Aspen Skiing Co. among those saying goodbye to ski wax, hello to Phantom
It is one of those products that seems too good to be true — except in this case it’s winning over hardcore skiers, snowboarders and ski-tuning experts.
A new, waxless base treatment product called Phantom claims to eliminate the need to ever wax your boards again, for their lifetime. It is a one-time, permanent application. The manufacturer DPS, a company that also makes skis, says Phantom works across all snow temperatures to provide a great glide.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials checked it out two seasons ago as an in-house experiment and became believers. Phantom was applied to the bases of about 350 premium rentals skis for the 2018-19 season.
This fall, Skico tune manager John “Norm” Norman and his crew at the tune shop at Aspen Highlands are treating about 2,300 pairs of skis from Skico’s rental fleet.
“It’s not a very hard sell if you have any knowledge of skiing,” Norman said.
He is a guy who is so particular in his need for speed that he likens having a couple of burrs on his edges to “dragging a metal rake behind you.” He likes his boards to be fast and responsive. Phantom helps fit the bill, he said.
It’s different than wax because it absorbs deep into the base of skis and snowboards rather than simply coats the base. Exposure to UV light creates a chemical bond between Phantom and the board. It creates a strong and faster base, according to DPS.
Anyone who wants to geek out on details of the product and the application process can go to DPS’s website at http://www.dpsskis.com/phantom-glide.
Norman rode his Phantom-treated snowboard 80 times in the low-snow season two winters ago and 120 times last season. He would typically reapply wax every three times out. He never felt the need to enhance the one Phantom application.
“I pretty much went all-in,” he said.
He also enlisted about 10 ski patrollers to try it out. They are up early when temperatures are cold and the ski surface is hard and they’re out late in the afternoon on the sunbaked surface.
“They’re a pretty good test, in my opinion,” Norman said. The patrollers who have tried it have given it a thumbs up, he said.
Skico senior staff also served as Guinea pigs. President and CEO Mike Kaplan, Senior Vice President of Mountain Operations Katie Ertl and Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Rich Burkley have tried Phantom on at least some of their skis.
“I would say that the Phantom surface was similar to a very good tune and wax,” Burkley said.
He had it applied to the skis he uses exclusively at Highlands. He rode them about 30 times last season, mostly in powder conditions. There wasn’t much spring skiing on wet snow and ice, but Burkley said he senses the Phantom-treated skis would shed water well, like a warm wax.
“Toward the end of the season the surface was still feeling like a fresh wax,” he said.
Burkley is eager to try the skis again this year after they sat for the summer.
Phantom first captured Skico’s attention as an environmentally friendly alternative to standard wax, which rubs off skis and onto the snow. It ultimately ends up in the watershed.
“The Environmental Protection Agency is actually, oddly, quite focused on fluorinated waxes right now,” Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement, wrote in an email.
DPS says on its website that cured Phantom doesn’t cause biological damage and there won’t be long-term environmental risks.
The benefits go beyond environment, Schendler said. Most skiers don’t do a very good job of keeping their skis waxed, so performance wanes with time. With Phantom, there is no reduction of performance after 10, 50 or 100 times on skis.
“As a ski owner, think about return on investment — you don’t have to spend time and money on wax, but you get the performance,” Schendler said.
He sees a bright future. “I think this is a disruptive technology and it’s going to restructure the wax industry.”
A lot of Skico’s customers rent skis for a week of more during their stay. They typically would bring their skis in a time or two for wax. Phantom has reduced those requests, Norman said.
He was quick to note that Phantom won’t eliminate trips to the tune shop to repair gouges and sharpen edges. Eliminating wax won’t put tuners out of business. It will just reduce time spent applying wax.
Mention Phantom to skiers and snowboarders and it will likely produce a puzzled look. It’s not widely known yet despite favorable reviews in The Denver Post and SKI magazine.
Norman said a few customers have heard of it and seek the Phantom treatment. Skico charges $164 for the cost of the product, proper application and stone grinding the base of boards for preparation. But by eliminating the need for repeated wax application, it pays for itself quickly.
Basalt Bike and Ski is the only other shop listed in the Roaring Fork Valley as a dealer for Phantom.
Applied to alpine touring skis, Norman said, Phantom will eliminate the climbing skins pulling off wax or dirt from the skins affecting the wax.
Norman said there are some old-school ski bums who like to spend the time waxing their own boards. They probably won’t change. For everyone else, Phantom is the future, he said.