As the Winter Olympics came and went, phenomenal ski racers raced for the gold medal. With a strong mindset, long practices, and certain techniques refined, there is another key ingredient to the recipe of winning. The answer is wax. Wax is a polymer, a substance that has many subunits (monomers) combined together and help create these synthetic organic items. Some of these organic items can include candle wax or plastic. In the ski world, specifically, there are many types of wax that racers use. There is a wax that helps make the skis smooth so that racers are able to glide faster, there is a sticky wax that helps racers attach to the snow, and there are ones that make you go slightly faster. Wax is ubiquitous and can definitely be a key thing in order to win gold.
Wax is a substance that is comprised of hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons make up the polymer and contain long chains of carbons and hydrogen atoms. From this property, the wax can be applied to the bottom of the skis and can ultimately keep dirt and soot out of the way for racers. This can be a huge advantage for skiers as friction is lessened when the wax is applied. In an example of a skier going up a cliff, if the wax is applied, the friction that goes against the force of going up the hill decreases. For someone who does not have wax on their skis, it would be difficult to go up the hill. Consequently, they would fall if not enough force can overcome the friction.
However, the hydrocarbon properties of wax are just the basic layout. Skiers can opt to add fluorocarbons, which as the name implies, adds fluorine atoms to the hydrocarbon chain. These atoms that make up the wax can also greatly increase the speed and are often used to make water-resistant gear. Thus, wax in the ski world can be manipulated in ways just right for the ski rider. For Kikkan Randall, a 2018 U.S. Winter Olympian, she has “many skis that are applied with different types of wax combinations.” This is a strategic benefit for her as she can use the ski just right for the type of environment.
However, Kikkan Randall is not the only ski rider who does this. Many teams often change up the formula of their wax for the most optimal use. Often times, these types of wax that are concocted are a secret. This makes ski racing not only a sport of talent but one of organic chemistry as well.
This just goes to show that chemistry can be a real slippery slope.
If you want to read more about the wax in ski racing, click here.