When the International Ski Federation – or FIS, the sport’s governing body – officially banned ski waxes containing fluorocarbons last season, Peter Arlein kept getting the same questions from race techs and ski shops: What do we do with all that eternal chemical wax?
“Stores were like, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just add it to our rental fleet, or maybe discount it heavily and get it out of here. It’s too expensive to just throw away,” said Arlein, who founded eco-friendly ski wax company mountainFLOW in Carbondale in 2016. “I think, ‘We’re missing the point here. There has to be something we can do.’”
Arlein has always wanted to provide a system for skiers, teams and shops to dispose of waxes containing PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — the toxic chemicals that leach from skis into the body’s water supply, where the Carcinogens accumulate and “can pose a health risk in extremely small amounts,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2022 ban on fluorocarbon ski waxes. (The Colorado legislature passed legislation this year prohibiting the sale or manufacture of consumer products containing PFAS prohibits.)
But he’s been busy running mountainFLOW, which makes its hugely popular plant-based, biodegradable eco-waxes. So outdoor industry students at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, outdoor MBA students at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, and students at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville came up with a plan.
These students – part of the Wright Collegiate Challenge – set up a pilot program that forever collects chemical ski waxes at stores in Denver, Golden and Salida. Skiers can also simply send their stash of bad wax to Arlein’s Shop to receive discounts on mountainFLOW’s eco-wax. (Arlein is awaiting guidance from the EPA on the best way to destroy PFAs.)
“We’ve always wanted to do that, but it’s not a sales driver. We’re losing money on it, so finding the time to build it was difficult, but it’s perfect for the Wright Challenge and the college students really pulled it off,” Arlein said.
Outdoor industry representative Jeff Paulson, left, learns about mountainFLOW’s eco-wax from mountainFLOW CEO Peter Arlein at the mountainFLOW booth on the floor of the outdoor retailer at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on January 30, 2020. (Andy Colwell, special for the Colorado Sun)
Chuck Sullivan created the Wright Collegiate Challenge in 2019 to connect college kids with rural, outdoor-focused businesses to meet challenges and opportunities. The Wright — a nonprofit that connects entrepreneurs in rural communities to create networks that support innovation — worked with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office to recruit students to support rural outdoor businesses across the state.
“It’s really about developing career-preparation skills,” said Sullivan, who plans to expand the program to other rural schools in western communities and use outdoor recreation as a growing economic engine. “Communication, leadership and innovative thinking and the ability to use these skills.”
This year, teams of students from the three schools also worked to help Grand Junctions Mountain Racing Products — or MRP, which makes high-end mountain bike shocks and components — develop more sustainable packaging. Another team worked with the San Luis Valley Great Outdoors group to refine a plan that would convert old railroad lines into recreational trails.
Last year, Wright College students helped the San Luis Valley group develop a marketing plan for their Sangre de Cristo Dark Sky Reserve. This year, they refined a Rails to Trails-type business plan that could use dormant railroads as recreational links between communities and trail networks. Students from different schools worked together on the plans and collaborated across campuses.
“It’s truly amazing what these students have brought to the table each year by changing our perspective and giving us a vision,” said Mick Daniel, executive director of the nonprofit San Luis Valley Great Outdoors. “We often don’t have the capacity to examine every idea as thoroughly as necessary. This year was complicated and required insight into private and public funding and railway law. It’s a slow process that can take years, but they laid the foundation for the work.”
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office views the Wright Collegiate Challenge as a critical tool in its work to develop a stronger workforce for the growth of the outdoor economy.
The office helped assess the challenge from the start. Samantha Albert, assistant director of the recreation office, said she was amazed by the groups that pushed the students to think big and innovate.
“It really speaks to the culture of Colorado that we have businesses, nonprofits and outdoor organizations that are willing to put that much trust in students to take on high priority projects and really expect to deliver a really strong outcome achieve,” said Albert. “This is helping to build the next generation of strong, passionate leaders in the outdoor industry. It absolutely legitimizes the industry and professionalizes the industry in ways that people might not have expected.”
Check out mountainFLOW’s fluorowax take-back program here and get those eternal chemicals out of your basement in exchange for rebates and swag from mountainFLOW.
This story first appeared in The Outsider, Jason Blevins’ premium outdoor newsletter. >> Subscribe to