The Chemistry of Ski Wax


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I Chose to research the chemistry of ski waxes because it has always interested me growing up. I have been a ski racer since i was about 6 years old, and have experienced first-hand how much the outcome of a race can be effected by a minor tweak in the type of waxes used.The choices made can either make or break your results. I have experienced this first-hand, multiple times, and have quite an insight on the factors that are put into this ( almost all of them involve chemistry.)  Ski waxes are vital to the sport and are a simple part of winning or losing.
Composition of ...

Ski Base: To begin, any modern ski base will be composed of 100% high-density polyethylene (commonly known by skiers as P-Tex.) It’s chemical composition is C2H4, which is a long chain of carbon atoms. In a high-quality race-conditioned ski, the ethylene is an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW.) This UHMW has prominent characteristics, including a smooth, hydrophobic surface, resistance to abrasion, and due to it being porous, it has high acceptance of additive materials (very important for waxes.) This base also has micro grooves, like tiny canals dug from tip to tail, all parallel to one another to promote anti-suction and help the base glide over the frozen surface.

Waxes:  Iron on waxes are widely varied for competitive ski racing. The highest quality waxes have specifications for the snow temperature and humidity. The important ingredient in any wax is fluorocarbons. There will be a larger amount of fluorocarbons for a wax for wetter snow. For a late spring day, when the snow is basically water, there is a Hydrocarbon wax ( Paraffin) which is very effective. All of these waxes can be useful, but are very sticky if they are misused. Fluorocarbon is CF2, and hydrocarbon (Paraffin) is CnH2n+2. The other most useful wax is graphite, used for anti-static. However, there are other waxes besides iron-ons. There are liquids and powders which you can rub into the pores using a cork.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

  • Fluorocarbons- CF2- often called perfluorocarbons or PFC’s, are organofluorine compounds containing only carbon and fluorine bonded into strong carbon-fluorine bonds.
  • Hydrocarbons (Paraffin)- CnH2n+2 (where “n” is a variable for the number of atoms)- an organic compound consisting of solely carbon and hydrogen.

  • UHMW Polyethylene-  C2H4- long chains of carbon atoms with vital properties as described above.

Chemistry's Role

  • Fluorocarbons-  these are made using the Fowler process, which was first introduced for the manhattan project in the 40’s to create a catalyst bed. this process allowed for large scale manufacturing. This process uses cobalt difluoride to make cobalt trifluoride, then it uses perfluorohexane to get your desired product.
  • Hydrocarbons- The large majority of these are naturally occurring and found in crude oil, where leftover hydrogen and carbon from the remains of living creatures catenate and form  nearly endless chains of carbon.
  • UHMWPE- synthesized with a monomer of ethylene which bonds to form the base product. this process is based off metallocene catalysts, giving it a large number of monomers per molecule


composition of ski bases and it’s characteristics

composition of a ski and describes why we wax them

basic info on fluorocarbons and its formula

Info on ethylene and the synthesis reaction to obtain it

Chemical formula

Basic info and formula for hydrocarbons

Process used to make fluorocarbons

About the Author

Riley Selby is a young, aspiring student attending Senior High, and is quite smart when he puts forth the effort. He is 17 years of age and a junior. In his spare time, he enjoys to play catch with his friends and ignore schoolwork. He is a Frequent to Red Lodge Resort, and has ski raced for a long time. He is interested in science and succeeds in mathematics. After school he plans to get his general credits done at MSUB and furthermore, move on to either MSU or Montana Tech for an engineering degree of some sort.