Sunday, December 31, 2006

Looks Like Snow,Only Smaller

A few inches of unexpected bounty have actually packed down to something skiable.

Yesterday I floundered around on some Fischer Superlights. The snow squalls probably obscured the view from the lodge windows. I hope so, anyway. It was my first formal exercise in two weeks, except for a few moments of stretching or a quick set of tele dips.

Today was more like the real thing. I skated off on verifiable packed powder. Other skiers had been out, so I had marks to show me where the rocks lurked. I actually got my heart rate up from the hibernating amphibian cadence I'd exhibited while buried in the mud for two weeks.

Honestly, working a sedentary job and driving everywhere, I should just wear a bib to catch the drool. Lower jaw and eyelids hang at the same slack droop. Periodically I raise the back of one hand to rub away the saliva headed for my chin. Can't ride? Can't ski? While not ready to seek death, I might not get out of the way of the speeding train if I happened to be oozing, sluglike, across the tracks when it bore down. I might work up the energy to grunt quizzically before impact.

The weather forecast quivers indecisively between a possibly fruitful wintry mix and buckets of warm phlegm. We won't know for sure until it's on the ground.

Meanwhile, we have skied. People look straighter, springier, smilier. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Loving winter has really become an abusive relationship. Who would stay in a relationship with someone who runs hot and cold, shows up late, leaves early, slaps you around, is constantly failing to deliver what's promised or live up to expectations? And yet we keep hoping it will change, that the magic will come back. Maybe things will be like they used to be.

You're so's like you're not even trying anymore.

You hang around with that hussy Colorado. I hate you! I hate you! Please come back!

I can't leave. Where would I go? What would I do?

Irrational, isn't it? But it's all we know.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Supported Touring

At this moment I can overhear a couple of people discussing operations in Maine by an organization I won't name, offering supported camp-to-camp ski tours.

Logistical problems pile up like foam in a shaken soda. Snowmobile users demand their shot at any trail. The customers require a certain level of indulgence to get them to come out at all. As with so many guided outdoor adventures, self reliance is the first casualty. It just becomes another energy-consuming, pollution spreading, peace-and-quiet-destroying human carnival. The organization in question has always expressed the hope that a significant percentage of the people who insist at first on being coddled will mature into self-reliant explorers and environmental advocates.

This is why I bushwhack. Choose terrain no one can cross with a machine, with a sketchy trail or none at all, and you have half a chance at some privacy and fresh tracks. This applies whether we have snow or not, because ATVs need a clear space and a manageable slope, too.

Of course the machine heads keep pushing the envelope, forcing the fanciers of quiet self-propulsion onto dicier and dicier terrain. Eventually you end up clinging to a cliff, bombarded by the echoing sounds of engines you can't escape.

We have some time before that happens. It's a race between humanity's self-indulgent deficit spending and the absolute limit imposed by finite resources. In the grand scheme, sag-wagon ski tours of the backwoods of Maine probably do a tiny bit more good than harm.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Klister Control

Klister can be more of a blessing than a curse, but only if you control this feisty servant.

Wax in a tube, like glue that never dries, klister has developed its own legend, full of demonic behavior and the horror of ruined clothing and equipment. But it's not evil, just misunderstood.

Many people fear klister's reputation so much they add to it by dousing the kick zone of their klistered ski with a flood of solvent, waiting a few minutes and attacking the gooey mass with a plastic spatula. This will move a lot of klister out of the kick zone and give the illusion of some success, but when the solvent dries the ski will be as sticky as a plastic placemat in a pancake house. The klister hasn't gone away completely. Thinned by the solvent, it has just moved to new neighborhoods and settled down. It's all over the sidewalls and top sheet of the ski. It's under the edge of the binding plate.

To succeed with klister, you must be patient. You can't kill it with chemicals. You can't scrape it away with a plastic or metal scraper. But two items from your own bathroom can turn klister cleanup into a trivial problem.

You will need some toilet paper and an old toothbrush. You will need wax remover, but not a lot of it.

Carefully place one ski on the waxing profile. Unroll a strip of toilet paper the length of the klistered area. Pat this onto the klister. Some technicians suggest you heat the paper at this point, using a hot air gun or hair dryer, but be careful. Softened klister could escape if heat is applied too quickly. You want the klister to soak into the paper.

You can also use Swix Fiberlene or similar cleaning tissue, which is more rugged than toilet paper, but also more expensive.

Using a thin plastic scraper, start at one end of the kick zone and scrape firmly, at a shallow angle, to the other end of the waxed area in one smooth motion. This should pick up the paper and klister in one nice HAZMAT wad you can then flick into the trash can. Only a little residue will remain on the ski.

Dip your old toothbrush into the wax remover and scrub the leftover klister in the kick zone. This is also the time to scrub away the little boogers of klister that always hide along the lower part of the ski sidewalls, especially with cap skis. The protruding edge of cap skis makes a little ledge under which the klister hides all summer if you don't root it out with your last base cleaning before applying storage wax.

Repeat the toothbrush cleaning as necessary to get all the little klister insurgents out of their hideouts.

Your other choice is to do a hack job on the cleaning, or no cleaning at all, and pay me to clean it up at the beginning of ski season. But let me warn you: I'm not cheap.

Monday, December 04, 2006

December Says It's Getting Its Act Together, Honest

Snow squalls sift into the emerald fairways of the golf course, barely touched by frost even at this late date. Could the ground please freeze before the snow this year? And could it stay frozen, so we keep what falls and don't lose it to a bog at the first gleam of rising sun as winter passes its midpoint?

The temperature has dropped to 26F. That's promising.

We tell ourselves it's early yet, and it is. But early clicks over to late by the end of the month.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Ski Shapes the Skier

Because cross-country skis come in such a variety of shapes and sizes, the ski itself (combined with an appropriate boot and binding) does a lot to shape the technique of the person using it.

If you chose your ski to match a particular style of skiing, such as skating, high-performance classical, low-intensity groomed-trail touring or back-country trail-breaking on ungroomed snow, you may not notice the fact that it shapes your style. The qualities of the ski will reinforce the strong points needed for that type of skiing. Only when you push the boundaries of a ski's strong area will you start to feel it compelling you back to a stride length and rhythm more suited to its shape. It doesn't care what you want. A wide, shaped, heavily-built ski will bring you back to slower, easier strides that conserve energy over the long haul, no matter how hard you try to muscle your way down the trail in a vigorous V-skate on it.

Generally, you'll find people trying to push heavy gear into faster forms of skiing more than they will take racing gear into the puckerbrush. An experienced skier knows there are times you can have a wildly good time on racing skis on ungroomed snow, but only when the natural surface mimics or improves on the commercially prepared product. Far more common is the sight of some dogged tourist trudging along in a laborious V1 skate, wondering why anyone would spend time or money to ski like that all the time.

Because skis have such different shapes for different uses, skiers tend to collect several pairs, perhaps with boots and bindings to match. They're fairly easy to store. When conditions favor a certain type of skiing, the fully-eqipped skier grabs the appropriate tool and heads out.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No More Whining about the Weather

Think you have a tough time training when winter won't deliver the white stuff? How about if it never did? Check out this guy.

Of course he does enjoy consistently warm weather. He can focus on dry land training without considering nuisance snowfalls that wreck the roller skiing while failing to provide real skiing. He doesn't have to go out into subzero wind chills for his road workouts. Then he travels to the snow for his final finish training and his races.

Pretty shrewd.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Taste of Winter

Winter is acting like I did in high school. It's been screwing off all term, only to come running in with a late effort to drag its grade from an F to a C minus.

The storm that brought eight inches of powder in parts of southeastern New Hampshire sprinkled about three on Jackson, but, combined with what had fallen earlier and the rock-hard ice that underlay it in places that had not just gone over to mud it actually made a smooth, fast surface on the Ellis River Trail. Skiers could set out from the base lodge, rather than have to ride the shuttle bus to higher elevation trail networks.

The temperature has been like January, with overnight lows slightly above or below zero and daytime highs in the teens or low twenties. We haven't lost any of our meager accumulation to melting this time. Not yet.

The bad season has taken its toll on skiers who count on having the trails to use for their regular exercise and fun. People I will see many times in a normal winter are finally coming in, looking tired and overweight. Will they get enough ski time to bridge to bike season? The seasons frequently overlap in the spring, but only if we have enough snow to survive thawing and refreezing.

Cross-country skiing provides such complete exercise I may finally break down and get roller skis, so I don't have to do as much weight training in the off season. Nordic skiing uses the core muscles, strengthening the abdominal and back muscles dynamically through a comfortable range of motion. The fact that you get to move down the trail keeps it interesting with changing scenery and the need for varied techniques.

Roller skiing isn't quite the same as skiing on snow. You don't slide as easily if you crash on pavement. You don't have cars and trucks blowing by you on the ski trails. But you do get to use poles and enjoy the scenery and real movement. We'll see. Hey, I could roller ski to work some days. Then again, maybe not. Route 28 doesn't have much of a shoulder. I hate not being able to put my efforts to practical use.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tongue Depressors

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The original Fischer Cruiser tongue depressor is on the left. The unfortunate copycat by Karhu is on the right. Behind the tip, the Fischer is genuinely worse, with a weird shape and fairly lackluster grip pattern. The Karhu uses a more conventional shape and an excellent base for both grip and glide. With any luck the ugly tips will soon go out of fashion, leaving only Fischer clinging to them. They're known for both excellent high performance skis and for hanging onto mistakes elsewhere in the line far longer than they should. Endure innovation! Posted by Picasa

Endure Innovation

I'm sorry. I hate Fischer Cruisers. They're just ugly bullshit.

Karhu's line provides great recreational skis in compact sizes. Too bad they picked up the stupid, ugly tongue depressor tip Fischer stuck us with when they pooped out the Cruising line. But aside from that unfortunate cosmetic detail, Karhu's compact touring skis do a vastly better job in all aspects of recreational skiing and don't stop a beginner's learning curve with their shape, the way Fischer's Cruisers do.

Fischer's Cruiser shape is a masterpiece of cynicism. It allows a beginning skier to ride a panicked snowplow down a hill, and herringbone up the next one, by laying a long edge down in the middle of the ski. But this same long edge prevents a skier from developing any better technique. True, a great many skiers will never improve. A great many skiers will never know the difference. But by marketing these distinctly ugly, limited-use tools as general-purpose skis, Fischer is just spreading disinformation.

Disinformation and propaganda are mainstays of the ski industry. No company is innocent. Only a rare shop will break cover and admit this, because we all have to move product to stay in business. Most people don't get to use their skis enough to be able to figure out exactly what they don't like about them, so the industry is safe in pumping out weird-looking sticks backed by basically fabricated claims. It's the age-old question. Does anyone really know that their company has produced a turkey, or are they all just caught up in the marketing department's good vibes?

I only mention this because a poor soul has brought in two sets of Cruisers to be waxed. I have to polish these turds to a bright shine for tomorrow morning. I feel like a cheap whore. What I'm doing may make them feel better temporarily, but it's degrading and sad for both of us. I'm wasting wax on something that wouldn't even look good nailed to the side of a barn, and the customers are trapped in the delusion that it is a ski.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


This season has turned a lot of skis into rock skis.

Most of us have rock skis. These skis have seen their best years, but still allow us to get out on really substandard surfaces and go through the motions while we wait for better conditions to arrive. In a normal year, we only have to put up with these decrepit relics for a few outings before the snow gets deep enough to entice us out on the better gear. The fact that we are usually premature in this insures a steady supply of rock skis as the years go by.

Here it is, February twelfth and we have just been threatened with our first good winter snowstorm. We aren't getting it, either. While Boston and Cape Cod burrow out from under more than a foot, close to two feet in isolated places, we're still waiting to collect our second inch out of this much ado about nothing. It's a slow mover. Some forecasts still dangle the notion of four to eight inches. I'll believe it when I'm shoveling it. Meanwhile, it was a good day to conduct unsanctioned medical experiments in the backshop.

I hoped to reanimate the mutilated demo skis I've been using because my rock skis were just too nasty to use for weeks and weeks. I justified using the demos because they'd taken a few hard landings during their service, and they no longer had the latest sidecut profile. Heck, they were practically kindling. And they fit me better than my real rock skis.

Strictly from a survival standpoint I didn't like to use my rock skis on anything steep. The edges are completely rounded. The skis are too soft for me, so they're squirrelly on a fast descent. Their only virtue is that they're shaped like skis and I can trudge around on them a few times on the flat fields we usually groom when the first flakes fall.

Excuses aside, I began to feel really sorry for those demo skis. In the last couple of days we'd been skiing some very tan snow. Earlier I'd managed to skip nimbly around the snags, even completing one whole run on a wretched day without picking up any new gouges at all. But eventually conditions got so bad that no amount of agility could save my skis. The granular snow was extremely fast where it was there at all, which meant that I would rocket into minefields of pea-sized gravel or rocky water crossings on blind drops or curves. Whether I sailed into the hazard or jammed on the brakes in the gravelly approach, the skis took the hit. It was a little sickening.

With a captive subject I could try a base repair technique I was developing, using the riller to push base material back into something like its intended shape. Many of the dings had not gouged material away, they had simply pressed a mark into the base, the way the riller does. The gouges are random and chaotic. The riller pattern is regular and carefully sized. I guessed that by imposing the riller's discipline on the randomly scored base material I could eventually push it straight again.

It's a scary procedure. A Swix 3 millimeter riller looks like it will leave trenches like a ploughed field in that shiny black expensive ski base. It's drastic. And once I'd made a couple of passes I had to continue, to see if the theory would hold up.

All I was doing was accelerating and reversing the natural progression someone might follow when structuring a base during a season of variable wetness. We generally use very fine structures on cold, fine-grained snow and very coarse, deep ones when the snow is very wet. Deep grooves channel free water away from the base. Sloppy snow usually happens in springtime.

Ideally I would have gone methodically from 3 mil to 2 mil to one mil, and so on down to .25 mil, but someone sold the 2 mil, so I went from 3 to 1. It was all right. By the time I got to .5 I could see it was going to work.

For good measure I went over it again with my Toko roller riller, using the coarse and fine inserts. A quick buff with Fibertex and a light pass with a new plexi scraper and I'm ready to start waxing. The cycles of scraping and brushing should smooth the bases further. The ghosts of the gouges are still there, but the base looks much better. And it was way cheaper than a stone grind. We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, our day-long snow storm has left us still waiting for that second inch. Thanks again, Winter. I'll have time next week to do all that waxing.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Little Exploring

After four inches of sleety snow on January 29th, I went out to poke around the back mountain on the 30th. What made me think that four inches would have filled things in?

I'm still getting used to the strange landscape out there. I used to navigate by familiar trees, and the look of the land with the trees covering it. Now the contours lie bare. They look more varied and extreme without the trees.

Flowing water also complicates the skiing. There are more streams than before and they are all open.

On the old beater back-country skis I meandered along, looking for places I could slide along. It would have been quicker to take the skis off and walk directly, if I'd had a specific destination.

Working my way across the slope to my left, I crossed the biggest stream and poked around the clearings, climbing gradually. The snow barely covered the slash and debris from a couple of years of logging. I hardly recognized the terrain park when I first reached it. I should have brought the camera to record how much more jumbled and cluttered it looked.

Traversing further I looked down and back to see if I could put together a continuous descent line without running into a reef. I hopped into a few short snow patches that offered three or four turns, but nothing offered more than that. Then I hit a skidder trail that snaked up and down the slope in sinuous curves. It appeared to be completely filled in with snow, at least at my level and downward. Above, the curves hinted at how wonderful it might be with more snow.

Diving into this track I was able to link about ten turns and only had to jump once. It wasn't long, but it was good. Unfortunately, it took me to the top of the neighbors' clear cut. I could see their house down there. I was glad I had dressed entirely in black. I faded back into the sketchy cover of the leafless forest like any shy animal.

Winter isn't over yet. I can't say we're bound to get snow, but the odds favor it. When it comes I can tap into that sinuous line higher up and stay well above anyone's back yard.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Racing and Touring

The difference between racing and touring is science.

The racer will follow carefully designed plans for nutrition and exertion in order to achieve maximum performance on race day. The racer will pay meticulous attention to ski base preparation and waxing on a molecular level.

Some would say that's the difference between racing and fun.

Some racers are more devoted to details than others, but all of them seem to be able to sling the lingo.

It does appear that the more focused you are the better you will perform. So if that is your idea of fun, you will enjoy it.

I hate to be forced to choose very specific activities all year long just to improve performance in one season. A season like we're having right now shows that you can't count on getting to do what you've trained for. Skiing evolved where warm or snowless winters were rare. We've simply transplanted it to places that seemed wintry to us at the time, but are pale imitations of skiing's ancestral home. And as the climate changes they are getting even more feeble.

New England used to boast of "eight months of winter and four months of poor sledding." It was probably always an exaggeration. Now it's more like "two months of summer and ten months of challenging biking."

Of course I hope it gets better. There's certainly room for improvement right now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's Not Funny

A winter like we're having makes me hope there isn't a God. If a supreme being could let the entire winter sports industry in the northeast get pounded with excrement like this I would not want to live in that universe.

Winter recreation made winter worthwhile. Without it we might as well all be grumpy bastards just counting the days until we can move to Florida. I lived in Florida. I left. Doesn't that tell you something?

Florida's biggest pollutant is all the people pouring in there from colder climates, building developments, sucking up drinking water, pouring out waste and filling the roads, beaches and waterways with baking precancerous bodies. California may break off and slide toward Alaska, but Florida is just going to sag beneath the waves under its load of humanity, leaving a greasy slick behind.

We need winter to be winter, so people can be happy and prosperous here. We don't need another cursed rainstorm, followed by a thaw, followed by another rainstorm. I can't suggest a single thing to make outdoor sports fun in weather like that.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Weird Winter Weather Drives Skiers Crazy

It rained hard most of last night. The snow outside the Jackson touring center looks like applesauce. So why do I keep getting calls from people who think this would be a good day to ski the famous Wildcat Valley Trail, also known as the Back Side of Wildcat or, simply, The Backside?

That last nickname plays nicely into jokes and scathing comments, so go ahead, let your imagination ramble a while.

The upper part of the trail is ungroomed, intended to provide the kind of skiing you might have found in the early years of New England skiing. While the trail itself is maintained, no one goes out to repair the snow after insult and injury from unseasonable warmth and wetness. In short, the Wildcat Valley Trail would be just about the worst choice for today. Yet it seems to be a number of people's first choice.

The lousy winter has probably convinced them to kill themselves.