Tag Archives: Federico Fontana

Federico Fontana: The Interview!


Federico Fontana is a ski and wax technician from Frassinoro in Italy. He has been working in biathlon for 4 years firstly with the Polish Team, then Great Britain and has just taken a new job with US biathlon. He currently lives in Germany but is still involved in the Frassinoro Summer Biathlon Festival. Apparently his nickname in biathlon is “Helmut” but we are not allowed to know why!!:-)

You can follow Federico on Twitter: @fedefontana82

How did you become a wax tech? Are you just a frustrated athlete or do you prefer the equipment/technical side?

A nice question..well I wasn’t like that, I was a cross country skier but after the junior category I decided I wasn’t good enough….or the results did it for me! I started to ski when I was around one year old (in my dad’s child backpack). In Frassinoro, my town, you don’t have any choice but to try to be a cross country skier so the passion for my sport is inside.

After my short career as an athlete I started all the steps to make it my profession first becoming a ski teacher then a 2nd level cross country and biathlon trainer with the dream to work at the top in the World Cup. An important role in that was played by my “GURU” Gianluca Marcolini,one of the best wax techs in the world, who was also my former coach and he gave me the motivation to achieve my goals and the biggest help to learn about wax and skis. He has always been my role model in that and with him my first ski teacher,a legend in Italian cross country skiing history, Leonello Biondini, president of my ski club, a dedicated person that loves the sport more than everything. He taught us to work hard and do it with passion and love.
I can never thank Gianluca and Leonello enough for what they gave me in my career.

After all my courses I worked for several years with my ski club coaching and waxing,then with the Emilia Romagna regional team (my region). Then in 2011 the opportunity came… I received a phone call from a person who at that time turned out to be an other important person in my life…Bruno Maddalin, asking me if I would like to work with him with the Polish team…the answer was easy:let’s do it!Two years with Bruno were perfect,if Gianluca was and is still my guru and my role model and one of my best friends,Bruno taught me so much,a great man,and very good friend now. The rest is history and I have more goals and hopefully a long career to come.

You just got a new job working for the US Team. How is it going so far?

Yes the contract with the US I can say is a big step forward for me, a huge injection of motivation and desire to do a great job.
After two years with Poland and one season with the British Team as main wax tech, which gave me a big opportunity to improve myself taking decisions and organizing a working system, the time came and I accepted without hesitation the offer from the US.
After the first months of work I’m really satisfied, it is a great team, hard working and really well organised….and other than that a really tight group of positive and friendly people, that always helps towards working for a good result.
We will show you next season what we can do!!!

Have you ever had any waxidents (accidents with wax)?

A nice question!….well I had… but I prefer not to mention it or describe it! Not good for kids but I just suggest you should always wash your hands after powder application even if it is only to go to the washroom 😉
Biathlon23 is very grateful to Federico for not going into detail here. You can use your imagination!!!

What advice would you give to someone who is learning to wax skis?

There are a lot of suggestions but the best and this is what someone said to me, and I chose to make it my motto is : in our job nothing is written, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can learn everything from the label of a powder bottle, don’t be afraid to try or to do crazy applications that don’t seem logical. Behind these things you can find the pot of gold!


What are the best and worst things about being a wax tech?

Everyday I put everything into my job so as a person I remember everything, the good and bad things and I try to learn from all of it…also in the bad days you must learn a lesson and especially in this you must find the reason.
For sure when you have a good result and everybody is glad it is nicer, but you can find good things also when the skis are not perfect. Basically never give up!

How much input do the biathletes have when you are choosing the wax for the skis? Who makes the final decision?

For the wax athletes have nothing to do it is all in our hands. We work with them for the choice of the skis this of course, and it works like an exchange of feelings and several combinations,considering snow conditions, place, start number, weather etc…but most of the time when you and your athletes have a good connection they trust you 100% and in the end we choose for them.

Are you responsible for preparing all the skis or are you assigned to certain biathletes?

With the US I will be responsible for wax and application plus I will follow directly Susan Dunklee and our male talent Sean Doherty.
And I’m very happy for my position.

Describe your typical race weekend? What are your responsibilities, how long do you spend waxing, testing etc? Do you help on the tracks or shooting range during the race?

Oooh! Do you have enough space in the article? Just kidding! Everyday we write down a working plan schedule with time and action but basically to make it short the day can start at 8 am and finish at 8 or 9 pm.
During the race every tech has a job to do and we cover all the critical points of the race course following also the request of the coaches, for example if needed we do the feeding during the individual etc.. but me for example I will be the last to leave the cabin in case the weather changes and I receive from my colleagues information from the track…and if this happens it can be panic….you must be cold enough and have the solution ready in your pocket…and you can save or rescue the performance…basically it is hard work in stressful situations.

Is the world of wax quite secretive? Do you have special formulas that you don’t want other teams to know about?

Sure I like to keep everything secret, application formulas etc….everything that we develop stays in a database and only we know how we do it….we are jealous about our job!

What do you do in the summer? Roller skis don’t need wax so what do you do until the start of the new season?

In the summer we are not always on holiday, we also have a summer working schedule which means selecting skis,inventory and testing. For the rest of the time most of us have a second job. Me for example I work as a “pizzaiolo”(pizza baker) and cook helper in an Italian restaurant here in Germany! Cooking is one of my passions….these Italians. …pasta pizza e mandolino!!!

You are involved in the Frassinoro summer biathlon festival. Can you tell me something about it and why biathlon is so popular in such a small place?

This is something I’m really proud of! As I said we are a huge cross country center with a big tradition and good athletes in our history, but Frassinoro being a town of 700 people is funny because it seems like we have some genetics to be wax techs. Right now three of us work on the World Cup and in total there have been 6. The passion for biathlon grew up from me and another 3 or 4 guys, first going to Ruhpolding to watch the World Cup, and it was love at first sight. Day by day the group became bigger and bigger and the trips for the events more and more. Now it’s one of the largest fan clubs in Italy – The Frassinoro Biathlon Friends.

In Frassinoro we are stubborn and when we decide to do something we do it, typical of mountain people and the idea to bring an event home was born during a Saturday night aperitivo. We try to do as much as we can and I really want to make it clear that it is all volunteering, with help from sponsors and all done by ourselves. Now we showed to the institution that we are serious and we presented a project for a summer biathlon center which will complete the sport and touristic offers that we already give for the winter with an amazing cross country center also in the summer. They like it and the first installment of financing is approved!
It is worth it to visit our mountains even if they are not The Alps. They are amazing and Frassinoro is a wonderful place to do sport, relax and enjoy the typical friendly Italian lifestyle!

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Ruhpolding most for the atmosphere
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Past:Ole Einar….ok well he is still a present athlete (joking)
Present: my girlfriend….;-)
(Megan Heinicke)
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): pursuit
Favourite wax tech: Gianluca Marcolini
Favourite food: pasta and pizza
Favourite singer/band: Rod Stewart
Favourite film: I’m not a movie person but I like the historical genre
Favourite sports team: USA biathlon team
Favourite TV show: The Simpsons, Hells kitchen

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WAXing Lyrical!

Bees make it, ears make it, chandlers use it(that’s candle makers to you and me not the guy from Friends!),but most importantly it goes on skis! What is it? That’s right, WAX! The true hero of biathlon! If it wasn’t for the wax and the wax technicians biathlon would be a sport about people going really slow and falling over. The real stars of biathlon are the wax techs! Without them where would we be? Still on the start line that’s where! It’s time they had their moment in the spotlight and here it is!

Famous wax technicians include of course…er…um…er…Madame Tussaud and the Karate Kid’s Mr.Miyagi(wax on,wax off)!!! OK so neither of them deal in skis but there are a few in biathlon you might have heard of. The Norwegians have Morten Svendsen who is Emil’s big brother and taught him everything he knows(about wax anyway!), Muck Bauer a German who now works exclusively for the US team, Rich Pettit from Team Canada and Federico Fontana from Italy.

The art of waxing skis is a difficult one as we saw in Sochi at the Olympics. The Norwegian team in particular had some difficulties getting the skis to run fast. One Norwegian who had no trouble however was Darya Domracheva’s ski technician Ivar Michal Ulekleiv who used a 20 year old magic elixir to make her skis glide beautifully in the changing snow conditions and helped her to win 3 gold medals.

So how do they do it? Well some teams are luckier than others and can afford a huge wax truck full of high tech equipment. Others have an orange shipping container (see Team USA in Sochi) where they keep their equipment, some teams have a wax hut and others have absolutely nothing and have to rely on the help of the other teams.

Waxing is a pretty complicated business and you really have to know what you are doing. Unfortunately it not just a case of buying some wax and putting on the bottom of your skis! In biathlon they use the skating technique nowadays rather than classic so we don’t really need to get into the sticky world of klister, we can stick to hard and soft wax. The whole point of waxing is to optimize the thickness of the thin film of water between the ski and the snow. Friction obviously is essential and there is a combination of wet and dry friction that you must balance. Too much water gives you wet drag or suction and too little water creates dry drag or too much friction. It is a delicate balance and that’s where the wax comes in. There are different types of wax to help manage this made from different components. Hard or cold wax is used in cold conditions and soft or warm wax is used it warm conditions. These are well named don’t you think so no wax accident can occur!Cold wax on a warm day is not a good idea and vice versa!

Waxing also needs some specific equipment. Firstly you need to secure the ski in a vice and clean it with a brush before you apply the wax. There are different varieties of brush with for example steel or copper bristles depending on how dirty the ski is. Then you apply the wax and use a waxing iron to help it penetrate the ski better. You should clean and wax the ski from tip to tail unless you want to go backwards really quickly!!! ;-). Scrapers are then used to scrape off any excess wax. They also use grinders to prepare the underside of the ski before applying wax if necessary.

It’s a lot of work being a wax technician. They start very early because they have to prepare the skis and test them and also collect data about the snow and analyse it all. Then when the athletes choose their skis for the race they have to prepare them, but not until just before the race in case of any potential change in conditions. Their work is not over when the race starts either. They support the athletes on track by giving them time gaps, showing them where their shots have fallen, providing drinks and of course shouting encouragement. It doesn’t end there however as afterwards they have to collect and clean the skis before preparing for the next day.

It’s a tough job but there is still hope for all the wax techs out there who are frustrated athletes! There is the inspirational story of America’s Alex Deibold from another Winter sport. He was the wax tech for the snowboard team in the Vancouver Olympics and then went on to win a bronze medal in Sochi in the Snowboard cross.

So as you can see the waxing of the skis plays a huge part in how the biathletes perform and the wax technicians are an essential part of any success or indeed failure. These brave soles who spent most of their time in a hot truck that smells of fumes or out testing on the track deserve a lot of credit. They should have a lot more people than just me WAXing Lyrical about them! Keep up the good work guys – even though you are hidden away in a truck you are not forgotten!!!

*to wax lyrical: to speak about something in an enthusiastic,interested and excited way.

Disclaimer: I am not a wax expert(or waxpert if you like!) so if I got anything wrong it’s the Internet’s fault and not mine!!!

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