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Harald Bjerke Writes the Book on Swix

It’s only fitting that Harald Bjerke would write a history of Swix. Throughout his nearly 50-year tenure as product manager at the company, Bjerke was responsible for the development of more than 300 products, notably Blue Extra, formulated by Leif Torgersen—the legendary Dr. Wax—and the Swix hat as we know it. Now, looking toward Swix’s 75th anniversary, the 77-year-old resident of Vingrom, Norway, (near Lillehammer), who now works part time as an adviser and museum director for Swix, is encapsulating the company he’s so long been part of in a book that’s due out this year. But Bjerke’s knowledge of Nordic goes far beyond Swix.

Harald Bjerke, now an advisor and museum director for Swix, developed more than 300 products during his 50-year tenure as product manager with the company. Courtesy Harald Bjerke, artwork by Thomas Zipfel

Cross Country Skier: Let’s start with fluoros. Will they be gone forever soon, once FIS implements their ban next season? Will the alternative waxes offer the advantages of fluoros or could they be better?

Harald Bjerke: This is a touchy question. The fluors will be gone, but it will be hard to replace them in wet and humid conditions. For conditions below freezing, Swix has found good and possibly better alternatives, for example the popular LF6. The challenge is that, from nature’s side, you find no more water repellent material than fluor. And when it is wet you need the wax to be as water repellent as possible. There will be some frustrated racing service guys in 2022-23…. 

XCS: When do you expect to have your book out? Have you thought about doing a translation of the late Jakob Vaage’s Skismøringens Historie?

HB: The book hopefully will be out in 2021. I have, by the way, acquired a new respect for writers and journalists. Swix has its 75th anniversary on November 28 next year. Jakob Vaage’s book, Skismøringens Historie, was written on behalf of Swix as a gift to Martin Matsbo when he retired in 1976. Matsbo was one of the founders of Swix. He won the Holmenkollen 17 km sprint in 1937. We have not yet considered translating it, but if you believe there is interest, why not? In my book there will be a chapter on Martin Matsbo where I will be looking hard into the Vaage book. 

XCS: A friend of ours from Madshus says that skin skis are really popular, even in Norway. Has that cut into the sale and use of “regular” waxes, like Extra Blue? What suggestions do you have for skiers to maintain and get the most out of their skins? What are the most common mistakes?

HB: Skin skis are popular in Norway. It has somewhat cut into sales of klister and hard wax. However, the skis have expanded the cross country market, luring people into the sport that have thought waxing too complicated.

The skin skis need to be maintained with glide wax in tip and tail. The skin should be cleaned with a special skin cleaner, not a regular wax remover, as this could loosen the glue in the skin. The skin should also be treated with an antifreeze liquid, like Swix Skincare. This is to avoid getting ice into the skins, which happens when the temperature goes from wet to colder. 

XCS: Are we right in thinking that ski poles may be the most profitable segment at Swix, given the cost of production and the profit margin. What’s the future of poles? How much lighter can they possibly get? Stronger? Do athletes make bigger premiums from their pole contracts than from skis?

HB: The nonsymmetrical poles, like the Triac, are produced with IPM technology, which means ‘‘Internal Pressure Molding.’’ This is a slow production method. Then you have the cost of quality carbon fiber. The Triac is a non-compromise pole, where the ultimate and most expensive materials are chosen to get the optimal stiffness, weight and impact strength. If you want more impact strength, you have to choose a heavier pole that costs less. 

The future of poles may well be an improved version of what we saw in the wing shaped Swix Falcon pole from 2006 where the handle and tip were integrated in the shaft. Athletes definitely do not get bigger premiums from their pole contracts, compared to skis. The last years it has been easier for non-pole producers to buy complete poles in China and put it into their program. It has driven up the premiums on poles and tempted several racers to go for the money, but still ski premiums are way higher.

XCS: Swix hats still selling well? Who’s designing them now?

HB: Our clothing department is taking care of the hats. It is fun to see that the old Swix hat is still hanging in there.

XCS: When you were a child, the memory of German occupation must have been pretty fresh. Atlantic Crossing, the new TV series that tells the story of Norway’s Crown Princess Märtha during World War II and which much of Norway seems to be watching—and arguing about—will be on U.S. public television in April. Have you seen it and would you recommend it? 

HB: I was born during World War II, but don’t remember anything. In Atlantic Crossing, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway gets a lot of focus regarding influencing President Roosevelt, while staying for three years in his home with her children. The critics in Norway feel her importance is exaggerated, but she was undoubtedly a charming and intelligent woman. My father actually knew her when he was crewing with her husband, later to be King Olav. I remember he always spoke fondly of Märtha, but that she was a decisive factor to convince Roosevelt to get USA into the war is questionable. The Japanese managed that in Pearl Harbor 1941. 

XCS: How has COVID affected skiing life in Norway? Do skiers wear masks? Are there any competitions at all? Between clubs?

HB: Skiing life is going on in Norway pretty well. Norges Cup competitions are held and used for picking the athletes to go to the World Championships in Oberstdorf. No one is wearing masks in the trails unless it is a “cold mask.” The Norwegian XC racers are staying home in Norway and do not take the chance of traveling until the Championships.

XCS: Nearly as important, are bars and restaurants open? Are people pretty careful?

HB: Restaurants are restricted, especially in Oslo. People are careful and respect very much the advice from the government.

XCS: What was the general feeling regarding the postponement of the Lillehammer World Cup and the decision for Norway to not send athletes to World Cup races in Davos and Dresden? How much racing do you expect the Norwegian team to get in before the World Championships?

HB: It was understood very well why the World Cup was postponed. Local races were held instead which most likely will be going every week. The races are based on interval starts.

XCS: How much are you skiing these days? Surely you’ve skied skin skis?

HB: Skin skis are OK when it is around freezing and new snow. Else it is waxable with Blue Extra and VM Universal Klister. Waxing is only difficult around freezing. Have not skied much this season, but the skis are ready. 

This story first appeared in the Late Winter 2021 issue of Cross Country Skier (#40.3).