Sunday, December 23, 2007


After two winters complaining that an endless November merged into an equally eternal April, this year brought full mid-season snow conditions before winter even began. Although today a warmer storm brings the thing we want the least, much of the rest of the month felt like midwinter.

Skiing classical, new gains bring new pains. The weight shift from ski to ski is done through the hips. This requires a slight but necessary rotation to line up body weight without swinging the shoulders too far. As the glide ski hip drives through, the pelvis has to twist so that the supporting leg stays under the body mass while the rear ski can swing up and back. At the same time, as the legs go one way, the arms go the opposite way. As you drive one leg forward, you throw the opposite hand forward, which brings the shoulder forward slightly as well.

During the jerky puppet phase of the season, while the body tries to reconstruct all this micro coordination, the hips seem like a solid block and the shoulders want to rotate too far.

A couple of days ago, my hips suddenly broke loose the rust that had held them. Each stride instantly became more powerful, but all the supporting muscles burned out shortly afterwards. I don't remember what all of them are called, but I can point to them. Yoga probably uses them, but not while sliding along a slippery track through icy air. Anyway, if they hurt, just keep skiing until they come into form.

Having shaken loose the classical form, I skated yesterday, having not enjoyed a good groin pull in a while. It wasn't that bad, but skating uses some of the same supporting muscles as classical, some different ones and some in slightly different directions, so another complex composition of tweaks and aches plays out.

Because of the timing of the holidays, I will be working eighteen days with only Christmas Day off. And I'm late leaving the house right now. Slacker.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Snow like Silk, Wind like Needles

Sunday's snow fell cold and fine, whipped and swirled by the northeast wind. It was a day to wax long for classical and leave the skate skis in the rack.

With temperatures in the lower mid-teens, Swix V 20 or VR 30 worked perfectly as long as you applied it long and thin. The skis slid smoothly through the silky powder in contrast to the stinging assault of the wind on the way across the open fields to reach the woods.

In the shelter of the trees the track no longer disappeared in drifted snow, at least not as quickly. This sheltered trail attracted most of the skier traffic, so they renewed the track as each one passed.

I felt less like a badly made puppet this time. Conditions steadily improve and I improve with them. The brain knows what to ask the body to do, but the body can't seem to deliver it with the same grace and power I remember from the best of every season past. But the short sections in which it all works get longer and more frequent until they merge into the continuous flow that keeps me looking for it.

The fact that February conditions have arrived at the middle of December doesn't seem as strange as it should. New England has traditionally been able to dish up an early winter just as easily as it produces depressing months of gray and brown with only slush and ice to coat the dead leaves and half-frozen mud. We choose to believe that the legendary winters are the true reality and the gray desolation is abnormal, but averages are made of extremes combined and divided equally. We're making out this year. That's all we can say.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Nothing compares to the feeling of peace that comes after a cross-country ski outing. The full-body workout seems to flush all the nastiness out of every place it can accumulate. The smooth flow through space calms the mind, even if certain uphills can be daunting and downhills can inspire terror.

Find terrain that lets you enjoy yourself.

Even after the first couple of times at the beginning of the season, when last year's familiar skills seem reluctant to report for duty, the aftermath is peace. Peace and energy. If we were looking at brown ground and tepid temperatures, I would probably still be trying to fashion a mood out of tiny scraps of euphoria adrift on a vast sea of anhedonia. During the worst of the wait in late November and much of December most years, only these little life rings and bits of wreckage painted with the name of my former ship serve to keep me swimming until I can find the bottom with my feet. Hopefully that will happen with my head above water and I can crawl ashore to take stock of what washed up with me that I can use.

This early snow seems to have rescued me from the absolute worst of midlife bleakness piled onto seasonal funk. Stuck in a car, driving to a job at which I sell things no one can use seems like a complete waste of life. Without the snow I'm just marking time until next biking season, but even then I'm struggling to survive the darkness just so I can piss away the light. The bright season will flash past in a blur of under-appreciated labor, sling-shotting me into the next cycle of darkness. And so it goes.

Hard to believe a little sliding around on snow has pulled me out of the depths of such dark rumination, but it's true. Exercise is the best anti-depressant, but it's hard to convince yourself to take the cure when all you have are indoor machines in a world dominated by night. Then the ground turns white. Its light spreads through the woods and fields, making the short day dazzling and the night luminous. It invites you out to play. And from that play comes new strength.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

On Snow

After five days as a bloated slug, I actually got out today on the snow that fell last Monday. Scheduling had prevented me from doing anything with it prior to this, and it had kept me from going out on the bike.

The temperature spiked an extra five degrees just before I set out. I had already rewaxed twice as the day warmed before I could get out. Within minutes I stopped to put on the warmest wax I had with me, still about a grade shy of what was really needed.

Here I was, on snow for the first time since last March, but needing mid-season precision in my technique to make marginal wax work. No one witnessing my liberal and continuous dropping of F-bombs would have thought I was having a good time. But they just don't know how I have a good time.

I kept it a little short since it was my first time out. I used to shift to weight training, Nordic Track and other dry land conditioning methods, but in the past couple of years I've tried to direct my energy into creative pursuits. Moving on snow is so different from anything else that you can never make a seamless transition to real skiing from any substitute activity.

At times, several strides in a row might look and feel right. Despite my discouraging lack of coordination and power, I know things will rapidly improve, as long as I can continue to get out.

Looking at the snow cover, thin as it is, I kept having to remind myself it isn't even the tenth of December yet. This is wintry snow. We didn't get a couple of feet of it, but the trails are covered well enough to make full-on rock skis unnecessary.

All could change in hours. But for now and the near future, the winter pattern seems well established. Even a couple of decades ago, this early snow would not have been so unusual. But New Hampshire is at the same latitude as southern France, not a notorious hotbed of winter sports. The wise outdoor athlete around here keeps options open.

I saw a surprising number of bicyclists as I drove to work this morning. Usually whenever I see a cyclist from my car I have a powerful urge to be out there with them. But considering the brown, briny slush they were riding through, that urge was quickly quelled. Cold and wetness can be dealt with, but that corrosive spooge is something else.

One more shot at the groomies tomorrow. Then I'm home and carless for Monday and Tuesday, with storm coming in on Monday. Maybe I can fit in a little exploring out back with the coyotes and the wild turkeys, to get my attitude in shape for domestic chores and studio work.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Snot Control

Have you noticed how cold weather makes your nose run?

Apparently, some people have not. Their noses run. They just don't notice.

These are not your stereotypical snuffling droolers. These are otherwise ordinary, nice folks who seem oblivious to the clear streams flowing down their upper lip. Or, even worse, they notice it and head it off with a wiping hand. Soon they are glistening with mucus halfway to the elbow.

Outdoors, these fountains of nasal moisture are merely mildly nauseating. I would rather have someone snork and clam than see their silent stream and their haphazard efforts to mop it away, but what can I do? I suppose it's better for it to coat them than to have them clam it onto me as I go by.

Indoors the game becomes more serious. The dripper seems to want to transfer a fresh coat of sinus varnish to everyone and everything in their path. Those of us who don't care to wear someone else's exudate try to avoid them without embarrassing them.

For some reason, your committed, habitual snot dripper seems to be in complete denial. I have handed some of them tissues and handkerchiefs, only to have them look at me in befuddlement and set them aside, or smile thinly as if I had made a joke they totally didn't get. Seconds later they might slide their slimy hand across their nostrils one more time, before picking up a tool from the workbench or handing me money.

This almost ritualized Snot Dance goes on all winter with a variety of partners, some regulars, some passing strangers in the dance hall. The object for the Slimers is to make contact. The object for the Drys is to avoid it.

Choose your side. I'll see you on the floor, whether I want to or not.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Does Cross-Country Skiing Have a Future?

From Salomon's introduction of the Profil binding system for lightweight Nordic skis in the early 1990s, cross-country skiing equipment fell into a fairly organized continuum from light skis with system bindings like Rottefella's NNN and Salomon's Profil, to exploring skis with the so-called back country versions of those systems, to real exploring skis and Telemark-specific skis with 75 millimeter bindings.

Clearly the Salomon product was a little better designed, simpler and more solidly built. NNN bindings were put together like a cheap model kit. In the back country versions, Salomon added a few touches to create a better product as well, although neither Salomon nor Rottefella's binding was anything one would really want to take deep into the bush for any length of time.

In the mid 1990s, Salomon introduced the Pilot skating binding. Skating had evolved to the point where a binding that played to its specific needs met a receptive audience. No one missed single-bar skate bindings with elastomer springs once they'd skied Pilot.

For a decade, all was well. NNN bindings got weirder and weirder, while Salomon bindings remained solid and reliable.

All that is over now. As if Nordic skiing in the United States didn't have enough challenges with the warming climate and the sedentary public, now old reliable Salomon has felt compelled to fix things that weren't broken by applying the Pilot concept to all their bindings.

Did Shimano buy them while we weren't looking?

Last year it was Equipe Classic Pilot, a racing classic binding that carried the same hefty price tag as the Pilot skate binding, but without the utterly undeniable advantages the skate binding had brought to the sport. It does provide some improvement over the flexor-type binding it replaces. As racer gear the market could accept it, since racers were already paying the same price for skate bindings and it brought some functional improvement.

This year, Salomon has introduced an automatic step-in version of Pilot, aimed at touring skiers. They have put a Pilot-only sole on their best-fitting boot, which has been our biggest seller for years, marrying it inextricably to this untried binding.

The touring Pilot binding is harder to get out of than the original Profil. Some people already had trouble escaping from that. Pilot has a definite learning curve. A skier can damage the binding if they lose their balance while trying to get out of it. They can also damage their ski more easily in a foot-tangling crash. The manual release is stiff and awkward. If it had been well designed and carefully built it would provide a better escape for a skier who has fallen. However, combined with Pilot's second bar engaged in the rear lever of the binding, it will not improve things.

It's time for an open-source Nordic binding. For all its limitations, 75 millimeter was available to any boot or binding maker. I don't want to see it come back. Nor do I want anything as cheesy as NNN. Someone, somehow has to tweak the basic concept of the old Profil binding and turn it loose on the market so touring skiers can get used to one true norm and find a variety of competitively-priced products so they can get into the sport without having to make so many decisions up front about which binding company they want to put in charge of their skiing enjoyment.

Nordic skiing has no primary, influential publication, so I have no idea how this concept can ever gain any publicity and traction, but here it is. At least this way someone might stumble on it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

This Play is All Work!

On a farewell cruise out the Ellis River Trail today, I skated, because any option would be slow, and skate skis would probably be the easiest to clean afterwards.

At the end of any winter, all the dirt that has landed on the snow seems to float to the surface as the snowpack shrinks. Plant matter, sediment, springtails (also known as snow fleas) and other skiers' wax residue all add to the layer of scum atop the mush.

It was a beautiful day. Morning fog after last night's light snowfall gave way to sunshine and partly cloudy skies. I got out a little too late for the best of the skiing. The first shift got to enjoy the transition from fairly solid track to squishy slush. I found very little trail with a solid bottom to it. But I like the artful dance in search of the firmest of the soft, and the strongest push against a weak platform. I seemed to do a good job, overtaking many other skiers.

As fun as it was, it was continuous work. Sections I'd flown through on Wednesday in a V2 Alternate or even without poles at all I now trudged through in a resolute V1. But I needed the workout. I'm surprised I'm in any kind of shape after my off and on exercise schedule.

Now bike commuting begins. Weather always interferes with the first few days or weeks, but I am ridiculously persistent when there's no money in something.

The shop in Jackson is now closed. We still have to make it disappear so the golf shop that occupies the space most of the year can move in, but the customer service part is over.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thumb It!

The best klister spreader is the human thumb.

Klisterphobes want to hold the beast at such a distance that they refuse to lay a finger on it. Consequently they deal with far more of a mess than those of us who pet the animal and gain its service gently.

The klister whisperer?

Fact: klister on your skin will be gone within the hour. Klister on a scraper will be there next year. Your skin's natural moisture repels the wax. Your tools do not have this natural remedy. You have to use lots of toxic solvent to achieve even partial cleaning.

Real klisterphobes just use waxless skis. But by doing that they rob themselves of some really excellent skiing. Klister works in certain mid-winter conditions in which a mechanical grip base performs poorly. And in clean slush, klister can give better grip and glide. As always with wax, you can adjust the length to balance grip and glide.

Remember to use the toilet paper method to remove klister after skiing. Simply pat a strip of common, household TP onto the klistered area. You may heat this with a hair dryer or heat gun if you like. Using an ordinary plastic scraper, scrape the toilet paper and klister off the base in one smooth pass. Use base cleaner and a toothbrush to clean off the last residue from base and sidewalls with minimal use of toxic, skin-drying solvent.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Oh, for a helmet cam

After work yesterday I took a fast skate out the Ellis River Trail for an hour of exercise before the drive home. The chill had started to settle, so the track grew harder and faster as I went.

When I can only get out for a short time and can't keep a consistent training schedule, I prefer to put in a steady effort on flat or rolling terrain rather than claw heroically up to a high point and jet down from it again.

It turns into a dance. With the right musical background and very little editing, a video would have conveyed the rhythm and flow quite well to a viewer. Words just don't do it justice.

Maybe I'll have to invest.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Reset Winter

Wednesday the temperature hit 70. The snow turned to slop. You could almost hear it shrivel as brown patches grew like runaway melanoma.

This morning we got up to about 16 inches of snow, topped with sleet and some freezing mist.

Automatically, Jackson will have no trouble operating through next weekend. The director plans to run through the end of the month. That remains to be seen. We could get hosed with hot water and set back to mud before then. But what's on the ground could probably withstand a few napalm runs before next Sunday. And none are in the forecast. Days will go above freezing, but nights drop back below.

South of J-town, the highs sound more hostile to the snowpack.

Today I had a decent time using Start Terva Blue for kick wax. The mist had glazed the surface so I did not have the same loose snow the early skiers had, but it all worked for the most part. The Terva was sticky enough to get a little grip on the glazed areas, but not so sticky that it picked up snow on the soft sections.

Pull the puppy, kick the ball. Pull the puppy, kick the ball.

I did feel like stabbing the bonehead who had stomped postholes with his hiking boots, walking his dog right down the middle of the ski trail, but he'd already done his damage and disappeared by the time I came through. All I could do was look at his handiwork and seethe. Kick the bonehead. Stab the bonehead. Kick the bonehead. Stab the bonehead.

Pet the puppy. It's not his fault.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

March Madness

Yesterday felt like May. February returns tomorrow. Some forecasts call for a foot of snow, while the National Weather Service stubbornly refuses to commit to more than half an inch on either Friday or Saturday.

A foot of snow on top of applesauce won't amount to a vast improvement or prolong the season more than a couple of days. Spring arrives next Tuesday, so the sun gets twelve hours or more to broil the snow from then on. But cloudy, cold weather will stretch things out.

Yesterday, the slush and puddles kept me from going very far after work. The ideal time would have been around 9 or 10 a.m.

The snow stayed slushy overnight as rain showers degraded it further. Trudging in it will be as good at home as it would be here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

No-wax Expectations

To wax or not to wax? New ski purchasers ask this question all the time.

I'm spoiled, working beside a top-quality trail network all winter. I hate to use no-wax skis on groomed trails when I know how much better the skiing will be with appropriate wax. But sometimes the skating is bad when the waxing for classic is also bad.

When both skating and classic waxing are tough, head for the great ungroomed with your mechanical-grip skis. Smear them liberally with Swix F4 or a similar product, and go to places where you wouldn't expect to stride hard and glide long anyway.

Spring brings the widest range of variable conditions. It also sees the deepest snow cover. In recent years that has not been very deep, but it's as good as we're going to get. So grab the wide boards, whatever that means to your particular ski quiver, and scale back your top speed. It's time to explore, and to visit those private preserves of fun terrain.

Winter Over-compensates

Five degrees outside the lodge. The wind has picked up, whipping the snow squalls across the tundra --er -- golf course.

This morning's low at home was about 4 degrees, compared to 15.7 below zero yesterday. By tomorrow morning it's supposed to dip near 20-below at my house, and perhaps reach minus-30 in the north country.

Not looking forward to anything in particular, I can't get excited about physical conditioning. Incarcerated as the sole proprietor of the retail shop, I have no chance to duck out for a quick lap. By quitting time, the temperature should be headed down faster than a scared submarine. Beside that, I have another night meeting at the town offices before I even get home.

Maybe Friday. The temperature is supposed to bounce back up to the 20s by then, which should feel like tee shirt weather. Then real tee shirt weather moves in for next week, which could bring this whole ski thing to a sloppy, wet halt.

Weather like this drives the lightweights out of New England. Once they realize it isn't all foliage, maple syrup and fun season they usually can't head for Myrtle Beach or Arizona fast enough.

I used to revel in the harshness. Then I let myself get too busy to get out there and grapple with it. The harshness wins when all you can do is throw up walls against it and put on heavier sweaters as your metabolism slows. You have to get up and spar with it. And eat and sleep and all the other details of life.

Maybe I'll drag myself through a token weight workout tonight, just to grasp a pinch of what I used to hold in my fists with an untiring grip.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Pull the Puppy, don't Stab the Puppy

Peter the Great shared a few more techniques from his lessons when I told him how much I'd benefited from his guidance.

"To get them to keep their hands low as they bring the pole forward, I tell them to imagine pulling a reluctant little puppy on a leash. I want them to think more about bringing their hand forward than about jabbing down and pushing back with the pole.

"Pull the puppy, don't stab the puppy, I tell them. Pull the puppy, don't stab the puppy. Pull the puppy, don't stab the puppy," he repeated, as he demonstrated the stride and arm swing in the lodge.

I can just imagine him in the twilight of his life, rocking in a chair in the corner of a room, a blanket around his shoulders, while perplexed attendants wonder why he keeps muttering, "pull the puppy. Don't stab the puppy. PULL the puppy. Don't STAB the puppy. Pull the puppy..."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Meanwhile, Out on the Snow

The big storm arrived a couple of days ahead of the start of the Massachusetts vacation week, so the touring center had time to groom the trails several times before the crowds needed them. Deep snow meant it was time to use good skis.

Fast classical skiing requires a lot more finesse than a slow shuffle on touring skis. Fast skis have a stiffer camber, requiring better timing and balance in order to get any grip. It can be very frustrating, and drives many skiers to wax further forward or give up altogether.

Acting on a couple of tips from Peter the Great, I shortened up the wax and went out to practice.

Tip number one: when you kick forward with one ski, imagine kicking a tennis ball straight down the track in front of you. You have to keep your weight fully on one foot to kick with the other one. Imagining the ball keeps you pushing your foot forward, rather than kicking down and back with the weighted leg.

The first tip wasn't a new one for me, but when I combined it with the second one the results were remarkable. It was a new way to get to a precision I had felt before, but could not always produce on demand.

Tip number two: throw your hand forward as you throw your opposite foot forward. Arms and legs swing on alternate sides, just as they do when you walk or run, but the timing and direction matter more when you are balancing on a long, skinny stick sliding down a slippery track. Make sure the arm swings straight forward. Follow a natural arc almost like bowling, with your pole trailing. The arm swings up with a slight bend. The pole stays angled with the tip back. Peter tells students to imagine tossing a horseshoe.

Throwing the hand seems to make the leading foot come forward automatically. The foot touches down slightly forward of the knee. It's a long step. It even works on climbs. Because the foot leads, the body following it plants the wax firmly on the way over the top. In the dynamic process of skiing, one stride flows into the next. For fast touring, it's a relaxed, easy lope. Let the racers gasp and puke. Just doing the stride correctly, over and over, you'll cover a lot of ground faster than you thought you could. You can also make a colder wax work, making your glide even better. It does not take more effort, more strength. It just takes timing.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sounds Like Instant Winter

A major storm seems to be headed this way. Predicted totals would be impressive in any year, not just one in which the Nordic areas have been living on a starvation diet.

As always, I'll believe it when I'm shoveling it -- or, in this case, driving in it. It will squat squarely on the first day of my work week, and day one of the twelve-day marathon of Massachusetts Vacation Week.

Two feet of fluff will lure skiers into the back-country, where the base is thin and avalanche hazard will be high. With very cold air in place, the snow will have little density. Once it settles, the initial 18 to 24 inches could quickly become 12 to 18. Fortunately, what fell in the last storm was also light and dry, so the layers will merge securely for the most part. I have not kept tabs on high elevations, so I don't know what crust layers might lurk there. Thin cover will likely be more of an issue than shearing between layers over an ice crust. And with the storm on a Wednesday, the steep slopes will have sloughed by Saturday.

In past winters we have seen the storm track shift so that the second half buried us. By April we had long ago forgotten what a disappointment January had been. But we've also seen one-storm winters, in which we waited and waited for that one big payoff and then clanked through the rocks under two feet of dust when we tried to wail on it.

On the groomies at Nordic centers the news is all good. The big machines may flatten two feet of pow' into eight inches of solid cover on the trail, but that's eight more than we had before.

Cold weather is predicted to continue through the week. After that, from a commercial standpoint, the weather doesn't really matter. But for real skiers, let's hope March brings what the rest of the season could not. And then it's on to kayaking and biking, unless you're really obsessed. But the really obsessed don't read me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's Like Cat Food

Nordic skiers are a finicky bunch. Laying out wax for them is like throwing down canned food for the cats. They're never grateful.

We got all these requests for Start Green glide wax. Start Green. Start Green. It's legendary. Get it!

The Start rep didn't want to sell us just a truckload of the legendary Green glide wax. And we naively figured if the Green had such a following, skiers like the other colors, too.

Five years later, we're still trying to get rid of the other items from the Start line, some of them perfectly nice kick and glide waxes. They just don't have a fan club.

Start and Rex both have grip tape, a miracle product that replaces conventional kick wax. Rex's is particularly popular, because the dispenser spits out a double strip, to do the whole kick zone in one pass. Do people ask for anything else in the Rex line? Heck no. Fortunately, the Rex rep doesn't mind feeding us just the tape...for now.

A skier asked today whether we did anything with the Rode line. I said we didn't. I tried to soften it with a little humorous apology for our boring Swix line, but the skier was already storming out, snapping over his shoulder, "Rode Multi-grade Purple! The only kick wax you'll ever need!"

Indeed. Then why does Rode offer a fat catalog full of all these other kick products no one will need?

I'm sure every one of these legendary products is just excellent. I promise I'll try them once I've used up all the leftover cat food on our wax rack. Someone's got to ski it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"I Hate Classical"

A woman handed me her skating skis.

"These need some base work," she said. "They need a good waxing. I can't put it off."

"We can fix that," I said. "Do you want them right away?"

"No, I don't want to rush you. But it means I'll have to do classical today. I hate classical."

With a few inches of fresh snow, the classical was great. The skating was less than ideal.

"Why hate classical?" I asked.

"After skating, being able to go so fast so easily, it's just horribly frustrating," she said.

"Yeah, but with the fresh snow today, classical will be much better than skating. Just wax long, and do that trick where you put a layer of the next colder wax over your layers of blue kick wax. That's working really well today. Just gear your mind down. It's all part of the dance on snow."

"You're right." She smiled. "That's the attitude I need."

Off she went.

Your own demands and expectations often create the difference between a perfectly enjoyable outing and a disappointing one.

Skating is great. I love the surge of power when the timing is just right. I love the leap of a freely-gliding ski, waxed to perfection. I love the constant subtle shifts of angle and poling. But I hate to plod through soft snow in a V-stance. I hate the drag of a slow skating ski when anything inhibits the glide. Dirty snow, deep new snow or really slushy old snow turn skating into a waddle.

Sometimes classical is faster than skating. Certainly when fluffy new snow has only been groomed one day, it is easier to wax long and kick lightly to fly forward on the classical tracks. Out on the skate lane, your angled edges just dig in. Unless you pole like a monster in a narrow V2, you can't help gouging deeply into snow that really needs another day and some more passes with the big machine to set it up.

Another writer compared classical to a fixed-gear bicycle and skating to a multi-speed. This seems true at first glance. You can stride faster or slower in classical, but you can't make changes as significant as from Diagonal V to V1 to V2, and all their variations. But the tempo changes in classical almost qualify as multiple gears. A cyclist on a fixed gear will ride uphill at a slower tempo than on the flats, and a much faster one on a descent. A classical skier goes the opposite way. Uphill, stride shortens and tempo speeds up to put the least stress on each individual moment of grip.

Double poling and double poling with a kick count as separate gears. Fit skiers can use these techniques over a greater range of terrain than recreational tourists will. So the classical skier has about four gears, compared to about seven for a skater. How you choose to use them is up to you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fast and Thin

Less experienced skiers will often slide along in a comfortable, evenly-weighted stance, waiting for something to happen before they respond. While this may seem like a good strategy, you need to take a more dynamic approach when sliding over variable snow.

Don't wait for something to happen. Make it happen.

When the snow is fast and the cover is thin, you need to evaluate it all the time. Obviously you don't want to ski something steep and rough. But some parts of the lower-angled slopes you might choose will still have short, steeper drops within them. To negotiate these, you may not be able to maintain a wedge or snowplow position, because the trail is narrow or obstacles stick up to catch your skis. In that case, step from ski to ski, angling each ski inward before you transfer weight to it. Once you have weighted the ski, bring the other ski over parallel to it. If you start this sequence before you have accelerated to a speed that bothers you, the move will be easy and it will automatically control your speed for you.

Practice on a slope with no obstacles, so you can feel how it works without having to worry about navigation through hazards.

This stepping technique is the basis of jump turns on steeper terrain at higher speeds. As you become more comfortable with it you will find yourself doing it at faster speeds. The step and jump turns will evolve by themselves if you let yourself explore progressively steeper terrain. If you feel anxious, scale back to easier ground for a while. Just keep practicing, and don't let anyone force you into a dangerous or scary situation. Often the only thing that keeps us from mastering a skill is our own arbitrary timetable for the learning curve, or the pressure put on us by others to get "up to speed."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ski for Light

Several hundred skiers have been here all week. They found unacceptable conditions at their intended venue, so they shifted here to Jackson at the last minute. After the last minute, in fact, because they made the decision when they drove by and saw the trail conditions en route to their original destination.

The Ski for Light program serves skiers with visual and mobility impairments. The group includes skiers on sit-skis, double poling ferociously, and skiers who can't see, skiing with guides.

Right away one has to be impressed with the mere idea of managing these challenges to ski cross-country. But yesterday I really started to think about the relationship between a blind skier and a guide.

The temperature was zero (Fahrenheit). There was a breeze, though not the hard winds we'd been told to expect. Trail conditions varied between grabby, cold, granular snow and occasional patches of sheer ice. With overnight temperatures below zero and a high that never surpassed four degrees, nothing was soft.

Because of the thin snow cover, lots of little hazards stuck up through it. As I skied I was constantly making the little automatic adjustments you learn to make in response to each little micro-change in conditions. At that point I realized that the guides for the blind were skiing this stuff and describing it quickly and clearly enough to allow a person who cannot see to negotiate the same terrain right near them. The guide can never ski too far in front for the other skier to hear the description.

Granted a partnership like that probably won't ski those conditions as fast as I was. But I couldn't have described it in real time at half the speed I was doing.

Later in the day we did some glide waxing for sit-skiers. I noticed that some of the skis had two sets of bindings on each ski, while others had only one. I asked one of the skiers about this. He told me that the experienced sit-skiers can have what is effectively a free heel, so they can lunge forward harder onto their poles at speed without ploughing the tips into the track. It makes the skis trickier to control on descents, which are already tricky enough, but it's the choice they make for more speed and power when they are propelling themselves.

Wherever you sit or stand, keep pushing to see if the limits are where you thought they were.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Woods, not so Good

On a scouting trip up the hill behind the house, Laurie and I found somewhat good sliding on the level bits, with one or two inches of fluff over the crusted two or three inches on the ground before last night's little contribution.

Climbing up the steeper, wooded rise at the back of our land, we found the snow too thin over many of the obstacles to give us reliable purchase.

I'll try a couple of jump turns on anything, but nothing was safe on this stuff. If I skied smoothly and tried to steer the turns, the skis would bite into the crust or catch snags under the thin cover and refuse to come around. If I put enough torque into them, they might break loose abruptly from whatever held them, and snap across to a new angle which might or might not be the one I had intended.

Jumping worked only slightly better. With long skis in tight spaces, I jump sequentially, one-TWO, setting the rear ski at a wide angle, tip nestled against the front ski. Ideally, as the skis slide forward I can bring the rear ski closer to parallel, though still trailing the front one, then slide it forward as I rotate to launch the next jump. With grabby crust and snags, the rear ski tends to stay in the wide angle and won't slide up alongside the front one. I get stuck in an ugly stem. A few times I nailed the perfect angle to land the jump and set up the next one, but it didn't seem to be worth the trouble. We skied back down to our woodsy trails for a few more minutes.

Over the next three weeks, Laurie decreed, we should have a 12-inch storm each week. Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays would be convenient. That would also get the snow down and give the ski areas a chance to groom in time for the weekends. And those midweek days wouldn't interfere with people traveling to the ski areas on Fridays.

Shouldn't we be in charge of the weather? We have a workable plan here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

LSD is hard to get in winter

A well-balanced training schedule includes long, steady workouts as well as shorter, higher-intensity sessions.

In summer, the variation is added easily enough, especially to a bike commuting schedule, simply by riding a longer route one day a week. But in winter my available training time tends to be the same length all the time, an hour or less. That eliminates the nice, long burns that really seem to give all the training a broad, solid foundation.

Long, steady workouts are also good for scouring out the accumulated fats from a somewhat self-indulgent diet. I just haven't learned to restrict myself to purely nutritional foods and spring water. And don't look for it to happen any time soon. Even if I was reduced to Dumpster diving, I would probably do some of it behind candy stores as well as better restaurants and grocery stores. What can I say? Life is to be enjoyed.

Even at an hour a pop I can stay ahead of the worst of the flab in ski season, because cross-country skiing uses every muscle in the body. That uses up plenty of fuel. If I keep the output moderate I can still mobilize fat reserves rather than burning only recently-consumed carbohydrates. Plenty of coffee in my system helps liberate the stored fats.

Coffee. What can't it do?

Some people can't handle too much of the nectar of the bean. They'll have to find other ways. Certainly if the opportunity comes along for a three-hour, low intensity workout, the body will dig into reserves anyway. Add hours as you can, for more thorough depletion. It's like eating the leftovers out of the fridge, except you don't have to worry about which ones are moldy.

Remember: anything is better than nothing at all. Twenty minutes a day is a lot better than a sudden two or three hour slam on a Saturday or Sunday.

I Need Exercise

It's pretty simple: I need to ski or I start feeding on human flesh. Feeding on human flesh isn't nearly as satisfying as skiing, but it's what I feel like doing when I don't get to ski.

For a day or two I can fall back on spiritual resources to carry me through a period when I'm too busy to get out and flail the predatory urges out of myself with a few kilometers of exertion. But the stress builds, especially serving the recreating, vacationing public. I need those endorphins to reinforce my minimal tendency to be hospitable.

Keep me cooped up for too long and you'll find me over the body of my latest victim, a trachea dangling from between my clenched teeth.

Trust me, it will have been someone annoying. Even so, it always seems to have repercussions.

A lot of people seem to go around cranky all the time. People who exercise regularly know how a good workout does a lot to take that edge off. People who haven't discovered this will try all sorts of other approaches.

We were meant to exert ourselves. You don't have to be anything like a world-class athlete. In fact, it's probably better if you aren't. But going out for a good hard run for an hour a day will do a lot to keep your outlook rosier. Around here, it's cross-country skiing. Somewhere else, or in another season, you might bike or run. You even get a little of the benefit from a good weight workout or a vigorous session on indoor simulators like exercise bicycles or ski machines. Those bore the hell out of me, but sometimes you just have to take it like medicine. Then, next chance you get, run and play outside.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Go, National Weather Service, Go!

According to the latest National Weather Service forecast for Jackson, NH, the aproaching storm could deliver as much as six inches, followed by almost seasonable cold for a couple of days.

If we get the 2 from "1-2" and the 4 from "2-4", that's 6. If we only get the 1 and the 2, we end up with 3 of snow and more in rain. But even the chance of a storm total of 6 is better than what we've seen so far.

Just 30 miles to the south, the predicted totals are more like an inch or less from each part of the storm.

Left alone here, I have to provide public relations for both the shop and the touring center. This amuses me, and the few people who know why it should be particularly amusing, to be left as the public face of this prestigious facility.

I don't mind being the spinmeister. My own inclination when things aren't going well is to find a dark, quiet room or a remote, wild place in which to meditate on the cosmos and my place in it. But if people will pierce my reverie, I will find something nice to say about the chances that things could improve. They really could. Leave it at that.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

You Know You Want It

You can't always ski what you want. But we know what you want. Call us. We're skiers like you, and we'd love to do whatever you'd love to do.

It's a powder day whenever you call us! We have on Blue Extra wax. What do you have on? Together we can make a fantasy come true!

Come stride with us! The sun is bright, the air is 25 degrees! The snow is perfect and the trail goes right where you want it to!

Call 1-900-HOT2SKI right now! We can't wait for you! We're going to ski NOW!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Broken-Field Running

Skate skiing on the thin, chunky cover we're trying to use right now reminds you to keep your weight on one ski at a time. This may seem opposite to what should be stable, but you're better off if you can hop from a ski in trouble to a ski running smoothly.

In skating you must be on one ski at a time anyway. On soft touring skis you can get away with a shuffle, but skating turns into an exhausting waddle if you don't shift fully. However, when the skis are running by themselves, pulled by gravity, you may be tempted to ride them both. At times this is fine. On a jumbled surface, it's not a good idea.

Maintaining a rhythm from foot to foot even when you could be gliding, you can easily speed up the tempo to hop through a section of obstacles. Gliding flat-footed you have to unstick your feet before you can maneuver. This is good to remember even if you are on soft touring skis. Keep the feet shifting so you're ready to react when you need to.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Competitive Types

You can tell by looking that some people have something to prove. The way they carry themselves, the way they look around like haughty birds of prey, you know they would like to find something small and furry to swoop down on and impale.

Today, a couple of them just circle high above. They either fed earlier or consider me too small to be worth the dive.

Non-traditional sports like cross-country skiing and cycling provide an outlet for competitive types who might not have flourished in the more customary confrontational sports requiring pads, and balls, sticks and pucks. Or they might have crossed over from those arenas. It makes for a rich and varied mixture. Many of us got into non-traditional sports so we could get away from all that. Some even get into it for the social life completely free of competition. You can't do that when you socialize in a setting built around a game played for points.

Competitive types come up with their own point system if the activity doesn't readily provide one. You may never even know how they decided your score. If it doesn't matter to you, who cares? But sometimes they swoop in to peck your eyes, or at least drop a load of whitewash on your head to impress the rest of their flock. It's fun then to invert in your seemingly helpless flight to flash your own talons or, failing that, pull out the shotgun and just blast them into a cloud of feathers.

Fly away, birdie.

Tune My Skis

A slow day. In walks a smiling couple with a couple of scabrous planks.

"Do you tune skis here?" the man asked.

I said we do.

"These could use some wax, and the edges are really rusty,"the woman said.

Two little scaly strips of dark orange flanked the rough, gray-black, abraded base of each ski.

Not one to turn down a little income when a little is all we're getting, I checked them in for surgery. But I ask you: if a person had lost a quart of blood, would sticking a couple of tablespoons of it back into him make that much of a difference?

Waste your money if you will. Tune your skis once a year, or once every two, three or five years. But why were they fine to ski on all that time, and now, suddenly, you're looking for a better quality experience?

It doesn't have to make sense.

Most skis that get abused this way will not instantly turn into World Cup Nordic rocket ships just because they finally got a little love. Poor touring skis are born to be abused. The ski companies know it. I did truly unspeakable things to my first set of touring skis. From time to time I go into the crawl space, where their battered, bindingless carcasses lie, and apologize to them one more time.

"Go and sin no more," they whisper in a thin, ghostly voice. "Let us have suffered so your future skis will not."

I have to admit I still have a couple of beater pairs that I take out in all conditions. But at least their wounds are from valiant battles against rocks, stumps and thin cover in the wild woods, not rookie road crossings and scrapes along the roadside gravel in Maryland slush storms. I know better than to tease them with spa treatments of wax at five-year intervals.

Humans love their good intentions. I know I've made good starts at a number of things and then been drawn away by the physical limits of real life. So what the heck. If there's time, I'll do what can be done for these accident victims. Here's your two tablespoons of blood and a sticky bandage across that gash. Best of luck out there.

Northeast Outdoor Recreation

With the death of New England Nordic skiing apparently at hand, we need to find some other way to move across the varied surfaces we now find in the season we called winter.

The best answer is a giant gerbil ball with studs on the outside of it. You know those little plastic hollow balls people can put their pet rodents in so they can roam freely around the house? Imagine one big enough for a human.

The ball will protect you from whatever form of precipitation the spiteful season throws at you. The studs will provide grip in snow, ice, mud or frozen ground. The ball will float, so you can navigate across small streams and rivers.

Within the ball you can run, walk or crawl. With proper padding you can even let it roll down slopes while you just bounce around. That may not be the best idea, but it's no worse than a lot of things people do already.

Nordic areas already mark their terrain to indicate the difficulty of it. Those markings will apply equally well to Terrain Balls. All the usual warnings about liability will also transfer to anyone who wants to try rolling across the landscape. Very little needs to be done except to equip your Nordic area with a rental fleet.

Come on. There's money to be made, if you just have the balls.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Life's Little Ironies

After its initial popularity in the 1970s cross-country skiing got the reputation of being hard work on skis that were difficult to control. This was the result of so many people actually trying it. Skis were long. Boots were floppy. Grooming was sketchy at best.

Downhill had all the advantages. You could ride up the hills. The snow was groomed. The boots were stiff. Skis were wide. You could spend a whole day within sight of a huge, heated building full of food.

By the late 1980s, the cross-country ski industry was working hard to create an image of fun. Engineers tried to improve bindings and skis. Grooming got better, because even the dedicated Nordic skiers appreciated a nice trail. By the mid 1990s, trail conditions and equipment had become far more accommodating to all levels of cross-country skier.

Coincidentally, as Nordic skis and trail preparation improved, winter deteriorated. Right now we could lay down a twelve-foot swath of immaculate corduroy in one pass with the big machine and launch a regiment of skiers of all abilities on equipment perfectly matched to their tastes. All we need is snow.

Winter used to dominate the year here. The weather would turn cold by November, after the stronger and stronger frosts that followed Labor Day. September was solidly part of fall, even though the first 20 days of it officially belong to summer. We worried about having the wood stacked and the chimney clean by late October at the latest.

Snow might not actually get deep until the end of December, or even early January, but ponds and lakes froze. Snowpack built up in the higher mountains. Ice climbs came in. It was winter. Except for a January thaw, it remained winter through the end of March. Snow receded from all but the heights through April, but one might find a patch in early May in a shaded hollow after a snowy winter.

A warm day was a gift, when winter ruled. Warmth was relative. After days of single-digit cold, the teens feel pleasant, the twenties tropical. Strong sun after mid January invites the cold, itchy hut-dweller to strip off a few layers and bask on a windless day.

As the climate warms, not only do we miss the fun that winter precipitation used to bring, we also look around uneasily, not trusting this change. We know it can snap back in short order, though only briefly. In that time all pleasure and all danger rise to their former levels. But we lack the period of adaptation we used to get, and the steady strain of what had been a normal winter. It's like jumping into a hard weight-lifting workout with no chance to warm up, then sitting down again, unable to warm down.

Meanwhile, people come in because they've heard that cross-country equipment is a lot better than it used to be.

"We're downhill skiers. We want to try some of this new equipment."

Cocooned in their world of manufactured snow, with just enough white spray paint on the ground beside the trail to make it look like a real winter, they've overlooked the fact that great gear is no help on an inch of rime over snaggly rocks and dirt. We, unfortunately, have to tell them.