With a little help from SINTEF, the ski-wax manufacturer Swix has developed a wax that has proved to be a winner with professional skiers. The secret? Nanoparticles.
The world’s elite downhill and Super-G skiers win races by margins of no more than just a few hundredths of a second. A skier’s skill is critical in winning the race, but waxing also plays a vital role. As much as possible, wax needs to eliminate friction between snow and ski. With solid support from SINTEF, the wax manufacturer Swix has led in wax development for many years, particularly with fluorocarbon additives, which have helped make their waxes some of the fastest in the world.
A few years ago, Swix, like other ski-wax manufacturers, realised that they had gained every possible advantage from fluorocarbon additives, and the company started to look around for other possibilities. Leif Torgersen, head of Swix’s wax development programme, and a researcher with laboratory facilities at SINTEF, tested commercial blends available on the market. His work showed that that there were few gains to be made by using the commercially available additives.
Not everyone agreed. One of Torgersen’s colleagues, Christian Simon, a senior scientist at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry, felt that modifying the molecular balance of the chemicals might reduce surface tension at the wax/water interface enough to significantly reduce friction. Now, SINTEF scientists have done a bit of molecular carpentry, with the help of standard chemistry and synthesis techniques, and have come up with a new wax additive. The new wax has been tested by the scientists and by test skiers, with good results.
“The precise composition of what we add is a commercial secret, but carbon compounds such as fullerenes are of interest to us,” says Leif Torgersen.
“When are we going to see these super waxes in ski shops?”
“It is difficult to say anything definite about that, because we still have a lot of testing to do,” says Torgersen.
“We’re currently customising the additives in the SINTEF laboratories. Even though these products are aimed at toplevel competition skiers, which means they have a fairly limited market potential, we see the possibility of industrial production within two to five years.”