A couple of weeks ago we sent out our annual preview of new products to team coaches. It’s pretty long, but it’s useful information, and I figure it’s worth sharing with the broader skiing public since plenty of you have good use for this information.
We’re still waiting for our big Star pre-season order to arrive, as well as select items from other brands. We will be updating our e-commerce site (shop.caldwellsport.com) with availability as that stuff arrives. Meantime, anybody who wants to put together a larger order can email to request a price list and order form in spreadsheet format. Just give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a bit late in getting this team price-list and product information out this season. We’ve been super busy with ski orders and grinding in what looks like a great rebound year for racing. We’ve already ground over 90% of last season’s total volume, and have a record number of ski orders on the books, in spite of doing no marketing since the spring (because we’ve been busy!).
Of course you’ll hear a similar story from anybody in the industry, along with a lot of concern about availability and late deliveries. In particular, all products originating in Asia seem to be quite delayed. At a top level of racing product, that means boots and poles are delayed. Our business is focused on skis and wax, and for the most part we’re in good shape getting what we need. Madshus skis are still en-route from Norway, but Fischer and Salomon are here (except for a few specific models). Wax from Rex, Rode, and Vauhti has arrived, but we’re still waiting for a huge shipment from Star, which is currently on a boat (produced on-time but delayed on the freight pick-up from Italy).
I’ve simplified and pared-down our wax and tools price-list a bit this season. If you’re looking for something that isn’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll see what we’ve got. Our price-list only has fluoro free wax; it has been over two years since we bought any fluoro wax, and while we still have some left (mostly Star VF Paraffins and Rex Powders), we’re not focused on that business. If you need something for early Super Tours or US Nationals, let us know and we can tell you what we’ve got.
Grinding is busy this year because a lot of people didn’t get skis serviced last year with abbreviated or modified race seasons. But we’re also seeing an increased focus on grinding because of the increased significance of base quality and structure in a fluoro-free racing environment.
Most of you are familiar with our “new” grind menu since we’ve been producing these grinds for teams for a couple of seasons already. The one major change from last year is that B42 has been mostly replaced with B363X. The “X” in our nomenclature always denotes a polishing step, and what we’ve found is that a polished B363 has a broader range and most often better peak performance than the B42 in the cold range of temps where they’re both at their best. This season we’re also producing quite a lot of TG1-2 green stone structures for team skiers focused on US Nationals, because that grind has a particularly outstanding track record at Soldier Hollow. As always, we’re able to produce any grind from our back-catalog by request.
I’ve attached a link at the top of this email to an updated grind work order form with the new menu built into it. It has complete instructions, and built-in price calculations. For a large team, contact me by email to make arrangements, and for a discount code for appropriate pricing.
Fluoro Free Wax & Pricing
For years we’ve all been accustomed to a wax market where you pay for performance (fluoro content), and we’ve more or less assumed that we’re paying for the expensive fluoro material that makes the wax fast. All the wax companies took cues from each other in terms of market pricing, and the waxes performed comparably. Good wax was expensive because fluoro material is expensive; at least that’s what we’ve all told ourselves.
Now that we’re in the early stages of the development of a fluoro free wax market, it’s apparent that pricing isn’t only a question of additive content (and indeed, it never has been). It’s easy to see that some companies are acutely aware of what the market will pay for race wax, and have put forth a complete line of race wax at comparable pricing to fluorinated product, with marketing promises to match the pricing. Other companies have entered the market with low pricing more representative of unfluorinated wax in a fluoro market. It’s easy to be confused by the different price points – especially as companies introduce new products with major price adjustments from their low-priced introductory products. If these new waxes are twice as expensive, can we expect them to be a big step up in performance? It’s difficult to know what expect based on the price of the wax these days, and overall, the market is kind of confusing.
I think it’s important to recognize some of the realities of the wax business. Globally, ski wax is a tiny market without a lot of growth potential. There are big economies of scale available to larger companies – raw material costs are lower, packaging costs are lower, and production overhead is lower as a portion of gross sales. This makes the business much more profitable, and a much larger percentage of costs is spent on marketing for these bigger companies. Smaller companies like Rex, Rode, and Star, have comparatively much higher proportional costs in all areas, including raw material, facilities overhead, labor, R&D, packaging, freight, etc. If these companies were selling wax at “CH” price levels without the support of fluorinated product, they would quickly go out of business.
What you are seeing in pricing from these smaller companies is an effort to quantify the new market and balance performance with costs. Maybe the big companies that came out with top-dollar fluoro-free products right away simply had a better understanding of the business realities, or maybe they just new what you guys were willing to pay. At any rate – what you’re paying for is everything that goes into producing the best race wax these companies can make. I strongly advise you to look past pricing as you look for the fastest fluoro-free solutions. In the past couple of seasons we’ve only seen a few circumstances where the most expensive wax is the best. We expect to see things even-out eventually, as a new equilibrium is established in the race market. In the meantime, every company has their own pricing and marketing strategy, but the only way to compare the performance of wax solutions is to test them on the snow.
Here’s what’s new and different this year in wax and tools:
For the sake of clarity, we don’t import or distribute Star wax. I have known Davide Mosele (the chemist, and the son of Roberto and Donna, the founders) for years, and in recent years we have worked closely on test and development projects. Working on the development of new products is gratifying, and it helps me to understand the stuff that we sell better. Because of this collaboration, we test a lot of Star material, and we find good solutions. So we recommend it frequently and sell a lot of it.
Many of you have already indicated an interest in getting Star product for this season. As I mentioned above, our big pre-season shipment is on a boat, and I’m anticipating delivery in the first week of November. But that depends upon customs clearance, so until I have the stuff in hand, I don’t want to make promises.
The Next line of race product from Star has been well established over the past two years of testing as a reliably excellent solution for fluoro-free racing. The line remains intact for this year – all existing products carry through unchanged. However, there are some new products to be considered.
Next Solid Paraffin
Updated formula and new branding for the old NF paraffin
Lower ceramic concentration training & service wax
The race paraffin in the Next line comes in powdered form. This provides a low-waste / high-economy application method, but it also allows for a higher concentration of the proprietary ceramic additive that makes this stuff really good. The ceramic is super-fine particulate, and it tends to settle out of suspension when the wax is molten, so forming solid blocks with a high concentration and even distribution of ceramic material is nearly impossible. The powdered form allows for a totally even distribution of ceramic in the application process.
The new stuff this year is a block wax with a lower-concentration ceramic additive. If this sounds a lot like the “NF” wax from years past, then you’ve been paying good attention. This basically is the NF block wax from years past, with some minor adjustments to the paraffin chemistry to bring it into line with the Next powder. Star rebranded this stuff as “Next” product to reflect its additive content, and overall performance. The new “NF” wax for 2021-22 and forward has no ceramic additive.
Roto Fleece – Long Hair “Punk” Fleece
Top-performing finishing tool for liquids
Roto Fleece has clearly become established as part of the winning equation for fluoro-free racing. Over the past two seasons we’ve tested a lot of methods of utilizing fleece, both for application and for finishing. Last year we found that we got better results from this new long-haired fleece when we use it at high rotating speeds for finishing liquid applications. This works particularly well on Star, Rex, and Rode liquids, and it seems to have less of an effect (though no harm) on the performance of Vauhti liquids.
To be clear, when we talk about “fleece” we’re talking about fuzzy, hairy wool – not felted wool. We have used roto-felt rollers a lot in the past to apply or finish fluoro products – this is not the same thing. But there is mixed terminology out there – if you search for “Swix Roto Fleece” you’ll find a felt roller.
Star has one of the most convenient and economical roto fleece systems out there – with stackable 70mm fleece rollers on dedicated drums – super easy to swap with no sleeves or Velcro to be concerned with. And the wool itself is top quality and works flawlessly.
The original roto fleece tools from Star have a 12mm nap – we still prefer these for the application of specifically formulated block waxes, like the Star Next Block, or the Ulla products, or Swix Marathon, with rotating speeds of 1800 to 2100 RPM (or so). When used as an applicator, it’s important to dedicate a fleece to each product. This newer long-haired fleece has a 22mm nap, and works brilliantly as a finishing tool for liquids, or even for fleece-applied blocks, with a rotating speed of 3400-4000rpm. When used this way, it doesn’t feel necessary to dedicate a fleece to each product – you can use the same tool on a wide range of products without generating a lot of cross-contamination.
High Speed Roto Handle
The high rotating speed that we like for fleece finishing with the long-haired fleece presents a bit of a challenge. Drills with high rotating speed are available in corded versions, which is a pain because you need to plug them in, and because they “spin down” for a long time when you let go of the trigger (unlike a cordless drill which will stop immediately). Cordless drills with high rotating speeds are available, but are very expensive. I have a super-cool Fein cordless drill that will turn 3850rpm, and it costs $450.
The solution we found wasn’t some secret cheap & fast drill – it is the fact that many 18v cordless impact drivers have a rotating speed in the range we want to see. So, Davide made a roto-handle with a standard ¼” quick-change hex shank that will plug directly into an impact driver. This solution leaves a lot less material on the end of the shaft than a normal drill-chuck attachment, and we had concerns about durability. So we tested some prototypes last winter, and they seemed to hold up well. That quick-connect interface isn’t super tight, so it feels like the whole system will be too wobbly. But once you get it spinning, it works really well and we wholeheartedly recommend this as a cost-effective way to get into a high-speed fleece finishing system for liquids.
Beta Test Project
Race Service Wax
Over the past two years Davide has sent us a lot of prototype material to test. Last year we started to really trust some of these prototype/test products, and we also started to use them in races. The core Next products are all really good, and the line holds together well and logically. Davide hasn’t wanted to start replacing good products with somewhat different good products; nor has he wanted to add a whole bunch of products to his catalog. This is good – simplicity has its merit, and change should be based on really robust testing and development.
On the other hand, I already know that we’re going to be using some of these products in racing, and I really don’t like the idea of using products in racing that we’re not able to sell to customers. So, Davide agreed to develop a “Beta Race” branding so that we could offer test product at the stage where we want end-users to start proving the product in racing (which comes pretty much right after we’ve done that with success).
Last season we played with a bunch of different “black” additives – and for the most part they didn’t accomplish terribly much. However, we found one additive that made the standard Next liquids consistently and significantly better in older snow. We used this stuff in races toward the end of the season, in both the Med and Warm versions, with really good success. We also have a lot of out-of-competition speed trap testing that suggests that this additive works well. It’s a pain to produce (Davide had to invent a filtration method) and the additive is expensive, so the cost is 33% higher than the standard liquids, but it’s good. Like the normal liquid, it’s best when applied with roto-fleece, and layered up with three or more layers. This stuff will turn your roto-fleece black, so you may want a dedicated fleece if that is troubling to your brain, like it is to mine.
New Fleece-Applied Blocks
The whole fleece-applied block world is a mystery to me – these waxes are so different from what we’re accustomed to using. Most block-form paraffins do not work as fleece-applied waxes; the viscosity and hardness is all different. The ironed and liquid paraffins are all based on wax chemistry that has been in development throughout the fluoro era, and is really well proven. These fleece-applied blocks are a new evolution from Star, and they’re different material altogether. Last season we tested some products labeled “3.0”, and found that it was reliably better than the original fleece applied block when conditions included some new snow. The regular Next blocks are usually viable in older snow, and in mixed snow where we’ll often layer them up with liquids. The 3.0 blocks were sometimes winning tests against liquids in new snow, and still tested well in older snow.
Just to confirm that this is all confusing – we previously had a system where the liquids were best in newer snow, and the blocks were best in older snow. Now we’re now offering a couple of liquids that do better in older snow, and a couple of blocks that do better in newer snow. Yes. And no, I can’t just tell you what to use and when you use it. But it’s all quick, easy, and clean to apply and test.
This has been the most fun collaboration of all. I’ve been mixing up my own kick wax blends for a lot of years. Any self-respecting waxer is going to try melting some stuff together in a pot at some point. Most of what I tried didn’t produce any kind of real advantage over what was available from various wax companies, but over time I came up with some stuff that was really good, and that we ended up using a lot in races.
The problem with mixing up your own wax is that it’s messy, time consuming, and inefficient. And you could never really make it a commercially viable business unless you were prepared to charge an absurd amount per tin of wax (which some people have managed to do). The other problem is that the mixes I was making had up to six different waxes in them, from four different companies, and I didn’t know what the raw materials were from any of those original ingredient waxes.
So, Davide and I spent a LOT of time trying to replicate the qualities that we felt we being contributed by those original waxes in raw materials. Last season we reached the point of testing different mixes of the hardwax and klister components, and settled on some recipes that are very close to the original mixes that we’ve used in racing.
These are not hardwaxes for new snow – they’re hardwax/klister blends for older snow and tricky conditions when standard hardwax isn’t delivering the kick you need. They’re good – much faster than most currently available klister blends, and generally pretty stable and icing resistant. We’ve raced on this stuff more often than not over the past few years, and have had a lot of success. Shoot me an email if you want more information.
Vauhti was early to market with a new line of fluoro free glide products for racing when they introduced their Pure line a couple of years ago. The Vauhti Pure products have consistently tested well – particularly in older snow – and have generated some really good race results. But there was a big gap in Vauhti’s kickwax program, since they best waxes had all been developed as part of the “K-Line” project, with fluoro additive. There were only a handful of original synthetic kick waxes that we used with any regularity, including the Super and AT base binders, the Carrot hardwax, and the Universal klister. We were missing the whole line of KF klisters, and the GF kick waxes, which were really valuable tools for racing.
Finally, Vauhti has released their Pure kick line, and in our testing of samples last season, it appears to have done a great job filling the gap.
Pure Pro Kick – traditional hardwax aimed at newer snow
We had a long spell of unbroken cold weather right here in Putney last year, and these Pure Pro kick waxes delivered really good performance. We have our reliable favorite waxes based on long years of experience, and it’s hard for new wax to break into the line-up. But this is an interesting line that we’ll be testing regularly next season.
Pure Race Kick – hardwax aimed at older/transformed snow
Things get even more interesting with the Pure Race kick waxes, for older snow. These don’t quite have the feeling of klister mixes, or at least not mixes with high klister material content. But they provide a snappy kick feel and definitely merit a lot of attention. They’re not as dramatic as the Beta kickers from Star, but that might be a good thing if they provide an added measure of (icing) safety. These aren’t a “replacement” for anything that was previously fluorinated – this is a new product concept for Vauhti.
KF klister line was one of the only truly big losses that we felt when we stopped working with fluorinated kick products. The whole line was good, but especially the KF Base, KF Violet, and KF Universal left big holes. These new Pure klister really seem to step up and fill the gap with what feels like equivalent product.
It’s worth noting that Vauhti HAS released a new KS Base klister to replace the KF base which we used all the time. For the past two seasons we’ve been doing our best with their KF Base Liquid, but on race day, working with a solvent based product to build a kick job can be a nightmare. If the base klister doesn’t dry all the way, you end up really screwed (ask me all about it). Finally, we’ve got a KS Base klister in a tube – but it’s not listed under the Pure product – it’s in the regular Synthetic klister section. Remarkably, this means that the KF base replacement is actually cheaper than the original KF base.
Rode remains the kick line that we lean on as our standard, and it has been especially nice that the best Rode kick products have never been fluorinated, so we’ve had to do very little adjusting to our baseline wax testing protocols to move into the fluoro free race era. We have tested Rode glide products on and off through the years, but haven’t gotten a lot of traction until the fluoro free era. The Rode fluoro free glide products might be a little behind in marketing, and in pricing (they’re quite inexpensive), but in terms of performance they’re at the front of the curve. The Racing Gliders (block-form iron-on) are on par with the best – especially the R30 violet. And the Racing Liquids are frequent test winners – especially the Med.
New this year is Racing Extra Liquid, and we don’t know anything about it except that the pricing has been adjusted to be more in-line with the market and the realities of covering expenses in a fully fluoro-free future. Based on the success of the original racing liquid, we will absolutely be testing the Racing Extra early and often.
Rex came to market two years ago with their G liquids, and immediately produced good results. Last season they introduced a new line of “RG” liquids at nearly twice the expense. The packaging makes it look as though the RG stuff has twice as much of the “N-Kinetic” additive in it, but that’s not exactly how it works.
N-Kinetic is Rex’s branding for their proprietary selection of fluoro-free additives, but it doesn’t describe a specific additive or chemistry. Different waxes can have different additives. The G and RG lines have different additives – not just different amounts of additive. In our testing last season we had better success with the original G liquids than the new RG stuff. And we continued to have our best results with Rex when we applied the product well in advance of putting it on snow – ideally allowing it to cure overnight before finishing with roto fleece.
The Rex liquids work really well for the people who learn to use them, and to select the products prior to race day. It’s difficult to utilize these products as part of a race-day testing program because you’ll never get the best out of them without that overnight cure time. We have played with laying down a layer of Rex “in case” it’s the best thing the next day, and then coating new material on top of it if something else wins. I don’t have conclusive information on how this works, but it didn’t seem to hurt anything.
Rex also has RG solid paraffin (to be ironed) which we’ll be working on testing this season. The G line of block paraffins did not perform as well for us as the liquids. Lots of testing to be done!
With fluoros phasing out of racing, more attention and care will be paid to procedure (scraping and brushing), and to hand structure. These are categories where Red Creek make absolutely the best tools available. We don’t have any new products to push from Red Creek, but among increasing requests for hand structure tool recommendations, I’ve finally put together a menu for help selecting starting points for the Red Creek lineup.
As always, these recommendations are easy to poke holes in, and there will be exceptions. But this menu is an accurate reflection of where we’ve landed with our testing over the past several years. I’ve also highlighted our mostly commonly used structure tools (and brushes) on the price list, for your shopping convenience!