Since 2019, the Colorado-based Wright Collegiate Challenge, in partnership with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC), has engaged higher-education students in developing actionable solutions to current-day issues facing small businesses and nonprofits in the outdoor recreation industry. This year’s winning team earned Best in Class honors for developing and implementing a program to take back fluorinated ski wax, which contains polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs. These “forever chemicals” don’t biodegrade, can be carcinogenic and have effectively been banned in new ski wax.
Students from Western Colorado University’s Outdoor Industry MBA Program and Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Industry Studies Program paired up with Carbondale-based mountainFLOW eco-wax to entice skiers to do their part in taking harmful fluorinated ski wax out of circulation and dispose of it responsibly. Five retail partners across the state are hosting collection sites and there is also a mail-in option (visit the Fluoro Wax Take-Back Program page for more info).
According to Chuck Sullivan, executive director of The Wright, it’s impressive to see students come up with a solution like the Takeback Program and implement it before the end of the Challenge.
“This is a semester-based program. It provides a great opportunity to delve into a business or industry issue and develop a solution, but it isn’t a lot of time to also take those ideas into the real world. The teams from Western and CMU came together and really took the challenge and ran with it,” Sullivan said.
Team member Megan Zeeb, an Outdoor Industry MBA student at Western Colorado University added, “Working on this Wright Challenge project with mountainFLOW was a fantastic learning experience. Our team was able to work on a real problem in the industry and create an actionable plan to address it and make an impact. Throughout the process we were able to network and build relationships in the industry, think creatively, and grow our professional skill sets.”
Students from the Western Colorado University Outdoor Industry MBA Program at the OR show.
Sullivan was also impressed by the level of collaboration demonstrated by the teams. “This is the first time we’ve seen opposing teams from two different schools assess their challenge and determine the best way to solve the issue at-hand would be to collaborate rather than compete. Looking at the outcome, the collaborative path proved out.”
The Wright Collegiate Challenge and the Fluoro Wax Take-Back Program both reflect the community-minded approach evident across rural western Colorado, particularly when it comes to building businesses and creating opportunity within the outdoor recreation industry.
“The outdoor recreation industry plays an important role both economically and culturally across the Western Slope. Many communities are seeking solutions to similar issues. It’s rewarding to see The Wright Collegiate Challenge bring together students, faculty, business and nonprofit leaders, and partners like OREC. In bridging these stakeholder communities we were able to see the development of an initiative like the Fluoro Wax Takeback Program which can benefit the whole region and even the state,” Sullivan said.
This spring, the Takeback Program earned the Western team the Best in Class award at a culminating event where eight teams competed for the title. A student team from Colorado Mountain College Leadville was recognized as Most Engaged Team for their work with Steamboat Springs-based Town Hall Outdoor Co. A second team of students from Western received this year’s People Choice Award working with San Luis Valley Great Outdoors. Rounding out the Challenge Partners was Grand Junction’s Mountain Racing Products.
In recognition of the students’ work and the real-world experience they gained, participants received Certificates of Completion issued jointly by The Wright and OREC, which is a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“A program like The Wright Collegiate Challenge plays a crucial role in preparing the next generation of workforce for careers in the outdoor industry by providing the type of hands-on experience that students are asking for and employers are requiring,” says Samantha Albert, Deputy Director of OREC.
Participating businesses also recognize the opportunity to mentor the next generation while solving actual problems that affect their industry. As mountainFLOW eco-wax founder and CEO, Peter Arlein, said, “Fluorinated ski wax has been a known environmental concern for years and this takeback program will ensure that this carcinogenic chemical will not be exposed to people or the environment. The issue of removing harmful fluorocarbons is one of the catalysts that led to the creation of mountainFLOW.”
We like to call that a win-win-win—students benefit, companies do too, and in this case, Colorado’s natural environment does too.
The Fluoro Wax Take-Back program runs through the end of May. More information can be found on participating schools and businesses at The Wright Collegiate Challenge website, and last year’s teams can be viewed here.