Fluoro Free Compliance

We’ve gotten a lot of questions from coaches about how to make sure that existing equipment is compliant with new fluoro free regulations. I decided to shoot a video with Amy, and I wrote an awesome script to keep us on track, because in our first attempt at a video on this subject I got wildly sidetracked, and slightly hysterical. We’re not going to show you that one. But here is the measured and scripted presentation. Below the video is the summary in text, along with some additional information.

Fluoro Bans

FIS has announced a full fluoro ban in all FIS competitions from the World Cup down. IBU has also announced full fluoro bans in all their races.

USSA and Nordiq Canada have subsequently announced bans in all North American competitions that fall under their umbrellas. This includes any USSA or FIS race – including the American Birkebeiner. But not all citizen races or unsanctioned marathons.

Individual venues have also announced fluoro bans – in the east, Craftsbury, Rikert, and Prospect are examples.

Most scholastic leagues – EISA, high school, etc – also will be fluoro free.

Fluoro Testing

FIS has been working in partnership with Kompass and Fraunhofer to develop a hand-held optical tester that will produce an immediate green or red light result on the way to the start. Less than a dozen of those testers will be available for the ’20-’21 season, and all of them will go to FIS or IBU. Functionally, they will be a World-Cup-Only testing device. We do not expect to see any of these testers in North America (though it’s possible).

There was supposed to be a “Test Campaign” opportunity for National Teams and wax industry to work with the new tester on the 23rd and 24th of September. This would be a chance to test different “cleaning” methods, and confirm that all existing material can be brought within the threshold values for access to the start. Also, a chance for the industry to confirm that their new product is compliant. On Friday FIS announced that further internal testing is required, and that the results so far do not fully satisfy expectations and specifications. The “Test Campaign” has been rescheduled for unspecified dates in October.

There has been a lot of news in Europe about this regarding World Cup level racing for both XC and Biathlon. But this doesn’t change anything with regard to the North American ban.

Testing in North America

The last we heard USSA was planning to have some of the SkiFT test strips that have been used in Scandinavia to test skis in junior races in the past couple of years. It is very difficult to know how they would calibrate threshold limits to be in-line with the limits that will be utilized by the FIS/IBU system this year (which have yet to be announced or demonstrated). These test strips have results in very high rates of positive tests among Norwegian juniors, implying that there is a lot of possibility for incidental contamination. The FIS thresholds are supposed to be set to allow for a certain level of residual fluoro contamination so that we don’t all have to throw out all of our skis and tools.

Especially given the vastly reduced national race calendar in light of Covid, we think it’s highly unlikely that any of us will run into testing at our races. The Fluoro Free rules should be thought of in exactly the same light as anti-doping rules. You can probably get away with cheating… for a while. But don’t. Don’t be a jerk.

What do we need to do to be compliant?

This is the big question! How do we need to treat existing skis in order to ensure that we’re compliant with fluoro free regulations?

The FIS has published a document outlining the steps to be taken, which include hot-scraping the skis more than ten times. Please, please, don’t do this. We will link this document for your information, with the disclaimer that these recommendations are not good. Here’s the link:

Recommended-cleaning-of-used-equipment-from-fluorinated-substances-140820201

The bottom line is that you are responsible to the spirit of the rules. There is, as yet, not even an official threshold limit that you’re obligated to hit, and once there is a limit set, there still won’t be a bulletproof set of instructions that you can follow. The only skiers who will possibly be tested by equipment capable of determining whether the skis “pass” the official test, are World Cup level athletes. The rest of us just need to be sure that we’re not cheating by trying to game the system to gain an advantage.

Here’s what we would recommend:

Skis – Start the season by using a suitable base cleaner. FIS has recommended a fluoro free cleaner, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense, because hydrocarbon cleaners won’t loosen the fluoro bonds and allow the fluoro material at the surface to be brushed away. So we recommend using a fluoro cleaner – those do have fluoro material in them, but they do help to dissolve material and weaken bonds, which will make your cleaning efforts much more effective.  After using the cleaner, wax with a couple of layers of fluoro free wax. Make sure that you subsequently only use fluoro free wax on your skis. Regardless of how your skis test, you won’t gain an advantage on the snow from any residual fluoro material. So don’t worry too much about it. Just use fluoro free wax!

Do you need to grind your skis to be compliant?

No. Grinding will remove a surface layer of the base. How thick a layer depends on the grinder operator. If you want us to do a particularly “deep” grind in order to get below the penetration level of existing paraffin wax that may be in solution in the base, we can do that. But in truth, the best reason to grind your skis is to improve the performance. There are strong indications that grinding will figure much more prominently into ski performance in the absence of fluoros.

Do you need to hot-scrape your skis over ten times to be compliant?

This is the FIS recommendation, but please don’t. If you’re going to the World Cup, then your service technicians can help make sure you’re compliant. If you’re going to the Eastern Cup, or whatever other regional or local races are on your calendar, just wax with fluoro free waxes, and don’t try to push the boundaries. But no – you shouldn’t hot scrape your skis over ten times. You are very likely to damage the bases and slow the skis down.

Irons – Hopefully you keep your irons clean. If not, you can start by heating up the iron, and then wiping any residual wax away from the baseplate (including the sides, and anywhere you can reach). If your iron is old and covered in burned wax, we recommend using sandpaper on a cool iron (150 grit does a fine job) to expose clean aluminum. Make sure to wipe the iron clean afterward. Use some fluoro free paraffin to float away remaining dust and generally clean things up.

Brushes – This is tricky. Generally, brushes get loaded up with lots of dust. The best way to clear that away is with air – either with compressed air or a vacuum cleaner, or a combination of the two. FIS recommends that you “dip the bristles in a base cleaner”. Don’t. Base cleaners can be very volatile and fast drying, or very, very slow drying. They dissolve wax – that’s their job. But they only work because you can wipe them away while they’re still liquid, with the dissolved wax in suspension. You’re going to make a huge mess if you start trying to clean your brushes with wax cleaner. Just vacuum, blow them off, and start using them a lot to prep training skis. Clean frequently with air. If you’re concerned, and need to have brushes that you know are fluoro free in order to do final prep at the race site, then you should probably get new brushes.

Roto Cork/Felt/Fleece – Forget about it. I guess with cork you can sand the material down. But in general, these tools get loaded with the wax that you use, and you’re not going to get it out. Start fresh. You’ll save yourself a huge headache.

In general, North American skiers can plan to do a thorough, but normal clean of their work environment, wax boxes, ski bags, and tools. Start using exclusively fluoro free waxes. And by the time it matters, you should be in good shape. If we hear other guidance that makes sense, we’ll be sure to let you know. But in the meantime, please don’t panic. This is all going to work out just fine.

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