Barron: Wax On, No Wax Off

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Utah has the greatest snow on Earth. The repetition of this phrase in my childhood and my own personal experience playing in the powder, has turned this tourism motto into one of my core beliefs. I learned how to ski to spend time with my dad, and I continue to ski to spend time outdoors. While I heard how my hobby is environmentally problematic — habitats are destroyed to make way for new black diamond runs — I realized I was unaware of the impact my skiing habits have on our state’s watershed and my own personal health.

Since the 1850s, ski wax has been an integral part of skiing and snowboarding, as it reduces the friction between the rider and the snow allowing for more speed. This need for speed is not just for the recreational thrill seekers. Instead, it is driven by ski racing, a sport in which winners and losers are separated by tenths of a second. Since the 1980s, perfluorocarbons and other chemicals have become common additives to ski wax as they increase performance and are operational in harsh winter conditions. Wax, which wears off during runs, contaminates the snow many ski states rely on for water, and when skiers and snowboarders reapply the coating, they expose themselves to toxins.

Historically, and especially since the 2002 Winter Olympics, winter tourism has brought billions of dollars into Utah and has become an important part of the growing economy. However, our environment and health are being put at risk by this industry as we all live downstream — or downhill — from a resort. Understanding the need to balance recreation with conservation, DPS Skis, a Utah based ski company, partnered with University of Utah professor Jeff Bates, to design a ski wax which would not impact the watershed. DPS Phantom is a permanent base coating for skis and snowboards which does not need to be reapplied for the entire lifespan of the board or skis. Utilizing patent-pending polymer technology, Phantom provides a glide which is comparable to traditional waxes while proving to not impact the environment or a user’s health.

I am surprised by how often we talk about taking care of our planet in terms of inconvenience. On a personal level it can be inconvenient to recycle or to take public transport, and on a national level we hear politicians complain about exploring renewable energy sources or reducing our current carbon emissions. However, eco-driven innovation like DPS Phantom improves the product overall, making it safer for users without sacrificing the function. This pioneering, environmentally friendly coating has the potential to upend the current wax industry which acknowledges that today’s snow base is tomorrow’s water.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

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