Skiers and snowboarders love to go fast. They seek the thrill that comes from strapping on a pair of freshly waxed planks (or just one) and gliding down a mountain trail with controlled speed through carved turns.
To get that speed, competitive racers spend hours crafting the perfect combination of chemical waxes to reduce friction over changing snow conditions and achieve the slipperiest surface between snow and ski. That’s because the time difference between racers is frequently only a few tenths or hundredths of a second in a one- to two-minute event.
Most recreational skiers wax their skis just once or twice a year, perhaps right before an annual ski vacation. Hydrocarbon-based ski waxes are messy to apply. You have to heat up an old iron and carefully drip the wax on the ski, then smooth it out, let it cool, scrape it and buff it. Cleaning up stray wax from a carpet is a major headache too. Meanwhile, a ski-shop wax cost anywhere from $35 to $100 and only lasts a few runs before it starts to wear off.
Now Salt Lake City-based DPS Skis has introduced a liquid treatment that acts as a permanent wax. The treatment, called Phantom, forms a chemical bond with the bottom of the ski that won’t dissipate during repeated uses. It soaks into the polyethylene plastic base all the way to the wood or graphite core of the ski.
“It’s one and done,” says Thomas Laakso, vice president of product development for DPS. “It doesn’t scrape or wear off.”
Laakso says Phantom lasts for the life of the ski. That means a greener ski wax, and because the treatment doesn’t slough off, fewer chemicals make their way from skis to snow and into the local watershed.
Phantom was developed by a polymer chemists and materials engineers at the University of Utah, and introduced to the market in late 2017 after several years of testing by pro skiers in New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest. This fall, Aspen Skiing Company added Phantom treatments to its high-end rental fleet at several mountains in Colorado. It will also soon be available as an add-on purchase at online ski retailers Evo.com and Backcountry.com. To make it easier, DPS is rolling out special Phantom ski applicator machines so local shops can apply the product.
As a weekend ski instructor and the dad of a junior racer, I was skeptical of Phantom when I heard about it last season. I’ve spent many nights in my own basement or a hotel room waxing and polishing skis to gain a bit of speed on the hill, and took a certain pride in my labor (even if the results were fleeting).
I tested Phantom-treated demo skis last March in high-mountain Utah, and again for two days on Thanksgiving weekend in Vermont. At Solitude Mountain, my DPS Wailer 106 powder skis took off from the first run through the steep bowls and ravines until the end of the day. This month, I buckled into an all-mountain DPS Cassiar 87 and blasted down Stowe’s early-season groomers like a kid for two days in a row. Even with varying conditions, the glide remained the same.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about having more glide power is the ability to get across the mountain rather than just going faster down it. Having slippery skis underneath means less effort to push across flat terrain toward the ski lift, or back onto a trail that you’ve just missed.
At $100, Phantom is a relatively cheap way to boost performance for anyone, whether you’re a double-black rider or a beginner seeking the green trails down the hill. DIYers and long-time ski waxers should have no trouble with the two-hour application process that requires sunlight to activate the chemical bonding. A small price for cleaning up all those wax chips from the hotel room floor.
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