Wax­worx

Ben­e­fits and Con­se­quences

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Jack Cook and Pa­trick Moore

For most coaches, the alarm clock rings early on race days. A tour of al­most any race venue will present a flurry of ac­tiv­ity that be­gins hours be­fore the race and con­tin­ues un­til the start time. Coaches, staff and ath­letes are busy test­ing skis, waxes and var­i­ous other treat­ments in or­der to gain an ad­van­tage over the com­pe­ti­tion. But, in­creas­ingly, some North Amer­i­can fed­er­a­tions are mov­ing to re­duce or elim­i­nate glide wax as a vari­able in races through the cre­ation of wax­ing pro­to­cols. While these pro­to­cols have clear ben­e­fits, there may also be un­in­tended con­se­quences that should be con­sid­ered.

Wax pro­to­cols have long been as­so­ci­ated with qual­i­fy­ing races in biathlon. Both the US Biathlon As­so­ci­a­tion and Biathlon Canada use a pool sys­tem where coaches from all clubs come to­gether to wax all the race skis with iden­ti­cal wax. Cross Coun­try Canada em­ployed a sim­i­lar sys­tem at the Novem­ber 2016 World Cup se­lec­tion races in Can­more, Alta. Other lo­cal gov­ern­ing bod­ies, such as Cross Coun­try Al­berta and Cross Coun­try On­tario, have in­sti­tuted bans on high-flu­oro waxes and prod­ucts for the cur­rent sea­son.

En­sur­ing a fair com­pe­ti­tion be­tween ath­letes is of­ten cited as a main rea­son for the wax pro­to­cols. Any­one who has waxed skis at a high level knows that the wax mat­ters a lot, but the Hip­po­cratic Oath – “Do no harm” – is the most sig­nif­i­cant tar­get. Man­dat­ing a spe­cific wax en­sures that no ath­letes are taken out of the race on the ba­sis of wax alone, elim­i­nat­ing that vari­able as a stres­sor for ath­letes, coaches and se­lec­tion com­mit­tees.

The ques­tion of health im­pacts of wax­ing prod­ucts is also note­wor­thy. There can be no doubt that high-flu­oro prod­ucts can be dan­ger­ous if ap­plied with­out the proper safety equip­ment. While see­ing wax­ers and coaches with res­pi­ra­tors is be­com­ing a more com­mon sight, ath­letes still inevitably walk into the wax cabin un­pro­tected at in­op­por­tune times. Ban­ning these prod­ucts, and al­low­ing only low-flu­oro waxes, lim­its the ex­po­sure of both ath­letes and staff.

Lastly, there is the cost of wax­ing, both in terms of money and time. High-flu­oro prod­ucts are ex­pen­sive and may keep some fam­i­lies away from the sport. But as coaches spend in­creas­ing amounts of time se­lect­ing the wax for race skis, that per­fec­tion may come at the cost of ac­tu­ally spend­ing time with the ath­letes. This is es­pe­cially true in the case of small clubs and teams that do not have a ded­i­cated wax­ing staff. Re­quir­ing all ath­letes to race on the same wax cer­tainly elim­i­nates this con­cern. And ban­ning high-flu­oro prod­ucts, and there­fore elim­i­nat­ing many of the vari­ables for coaches to test, may also aid in redi­rect­ing the at­ten­tion of coaches.

How­ever, the suc­cess of these wax­ing pro­to­cols de­pends on the ul­ti­mate goals. While hav­ing all ath­letes race on the same wax cer­tainly elim­i­nates one vari­able, the big­ger vari­ables of ski se­lec­tion and grinds are still left in play. Most wax­ers agree that it is these two vari­ables that have by far the big­gest im­pact on ski speed.

The elim­i­na­tion of high-flu­oro waxes may help to re­di­rect the at­ten­tion of coaches away from test­ing by re­mov­ing pow­ders, blocks and liq­uids as ski-prepa­ra­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties. But coaches may still look for ad­van­tages in find­ing the op­ti­mal low-flu­oro wax for the day. In that way, test­ing may still oc­cur, but just with re­spect to dif­fer­ent prod­ucts. En­force­ment of this pro­to­col also be­comes a ques­tion on the minds of many coaches.

Fi­nally, any­one who has ever com­peted in a Clas­sic race knows that the grip prod­ucts, both their se­lec­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion, of­ten have a more dra­matic im­pact than the glide prod­ucts. There­fore, wax­ing pro­to­cols that sim­ply ad­dress glide wax are likely miss­ing the most im­por­tant vari­able, at least with re­spect to Nordic ski­ing.

The spirit of wax­ing pro­to­cols is noble, as it makes ski rac­ing more in­clu­sive and more ath­lete-fo­cused. How­ever, to en­sure suc­cess, it ap­pears that these rules re­quire on­go­ing re­fine­ment based on the feed­back of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries – the ath­letes and coaches. It is this on­go­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion that will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine the suc­cess of wax­ing pro­to­cols, as they are im­ple­mented by more and more fed­er­a­tions.

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