We ski faster, safer, better looking - and with better grip. We can thank some Swedish chemists in the 1940s for that. The result of their research was the company Swix, today the world's leading manufacturer of walleyes.
When wax mixtures meet hexagonal prisms of frozen water molecules, a strange phenomenon occurs. Some would call it love. Or yes, friction. Others call it short and sweet sliding. Regardless, the process that takes place at the molecular level when ski snow meets cold snow is the result of Swedish engineering. And a significant part of the Norwegian whey giant Swix's success story.
Now skidwalla is not a modern invention. The human desire to be able to go faster has been there since the beginning of skiing - regardless of whether the purpose was to ski to catch up with hunting prey, to escape from Danes in the Moraskogarna or to push first over the finish line in a sprint race. The underside of the ski has therefore been covered with everything from pitch and resin to vaseline. Or as Fridtjof Nansen preferred it with reindeer skins. But it was only when a group of chemists at Astra managed to concoct a recipe for success in the mid-1940s that development really took off.
It may seem strange that a pharmaceutical company would take on this task, but the company's CEO at the time, Börje Gabrielsson, was a dedicated skier and probably just wanted to get better glide and grip on the track. In any case, the researchers were tasked with working with the elite skier Martin Matsbo to develop a ramp using more scientific methods. The researchers calculated and mixed - and Matsbo test drove. In 1946, the dam was launched under the name Swix.
Initially, Swix was available in three different colors for different temperatures: red, blue and green adhesive wax and blue and red glue. The big breakthrough came at the Winter Olympics in 1948, when all the gold medalists in long-distance riding were with Swix. In the same year, they added ramps for ski jumping and in 1950 the range was expanded with ramps for the alpine branches.
Since 1986, the Swix factory has been located not far from the Olympic ski jumping hill in Lillehammer, Norway. However, the research department and its laboratories are co-located with Sintef in Oslo, one of the leading technical research institutes in the Nordics. All research and development is conducted there within Swix's three business areas textiles, rods and wadding.
- We are responsible for research and development in all our areas, says research director Lars Karlöf. We spend a lot of time on the paddock where we have total control. Through a chemical synthesis, we create a base that we build together with other raw materials we buy in and then it finally becomes a walla that we manufacture in Lillehammer.
The core of all ski wax consists of wax of various origins. Various additives are then added to bring out the specific properties you are aiming for.
- When we start a new project, it starts with an idea that we ourselves or someone else has. This means that we set up a recipe, a list of contents much like when you are going to bake a cake. Then we make samples of it and test it in different temperature and snow conditions. The gelding is tested by the Swix Racing Service team in cross-country, biathlon and alpine, who report back to the research department, which in turn analyzes the results.
Development of a new dike is a long process that can take up to four years.
- The big revolutions take a long time and require a lot of resources. We of course set criteria for the product through all steps. This means that once we release a product on the market, we know that it works.
The recipes are, of course, secret. It is the "Coca-Cola principle" that applies. To the delight of all nostalgics, the three original colors red, green and blue remain in the range to this day, now supplemented with more colours.
- That color system is the basis of everything and the de facto industry standard today. All our competitors have copied it. Blue Extra is now a classic. It has even become a definition of a certain type of ski leader. When you have "Blue Extra-before" you have a good glide, a good grip, the sun is shining and the chocolate is warm enough.
The question is just how much more whey can actually be developed.
- The answer is a lot, we still have a lot to do, notes Lars Karlöf. Why we pile a ski is to optimize the ski's coating in relation to the ground. And snow is the hardest material in the world, we haven't fully understood that yet. What makes snow so difficult is that it is constantly changing. There, we work a lot with materials that can adapt and change based on the conditions.
At the Swix research center, the researchers carefully analyze, among other things, the coefficient of friction. So what is it and above all what does it mean for herding? We get the answer from vala guru Lasse Jonsson at Swix's Swedish general agent Sportmarket.
- The ski has a certain design just like the surface of the snow. In between you have a covering that you fill and then you get a certain amount of friction against the snow. When you talk about sliding, you want as little friction or as low a coefficient of friction as possible.
Simply put, valla is really only about two things: sliding and attachment. If the snow is wet, the ski will be sucked in and the glide will be poor, which requires a different type of gear than if the snow were cold and dry. Fixing wall is an extremely complicated product because at one moment it must provide good sliding (low coefficient of friction) and the next to provide good adhesion (static friction).
- For a competitive skier in classic cross-country skiing, both pieces are very important, says Lasse Jonsson. That's why we test and experiment to the fullest to find the optimal combination. As an amateur skier, you might think you have great skis when you have a good grip, but if you're going to compete and it's hundredths that decide, you also have to have a super glide.
The herding has often had a decisive importance in ski races. It's easy to get lost and it takes tact to get the skis to slide best. Lasse Jonsson goes so far as to claim that herding is not a science but an art form.
At the same time, he points out that grooming, not only for elite skiers but also for all of us "blueberries", is a prerequisite for getting the most out of skiing.
- With a perfectly groomed ski, you get an incredible experience regardless of whether it's a competition or a normal round in the forest. You have to have the right products for the type of skier you are, and then there is a large selection today. Anyone who has had the chance to test and compare an optimally groomed ski against an unprepared one never has to think anymore. But we see that people are very careless with this and therefore we work a lot on that part together with our retailers and with our own clinics.
Of course, there has also been criticism against the use of ski wax. When Swix was first launched, the products were met with skepticism. More recently, some have argued that ski wool is an overrated product. In 2005, Leonid Kuzmin, the former cross-country skier Antonina Ordina's husband and at the time a doctoral student at Mittuniversitetet in Östersund, wrote a thesis in which he argued that ski slopes cause more trouble than joy for most skiers. Instead, he believed that it was much better to use the ski surface's own positive properties.
The claim was controversial to say the least. However, his research results were dismissed both by Swix and by others in the industry.
- He was not right and he had not carried out the investigation in a scientific manner but had drawn preconceived conclusions without any basis for it, says Lars Karlöf. Another important thing to keep in mind is that what he wrote was more about the structure of the ski in the pad than about whether or not to turn, but that has been lost in the debate.
Even though a small number of competitive skiers tried to ride unrolled according to Kuzmin's recommendation - some with success it must be said - the majority, according to Lars Karlöf, have gone back to rolling again. Today, the vast majority share the opinion of what a difference the right rim can make to skiing.
The last decade has been good for Swix. Valla sells well. Close to forty tons leave the production lines in Lillehammer every year, and Swix is today the world's largest manufacturer. Competitors exist, including Swiss Toko, German Holmenkoll, Italian Rode and Swedish Skigo, but these mainly operate in the local markets. With just under 40 percent of the world market, Swix is dominant, both in terms of recreational runners and at the competitive level.
- We would like to believe that it is due to the fact that we have such high quality of our products and such control at every stage of development. And also that we have the most complete range. If you herd with Swix, you will never wean yourself completely, says Lars Karlöf.
By: Jenny Olsson