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.

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