By Chris Meehan | Jun 14, 2020
Plant-based ski wax
"It took us two years to come up with what was, at the time, North America's only line of plant-based ski wax," explains Arlein.
Ski wax provides the glide for skiers and snowboarders across the world. There are base waxes, which are applied less frequently and suited to the terrain that the rider is going to be on the most, and supplemental waxes that can provide glide and repair some dings in the base wax.
Arlein explains the importance of developing a biodegradable ski wax: "Pretty much all the ski wax in the world is still made from petroleum, and whatever you put on your skis goes directly into the snowpack and then into local rivers and lakes."
He continues, "The reason you have to wax your skis every three or four days is because the wax is rubbing off. It's going into the snow and you've got to reapply. So we came up with a plant-based formula. It's totally biodegradable, and it works just as well as a conventional petroleum-based wax."
When it debuted in early 2020, mountainFLOW's plant-based eco-wax quickly racked up the awards. It won "Gear of the Show" from Outside, "Best of Outdoor Retailer" from Business Insider, and other accolades.
However, mountainFLOW didn't start with eco-wax, when Arlein founded the company in 2016, he was working on another problem that plagued backcountry skiers and boarders in particular -- snow buildup on equipment. So he developed an anti-stick spray for ski and snowboard skins and decks. "The anti-stick spray seemed like a no-brainer in backcountry skiing," he says.
Explains Arlein: "Weight -- or lack thereof -- is the name of the game. And people spend an exorbitant amount of money for the lightest possible setup, and then they carry a pound or two of snow on top of their skis. It just didn't make any sense. I had had the issue happen to me so many times I finally said, okay, I'm just going to buy something to fix this. It turns out that there wasn't a product like that on the market."
"That's kind of what got this whole project started," Arlein continues. "We developed something that was eco-friendly, really easy to apply and it worked super well. And for the first couple of years, that's all we sold."
The number of backcountry skiers and snowboarders is far less than those who go to the resorts. "We were in a handful of shops around the country," Arlein says. But in listening to the ski techs at the shops he learned they wanted more eco-friendly products. "Speaking with the ski techs, they were like: 'This is great. We love that it's eco-friendly. We really need a whole line of eco-friendly wax, you know, base wax and skin waxes, and everything. Because that's what the customers are looking for and again, it's not really available."
That set off mountainFLOW's quest to find a solution, which it found and created a line of products around. "We use a combination of different plant waxes. Each wax kind of has its own characteristics and based on the ratio you're able to make a wax for different snow conditions," Arlein explains. "Our wax supplier has a team of engineers and they'll kind of give us some suggestions, but ultimately everything's tested in the field."
mountainFLOW works with U.S.-based contract partners to develop and produce the plant-based formulas. "The manufacturers have these huge state of the art wax facilities. Mostly they're making candles, but they have the equipment to make our wax. We give them the formula, they source all the raw materials, and then mix it to our specifications and send us a finished product."
Introduced for this past snow season, Arlein says it's had a great reception. "This past winter was awesome for us. We are now in over 150 retail doors around the world. Most of that is in the U.S. but we have distribution in Canada and Scandinavia, and then we actually just started selling in Australia and New Zealand as well," he says.
Already the products are available in some chain stores including some Colorado Christy Sports locations, Moosejaw, and L.L. Bean. REI was piloting sales before COVID-19 began impacting the snow season. Arlein is hoping to expand further into REI and other stores as well.
As importantly, eco-wax is also finding its way into ski rental shops. "Those are really the folks who use the most wax," says Arlein. "We've started working with a handful of resorts, like Killington and Pico back on the East Coast. They've got 5,000 skis in their rental fleet and they're now using mountainFLOW on all of them.". He's also working with other resorts, like Vail, to use the mountainFLOW products.
Some small ski manufacturers are also using mountainFLOW's wax so they come factory-fresh with the wax from day one. "We actually just signed on with three different companies in the last couple of weeks," Arlein says. Among them is WNDR Alpine in Utah, which uses algal-based resins to reduce the toxic chemicals involved in the manufacturing of most skis.
mountainFLOW already has some 30 SKUs and more are on the way. Next winter Arlein hopes to introduce a line of waxes made for ski racers.
Challenges: "I think a challenge with any new business, or any new product, is to get people to switch. People who use ski wax have been using a particular brand for years. And so even if our stuff is just as good and just, you know, same price, same performance. It still takes a little bit of education and effort to get somebody to try new products," Arlein says. "The whole COVID thing certainly presents challenges and opportunities. The unknown is a little tough to plan for it. You don't know what the season's going to look like and shop buyers are getting nervous."
Opportunities: Expanding internationally is going to be huge for us. The reception in the U.S. has been great, but it's a relatively small portion of the worldwide market. Getting into Europe is going to be big for us," Arlein says.
He also cites an opportunity in broadening the target market. "We actually just started developing a line of bike products," he adds. "Bike products have always been in our product pipeline and then it just bumped up to the top of the line. So we're focusing on bike lubes specifically. Most lubricants are petroleum-based . . . and it's the same story, whatever you put on your chain either ends up in your driveway when you're washing your bike or out on the trail." He says he hopes to start getting feedback from testers as early as this summer.
Needs: "Getting more into the race market is going to be really big for us," says Arlein. "The percentage of racers is pretty small, 5 percent of skiers are racers. But they make up maybe half of the ski wax market, because those guys are waxing their skis before every training session."