“It just seemed like a product that should exist,” said Peter Arlein, inventor of the first plant-based ski wax in North America. The Carbondale-based skier got his gumption to leap blindly into industrial chemistry after 20 years in the ski industry and a vision to turn his passion into purpose: making skiing carbon-free.
Earlier this year, Arlein pitched CORE for a community grant to launch MountainFLOW eco-wax into the Roaring Fork Valley. It was music to our ears and—as a team of avid skiers—to our boards as well.
“For recreational skiers to be drilling oil to make ski wax and then introduce petroleum into the snowpack and then into the rivers, it just seemed like an obvious problem where there should be a solution,” said Arlein.
If you’re not familiar with ski wax, it’s “a material applied to the bottom of snow runners, including skis, snowboards, and toboggans, to improve their coefficient of friction performance under varying snow conditions,” according to MarketWatch.com. In other words, wax makes skiing faster and smoother. But what then?
After application, wax sheds off boards and onto the snowy surface, which melts and makes its way into the watershed. Arlein estimates that if the Roaring Fork Valley switched from petroleum to plants in their ski wax, we would avoid 65,625 pounds of petroleum-based wax from being deposited into our waterways per year. (Math fact check: estimated skier visits of 1.4M x .75 oz. of wax deposited per skier visit.)
Arlein built the company around the belief that “the need for speed should not come at a cost to the environment and human health.” Unlike traditional ski waxes, which are made from petroleum by-products, in some cases including carcinogenic perfluorocarbons, MountainFLOW is sourced from six different plant-based compounds. The MountainFLOW team arrived at the formula after many iterations, “testing and testing until everything came up right.”
So does a product that passes muster for carbon, health and safety stand up to skiers’ ultimate test: going fast? To find out, Arlein and company set up controlled performance tests known as “speed traps.” Over two days and 40+ trials, MountainFLOW performed within 1% of a conventional ski wax, which “statistically speaking was exactly the same,” according to Arlein.
For Paul Perley, General Manager of the Ute Mountaineer, which carries the wax, the most important benefit is to the planet. “Obviously there are some environmental issues with wax. Just look at SWIX [a Norwegian company and a giant in the ski wax industry]; they went through a whole EPA review last year to get their wax approved for import into the U.S.” Perley, who couldn’t speak to how fast the eco-wax performs, says MountainFLOW has a dedicated following among local skiers: “There are some people who are really passionate about the product.”
To help the company get off the ground, CORE provided a community grant of $4,860, which Arlein says was “really instrumental in running the first production run,” giving him “legs.”
With production in full steam at a New York lab, MountainFLOW is now accepting pre-orders from ski resorts and rental shops where “there’s a real opportunity to make an impact; they go through the most ski wax.” Arlein is hoping Aspen Skiing Company will go the way of Killington ski resort in pioneering sustainable ski wax practices with MountainFLOW. So far a half dozen local ski shops, including the Ute Mountaineer, Summit Canyon, Bristlecone, Ragged Mountain Sports and Cripple Creek, have signed on to sell the wax this season.
MountainFLOW has also launched a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign where supporters receive ski wax for their pledges. The fundraiser runs through October 3rd and they hope to make deliveries in November, “just in time for opening day!” which is just what you’d hope to hear from a ski bum turned entrepreneur.