THE STORY OF VAUHTI
Two brothers, Valto and Aulis Tolsa, were born in the village of Kattilainen in the municipality of Vironlahti. Valto was born on the last day of December in 1902, and Aulis was born fifteen years later, on the 3rd of December 1917. The brothers spent their childhood in the village of Kattilainen. Valto and Aulis attended a grammar school that was located three kilometres away from their home farm. During the winter, they skied to school and during the summer, they walked to school. At the time, children’s basic fitness was maintained with these activities. It was usual for distances to be long, and public transport did not exist at the time. Thus, children learnt to walk, ski and run already at a young age.
THE FIRST SKI COMPETITIONS IN FINLAND
During Aulis’s and Valto’s childhood in the 1910s, Vironlahti was famous for its skiers. When the top skiers of Vironlahti began to achieve an almost unbeatable reputation, skiing constantly remained important throughout the province. Ski competitions were a rather new form of competition. The first ski competitions in Finland were held in the village of Tyrnävä Ängeslevä in March 1879. The weather was good, there was a lot of snow and there were 70 participants. At the time, the forms of competition and the tracks varied a lot. Cross-country skiing was not added to the programme, as such, until at the beginning of the 1900s. Ski exhibitions were organised in connection with the competitions. When hundreds of members of the skiing nation were convened, the ski manufacturers presented their best skis to the audience. Although the ski industry was only just starting off, it was becoming a significant part of domestic industry, particularly in Ostrobothnia.
Traditionally still in the mid-1800s, the left foot’s ski was made of hard pinewood, and it was called a “lyly” (longer ski). The right foot’s ski was called a “sivakka” and it was made of birch. The sivakka was lined with a strip of reindeer skin, because this gave the ski better grip. If you wanted to travel quickly and be able to travel even in warmer weather, reindeer skin was added to both skis for their entire length.
Waxes were not applied to olden days’ skis, but already at the beginning of the 1900s waxes were manufactured and developed. To begin with, tar was applied to the base of the skis and this provided a smooth, gliding surface, which also gave the necessary grip.
EETU NISKA – MASTER SKIER AND WAX MANUFACTURER
Eetu Niska was perhaps the most successful skier, who rose to the ski elites of our country in the 1910s. He skied in the same competitions with adults already at the age of 10 and beat many of them. Only a few top skiers could keep up with Niska, but just a few years later he became such a source of power that many remained several minutes behind him in competitions. Eetu Niska had gained his basic fitness from forestry work, and he also had endurance.
During his competition career, he began to try developing and manufacturing waxes. After his active career, he established his own ski and wax factory in Kattilainen. At the time, the following was written about Niska: “Our ski and ski wax industry has a strong place under the name of Eetu Niska. The SALAISUUS wax he manufactured was unbeatable in terms of reputation and glide. It near enough allowed skiers to fly forward in wet snow. A little boy, who had SALAISUUS in his pocket, looked at his friends with pride. It was a miracle wax at the time.”
Eetu Niska died of pneumonia on 27th January 1953. He died at the age of 65.
VALTO AND AULIS TOLSA AS NISKA’S APPRENTICES
Valto and Aulis Tolsa were often seen as visitors at Eetu Niska’s ski and wax factory, because they lived in the same village and they were relatives. The Tolsa brothers listened to Eetu’s amazing travel stories, learned to make skis and participated in mixing the waxes. The boys were able to find out what ingredients the famous “SALAISUUS” ski wax contained. Eetu Niska presumably showed the Tolsa boys his wax secrets, because later Aulis Tolsa was known as the wax master of special weather conditions, just as his mentor had been. The boys, Valto and Aulis, managed to be in close interaction with Eetu Niska for five years, until the boys’ father died of pneumonia in 1930. After moving to Kotka in 1934, the brothers opened their first small-scale ski wax production from home. Valto Tolsa established a company called Valto Tolsan suksirasvatehdas Oy in 1934. Presumably, business operations made a good start since Tolsa advertised his ski wax in magazines. To begin with, the raw ingredients were aimed to be obtained from the nature, but soon the ingredients were sourced from a local pharmacy.
The preparation of Tolsa’s ski waxes was put on hold during their time in the army and during the wars. Aulis served as a cannon commander in the Winter War. The ski wax factory had been on hold for the duration of the war, because the director of the factory had been at the battlefront. After the wars, the operations of the ski wax factory were not continued. However, the director of Järvinen factory, Esko Järvinen, lured Aulis to work at the Järvinen ski factory. Aulis operated as the quality supervisor at the factory.
VAUHTI SKI WAX SELECTION IS CREATED
In 1951, Aulis established a ski wax factory using his own name. The Vauhti ski wax series’ production had officially been started in the centre of Jyväskylä. Aulis Tolsa had a small workshop in his sauna facilities, where he started his own wax production. The premises turned out to be too small almost immediately, and Aulis moved his factory to a detached house he had rented.
There is no information about what raw ingredients Tolsa used. According to information, the basic raw ingredient was paraffin, and four or five other ingredients were mixed with it. Import companies in Helsinki accepted orders and delivered the requested batches directly to the factory. When new waxes were developed, sample batches were first requested for some ingredients. The most important features of new ingredients were that the ingredient repelled water, had the correct viscosity and the correct melting point. Aulis Tolsa became known as the master waxer for problematic weather conditions.
The family grew, and production continued to expand. Even exports began to Sweden and Norway, as well as small batches to Germany. There was a large sports shop Gresvik in Oslo, which purchased a lot of Vauhti waxes in 1960s. At the time, the largest customer in Sweden was Jofa, which is nowadays known for its ice hockey equipment. His own wax team had also been established. Among the first members of the team was Hannu Taipale, with whom Aulis became good friends. As production expanded, Aulis constructed a house on a beach plot located in the municipality of Jyväskylä, which had a sauna department and wax production facilities downstairs. The family’s apartment was located upstairs. In the new premises, he was able to start even wider scale production. Many historical figures visited the new production facilities and the home of the Tolsas. Juha Mieto, Eero Mäntyranta and Siiri ”Äitee” Rantanen were often seen visiting. Even Urho Kekkonen has been seen to have been having his skies waxed by the Tolsas. Long-term cooperation with skiers also meant essential information for the wax producer and developer. Aulis aimed to discuss and test the skis with the skiers as much as possible, in order to obtain as much reliable information as possible about the competition event.
The Ukkoniemi factory in Jyväskylä was run for ten years, during which time production expanded to approximately 300,000 containers per year. There was enough to do for the entire family. The factory had one employee from outside the family, but otherwise the aim was to manage the business alone. In the production premises, the eye-catcher were the large containers in which the wax mixtures were heated. The level of heating of the substance was determined by the composition of the wax. Some mixtures were boiled, while others were only heated a little. Temperature was a factor that was taken seriously, and the mass had to reach the required temperature as accurately as possible. Production was mainly manual work. There were machines, but they would have cost a lot and the production series would have had to be long. Among others, Aulis Tolsa developed an excellent base wax, which has remained unchanged to this day.
Tolsa carried out continuous product development. He thought about new blends day and night. He had a small test slope in his yard, where he tested the glide and grip of his new waxes. On several occasions, his wife Eeva had to call her husband home in the dark, because Aulis had not finished his glide tests.
The family grew and production expanded. Vauhti was among the three largest ski wax manufacturers in Finland. One Sunday morning, Eeva Tolsa was reading Helsingin Sanomat and saw a small advertisement which offered to sell an industrial hall in the centre of Harjavalta. In addition to an industrial hall, the plot also had a detached house, which was perfect for the Tolsas. They bought the property without a second thought. In August 1969, they moved to the new plot and production was run from there for the next 21 years.
At the time, production reached its peak during the Tolsa era. There was a lot of work, and Aulis was getting old. He decided to stop the production of the company, produce the rest of the raw ingredients for the best products and gradually sell out the inventory. At the same time, he began to look for a suitable purchaser for Vauhti.
Tolsa remembers one Finnish top skier saying in a magazine article “you can’t ski with any other waxes. If you plan on winning, you have to apply Vauhti to the base of your skis.” While reminiscing his life as a wax expert, he states: “It has been a long road from Eetu Niska’s natural waxes to modern day’s powder products.”
Long days were spent working at Vauhti, and tremendous financial profits were not the main thing for Aulis. Aulis loved his work and skiing so much that becoming rich was not his priority. Aulis worked long days and was committed and inspired. The whole family also had to fully participate in the entrepreneurship activities. Working hours were not particularly kept an eye on. If some work came up on a Saturday, it was completed and only after that was the weekend enjoyed. Aulis Tolsa’s life came to an end after a disease for four years. He died in 2006.
FROM TOP SKIER TO A LEADING WAX DEVELOPER
Top skier Aki Karvonen and Aulis Tolsa had a long-term work relationship, and once Aki sent his skis by post to Aulis for waxing. Aulis completed the work as requested and returned the skis to Karvonen by post. The career of border guard Aki Karvonen began in the 1980s and lasted until the end of the decade. In 1982, he won a bronze medal in Oslo’s World Championships relay and personally came tenth. In the Olympics of 1984, Karvonen won a silver and bronze medal. At the Oberstdorf competitions in 1987, Karvonen won a silver medal in the 30-kilometre World Championships.
At the end stage of production, Aulis Tolsa had asked skier Aki Karvonen about his interest in purchasing the Vauhti trademark already in 1989. At the same time, Tolsa had also asked the Chief Executive Office of the company manufacturing Future skiwear, Toivo Turunen, about his interest towards Vauhti.
In 1978, Toivo Turunen founded a company called Latu- ja Lenkkeilyvaruste Toivo Turunen, which sold e.g. Peltonen’s skis in Joensuu. Gradually, the company began to manufacture moisture and frost protection for ski shoes and shin protectors for orientators. The production slowly expanded to ski outfits, and the company’s name was changed to TT Future.
Toivo Turunen and Aulis Tolsa began their negotiations on purchasing Vauhti in 1990. Turunen considered that he could not manage the sales, marketing and product development of Vauhti alone. He had enquired about the matter from Aki Karvonen, whose skiing career was coming to an end. Karvonen had been part of the Future ski pool for decades.
Aki Karvonen and the 1960s promising Finnish Championships skier, Toivo Turunen, established a company called Vauhti Speed in March 1991. The company purchased Aulis Tolsa’s Vauhti ski wax production. The signing event was held in the Future Freetime premises in Kopravaara, Juua.
The new production facilities were built in the summer of 1991 in Kopravaara. No new machinery needed to be purchased during the initial stages of production, since all the necessary equipment came from Tolsa’s other factory in Harjavalta. There was a lot of work ahead. Vauhti had to achieve an entirely new glide wax series and powder waxes. Grip waxes had to also be reformed. One major shortcoming at the time was the lack of fluorine waxes from the selection. Aki contacted Jussi Mäki primarily. He was a chemist in Central Finland and had been a wax master in Lahti’s World Championships project. Jussi implemented improvements and special versions of commercial waxes for the Finnish national team. He had a wax trademark called MC. Vauhti purchased the MC trademark and the fluorine expertise. It was a major step forward. At the time it was then known where everything came from and what everything had an effect on. This provided a new piece for the entire wax palette.
Vauhti was in a rush to have the products ready to be sold during the same year’s autumn. The testing of the products, the design and printing of packaging, the organisation of production, the shipment of goods, invoicing and office work all had to be completed during the summer. Aki Karvonen’s wife, Vuokko, had good language skills and was hired to carry out office work. The reformed Vauhti was welcomed to the market in a very positive manner, and sales took a good start.
When Turunen and Karvonen had purchased the Vauhti wax brand, it took four years before the entire product palette was ready. From there, it was good to start marketing the products properly. Aki Karvonen had received good advice from the Swedish ski team. Vauhti waxes were reminisced in a positive manner in Sweden, and the temporary cease of production had not been heard of. The Swedish skiers welcomed Vauhti in a positive manner, and Karvonen gave them new waxes to test. In our marketing, we may use the idea that if the Swedes ski with Vauhti waxes, why wouldn’t Finns too! Sales developed rapidly. During the first year, sales reached approximately 50,000 wax containers, and by 2006 it was already closer to 250,000 containers. Sales were five times higher within ten years. As production increased, the production premises in Kopravaara became too small for Vauhti’s and TT Future’s operations, so the operations were moved to Tullinportinkatu in the centre of Joensuu in 2003.
Toivo Turunen decided to become a baron in 2007. He sold his share of Vauhti waxes, in which case the owners of Vauhti were Mika Matikainen and Aki Karvonen with equal shares. The following year, Vauhti’s factory, warehouse and office moved to their current premises in Käpykangas in Joensuu.
Vauhti’s sales took a positive development, and the share of exports reached almost half of the company’s sales, where the majority involved sales in Sweden and Russia. Vauhti expanded its selection to roller skis, poles and ski gloves. Alongside sales, a lot of effort was placed in domestic shop activities, alongside which a lot of effort was invested in merchant cooperation. Vauhti had a large group of so-called representatives, who visited the stores of key customers to successfully present and sell products during the season.
At Aki Karvonen’s lead, Vauhti completed pioneering development work in liquid waxes. It was the first manufacturer in the world to launch a liquid grip wax in 2002. With the move of development work to liquid products and the new innovations that were made, the focus points of Vauhti’s future business activities were set out.
VAUHTI’S NEW ERA
On Christmas Eve 2014, Aki Karvonen had 22 years of Vauhti’s product and business development behind him. The company was debt-free and the business was profitable. Mika Matikainen operated as the Chief Executive Officer of the company, and Aki was able to focus mainly on product development. Despite all, the idea of enjoying free time with Vuokko and his grandchildren began to delve in the ski legend’s mind. By early spring, the decision had been made, and together with Mika, a new partner was sought for Vauhti.
The previous chief executive officer of the Finnish clothing brand Halti and the Alpine ski influencer Martti Uusitalo had left Halti in December 2013. Uusitalo’s and Karvonen’s paths met by surprise in the early spring of 2014. Karvonen and Matikainen were looking for new energy and the experience of an international sports brand to join Vauhti. Uusitalo’s experience and visions made an impression to the two. In July 2014, the sales contract was concluded according to which Vauhti was sold to a new investment company in the background of Uusitalo, in which case Matikainen and the Karvonens became the minority shareholders of the company.
Vauhti’s strategic objective was set to become the industry’s leading operator in wax technology. In accordance with Vauhti’s new strategy, in the future it will focus on the development of the wax technology in particular. All the product series and concept of Vauhti were reformed. In addition to traditional waxes, the development and marketing of liquid waxes and care products, which had already started during Karvonen’s era, became the number one strategic objective. Alongside product development work, Vauhti substantially invested in production technology and production equipment. The automation of production equipment that started in 2015 has made today’s Vauhti factory the world’s most modern ski wax factory, where the capacity to manufacture liquid waxes has increased to ten times the amount since 2014. The company’s facilities in Joensuu have expanded since the increase. Today, Vauhti produces more than 500,00 wax units each year.
DOCTOR OF CHEMISTRY ESA PUUKILAINEN TO MANAGE VAUHTI
As Karvonen’s retirement days close in, it was imminent that Vauhti needed product development expertise for the company. Close to the Finnish skiing networks was Esa Puukilainen, a Doctor of Philosophy who was well-known in the industry and who had researched the interaction between plastic material and water in his thesis, with the base of a ski as one subject of application. Puukilainen was also a prior competition skier and directed the Finnish Olympic Committee’s Sotshi ski maintenance project. Puukilainen has a unique understanding of skis’ material technology and chemistry, as well as practical experience and passion in skiing. Puukilainen, who started as a product development director, was appointed as the chief executive office in January 2016.
In March 2016, Aki and Vuokko Karvonen decided to fully pull away from the operative activities of Vauhti. At the same time, Vauhti’s parent company decided to purchase Karvonens’ and Matikainen’s share. The sale ended Aki Karvonen’s almost 25-year-long career as one of Finland’s most significant wax developers.
Together with its strategic reforms, Vauhti took on to an even stronger growth. It left the poles and ski gloves behind it and focused solely on the sales and manufacturing of waxes and roller skis. In a few years, Vauhti’s liquid waxes gained significant foothold in the market. Vauhti became a market leader in Finland, and the share of turnover from exports increased to more than half.
Together with Puukilainen’s expertise and the cooperation with the University of Eastern Finland, the selection of liquid waxes increased significantly. The unique innovations of Vauhti were recognised throughout the skiing industry. Vauhti’s expertise in liquid waxes was of particular interest to the world’s largest ski manufacturer, Austrian Fischer GmbH, which concluded a cooperation agreement with Vauhti in 2016, which led to Vauhti producing a wax and care product collection for Fischer using their trademark. In addition to the substantial subcontracting cooperation, Fischer and Vauhti carry out product co-development in the testing of glide surfaces’ and materials’ various applications.
Vauhti still holds Eetu Niska’s Salaisuus wax recipe. More than a hundred years of wax development history and production makes Vauhti one of the industry’s oldest operators. At the same time, it is now a pioneer in its field and the most modern wax factory in the world.
Vauhti, which appreciated traditions and history, is a company operating under complete Finnish ownership and operates in the international markets, and which values are based on Finnishness and the desire to win, just as Eetu Niska’s, Aulis Tolsa’s and Aki Karvonen’s will to make the world’s best ski wax.
A lot has changed, but Vauhti’s SALAISUUS wax was unbeatable in terms of reputation and glide already at the beginning of the millennium. ”It near enough allowed skiers to fly forward. A little boy, who had SALAISUUS in his pocket, looked at his friends with pride. It was a miracle wax at the time.” Just as the following development versions of SALAISUUS – Vauhti’s modern day new technology waxes.