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.