax manufacturers a sense of urgency and importance to the project.
Three factors TOKO considers
Toko’s Head Chemist, Stefan Jung, has acquired a variety of materials with properties at face value that could have merit for use in ski waxes. There are three main categories of substances that we have identified as helpful in making skis glide faster. In the Toko world, we call these substances triple X because of the three factors of the new materials that we have used to replace fluorine. The first is an antistatic or sheer lubricant that minimizes dry friction and is very resistant to dirt. The second are hardeners which improve durability and acceleration. Lastly, there are hydrophobic substances that are not just water-repellent but are generally very slippery. We have tried various substances for each of these categories for different conditions. So, these are the three factors.
We have been experimenting with many different substances to get the optimal result for each of these factors in different conditions. Some of these test waxes used different raw materials, and others had similar raw materials but very different proportions. Then there came a long process where the products were tested on snow in double-blind tests and feedback was given to Stefan, the chemist, who then made more samples in response to the feedback from the on-snow test. Of the hundreds of test waxes, this was the process for developing new fluorine-free hot waxes, liquid, paraffins and powders that would go over the hot waxes. Of course, this is an ongoing process.
Testing new chemistry
Stefan Jung comments on experiences testing new products: “I tried a new type of chemistry which probably never had been tested before in the field of skiing and gliding. Then I wanted to test it. So I made a solution out of that and tested it on my Telemark skis and I was really astonished because it was excellent. So I decided to give it to Otto, one of our World Cup techs, because he is experienced and immediately gives you an honest opinion. He said, ‘Yes, this is something that has potential.’ So he tested it at the World Cups and took it to the Oympics in China, under extremely cold conditions. This new test wax was supposed to work in really warm, humid conditions, but then he said, ‘I think this chemistry has tremendous potential because it’s working in a broader range.’”
Previously, the big issue with abandoning fluorine was that the other substances might work quite well in a particular condition but were not universally fast, so this was very promising. We also tested it in Holmenkollen in spring World Cups and super slushy wet conditions. It outperformed HelX by far, our previously best fluorinated topcoat in very wet conditions. So, this made us extreappy, but then, after Easter, we tested it in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in the same snow that we had in Norway, but then it was behind Helix.
Searching for understanding
We could not understand why it was one way in Norway and another in Switzerland. I had to find out. I have to test the combination’s raw materials and test it under all types of conditions so I understand how they are working and in which conditions they are working. We will do this for all materials and in all conditions. This allows us to be faster in the development and in understanding the new raw materials. This will be a long-term development, although we will have short-term benefits.”
The Toko brand philosophy is unique in the ski industry. We are not a marketing or sales-driven brand. Generally, when we introduce a new product, it means we’ve found something that performs better than what we used to have. Stefan comments on this philosophy: “I’m interested in making the best products on the market. The goal is to be innovative in making premium products. Since I have only worked in the ski industry for a year, I don’t have the benefit of history from the past. However, this fresh perspective, coupled with a Ph.D. in chemistry, allows me to think outside the box. I think this is really good because I can go in new directions. Of course, we dropped a little bit in performance in the start when we started having the first nonfluorinated race products, but we are improving.”
“It will be the same development step by step. We are becoming better. Ultimately, we will be faster than we were with fluorinated waxes. That is the goal. Yes, I’m trying new things and new crazy ideas. And at the moment, it’s quite exciting because sometimes they work really well.”
Ian Harvey has worked for Toko for over 22 years and considers Stefan the most critical person in the company. “He is the chemist and works for us at a time when there is an absolute revolution and everyone is utilizing and discovering new technologies.” Regarding the excitement and frustration of the urgency of the current developing technology, Stefan commented, “Chemistry development concerning ski wax is, let’s say, a disappointment. It’s something like 80% disappointment and 20% success. But the 20% is what you are working for, to have the highlight when standing next to the track.”
“Sometimes the people testing look at you, questioning what you have done. But sometimes they come to me with a big smile on their face and then you understand that there is something really good. Then you go step by step to see what you can do to bring better products with better performance to the market. So, this is what it is like, about 80% disappointment and 20% success, but the successes are very rewarding.”
Toko, part of Brav, has strong relationships with many excellent raw material suppliers with know-how. However, when asked how this might yield an advantage over the competition, Stefan said, “This is a difficult question because I’m cherry-picking what I need. I’m thinking of ideas and then checking on the internet to see where I can find the ingredients. Then I buy them, and I test them. So it’s not like the company is coming to us and saying here we have some super gliding materials and then I test them. It’s more like I find them from my ideas on the internet.”
The performance of our new High-Performance Hot Waxes delights us. We are looking to introduce new fluorine-free JetStream and HelX products. Thus far, we have developed some promising products, but they don’t perform vastly better than our current hot waxes and liquid paraffins in all conditions, just some conditions. Because of our principled philosophy, we will introduce these new JetStream and HelX products only when they represent a universal breakthrough in waxing technology and fluorine-free performance.
In the meantime, from the test waxes we tested worldwide, one wax seemed to perform the best in the US. We tested three families of powders: Soelden, Lillehammer, and Davos. Each of these families had different raw materials from the other. Within each family, we tested 15 different powders representing different proportions of raw materials.
After testing in New England, Alaska, the Midwest, and especially the Intermountain West, one powder generally outperformed the other waxes. Its best condition was everything from cold dry powder to cold transformed snow to new falling snow with air temperatures in the 20s. The name of this test wax is Soelden 15 Powder. We introduced it to some top domestic teams last winter with great success at the US Cross Country Nationals, SuperTour Races, and NCAA Championships. This year, starting in late November, we will make this test wax universally available on TokoUS.com for the ski racing public.
We are happy that the industry is going fluorine-free (The FIS will be there, too, as soon as they develop a scanner that works). Toko is confident in our ability to create clean, fast waxes and thinks that the ski community and the beautiful places where we ski deserve this. We are happy to continue to be at the forefront of developing new technologies to make the vision of racing on clean and super-fast waxes a reality.