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Tough Job: Norway’s Ski Wax Chief Is Only Noticed When He Fails

Nystad explained that the snow parameters in Korea are unique, so they flew in the grinders to figure out which patterns are optimal. Each day of the last few weeks, they have created new grinds, which they may never use again.

The grind is just one of many variables. The team has a few dozen waxes, most of them manufactured by Nordic companies, with names like Swix and Toko, that specialize in ski products. No Burt’s Bees here.

Then there are powders, which are sprinkled on top of wax to further reduce friction. In Norway’s cabins, powders are stacked on green shelving in white plastic containers, each with a hand-marked label that suggests a scrupulous alchemist at work. One says “516,” another says “516.9.”

The tech team has a database with test results of 7,000 combinations of grinds, waxes and powders along with scads of information about the weather in which tests were conducted. On race day, weather conditions are typed into the database, which spits out options.

The catch is that weather conditions are never the same. Plus, the composition of snow is in a constant state of flux, even during the race. Mixtures that work at the beginning of a staggered start might be a disaster an hour later if the humidity rises or the temperature drops.

As complicated as all this sounds, the summary above is like a haiku version of “War and Peace.” And there is never one answer. Every athlete’s skis and wax must be tailored to his or her preferences and style.

It’s art, science and luck. For the sake of sanity, Nystad tries to focus on the science.

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