Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Racer Tweaks

Every year there's a new hot technique or equipment change in the Nordic racing scene. During the development of skating as a separate discipline, these changes were often drastic and meaningful. Some were doomed experiments as weird as anything from the Age of Dinosaurs. Others reflected the evolution of gear and technique to make skating genuinely more efficient.

The period of skating evolution got people in the habit of expecting change. It slopped over into classical technique and equipment as well.

Some changes have been more or less permanent. Skate skis settled in to a fairly consistent set of lengths and flexes. Poles grew to ridiculous heights and then settled back to a reasonable one. Classical poles grew, too, and settled back slightly longer than they were at the start of the process.

The funny thing is, within the narrower band of what has proved to work well, fashions seem to change from year to year, a centimeter or two one way or the other. Most of this is just fidgeting. It works better because people think so. It isn't different enough to be noticeably worse. It's still within the usable range.

If a racer tweak makes you cut your expensive poles short one year you'd better hope the trend doesn't favor longer ones next year. That's a good reason to have a couple of sets of poles for each discipline, so you can ski according to fashion without butchering something you have to replace for the next trend.

One benefit to racer tweaks is that they get hard-core skiers moving slightly differently from one year to the next. This might actually help reduce the chance of repetitive strain injuries. No one with coaching credentials has said so officially. I'm just pondering the notion. On the plus side, even if they don't do any measurable physical good, they probably don't do any harm.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Move Christmas!

Christmas really interferes with the beginning of ski season. At a time when we should be building up the wax in our ski bases and getting the kinks out of our form with our first forays on real snow we have to keep taking a break for shopping, parties and family gatherings.

Families in which everyone skis have an advantage, because everyone probably wants to ski. It becomes the group activity. But not everyone skis. In the wider world skiers have to get along with non-skiers and observe the social rituals.

Okay, fine. Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Don't be a Selfish Downhiller

On free-heel skis, the downhills are as much of a challenge as the uphills. The skinnier the ski, the dicier descending will feel, unless you have a lifetime of skiing behind you. Some people just look like they were born on skis. It usually turns out they were.

For the rest of us, getting down safely is our first priority. Getting down stylishly is nice, but comes later.

Later is now. Style isn't just to impress onlookers. It's part of sharing the trail with other skiers.

One element of style is turning. You turn your skis to avoid other skiers as well as trees and other uncomfortable solid objects. But you also turn your skis to check your speed more efficiently than in a sustained snowplow position.

Sure, the snowplow will get you and only you safely to the bottom of a hill. But in the process you may take all the loose snow with you, leaving those who come after you to deal with the bobsled run as best they can. Is that nice? How would you feel if you came upon the chute of glistening ice instead of the freshly-combed granules of groomed delight? Cut the next guy a break.

I certainly can't shoot the drops in a fluid string of closed-stance parallel turns, soI don't expect anyone else to achieve that level as a matter of routine. But you and I can at least narrow the wedge of the snowplow a little, and weight alternate skis to turn back and forth. With all your weight on one ski at a time, you can actually lift the unweighted ski off the snow slightly. That way it scrapes nothing away. We can even practice bringing it parallel to the weighted ski momentarily before stepping (stemming) into the next turn.

Start your turn sequence before you jet up to frightening speeds. That way you will stay in control and not have to jam on the brakes in a panic stop. Panic snowplow stops don't really work all that well. The force on the ski edges tends to straighten the skis out, leaving you hanging between equally-weighted skis, bombing out of control down that hill you didn't like the looks of in the first place.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wind Trainer Winter

Looks like a wind trainer winter this year.

Actually, I don’t have a wind trainer. I have a Nordic Track and a rusty old set of rollers. But Wind Trainer Winter describes the season most cyclists and cross-country skiers endure for at least part of the early winter, when dry land training doesn’t work, because the land is no longer dry, and the snow isn’t deep enough to allow real skiing.

In one of life’s little twists, even though I work in the cross-country ski business and have been able to enjoy quite a bit of groomed-trail skiing over the past few years, I don’t expect to do any this winter. Come to find out that neck and shoulder pain I’ve been experiencing is the result of being stabbed repeatedly in the back by people I work with at my winter job. I’ll be devoting my time to other people’s winter fun and falling back on a bit of tactical Buddhism to manage the loss of an activity I deeply enjoy. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. Didn’t Buddha say that?

The Nordic Track provides good all-around conditioning, though it does nothing for fine-tuned classical form. It will at least keep me from turning into a complete doughboy before spring allows me to venture out on the bike regularly. I will also be ready to trudge through the puckerbrush on my wide exploring skis, if snow conditions allow.

The rusty old rollers are great for loosening up sore muscles, tuning up the cardiovascular system and making sure the bike saddle doesn’t become a complete stranger. In an active Nordic ski season, it’s too easy to neglect saddle time until the painful reacquaintance some time in March.