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.