Thursday, January 31, 2008


I have had no exercise of any kind since Sunday. This puts me in a very bad frame of mind.

I refuse to apologize for being an exercise addict. I figured out at a young age that humans get addicted to things, so they'd better choose those fixations wisely. I already loved junk food and pulp fiction, so I needed some offsetting habits. I hate puking, so bulimia was out.

The sun sets later now than at the start of the season, so if I dash right out of work I can crack off a few laps with some semblance of visibility before I have to grope. When that happens, I keep going around until I think I've pushed my luck far enough and then quit. From a conditioning standpoint, it's purely a token effort, but it keeps some kind of rhythm until I can give it a good shot later. I need to replace my high-powered headlamp, but I haven't seen one I really like yet.

The Surly Blog had a great list of symptoms of depression. My favorite was, "Drinking the same amount as usual but being less excited about it."

I have to finish brushing out my skis and put my ski clothes on so I can make a rapid exit at 17:00.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


You no doubt remember Al Gore III driving his Toyota Prius at 100 miles per hour last summer. The story didn't reflect too well on Mr. Gore, but made the Prius suddenly look a lot more macho than anyone expected. No longer a car for high character and low speeds, the Prius was downright sporty.

Add off-roading to its list of unlikely accomplishments. Saturday night in Jackson, a blue Prius with Massachusetts plates turned off of Main Street onto the section of trail that heads up a short hill from the rental shop to the area in front of the lodge. The trail was not at its iciest, but definitely packed powder. The Prius surmounted it without the slightest problem, even when the driver hesitated, noticing two of us in the only lighted windows, pointing and laughing incredulously.

Realizing the mistake, the driver of the Prius cranked off a quick three-point turn at the top of the rise. We wondered, half-hoping, whether the car would pitch backwards off the small embankment, lifting its front wheels and stranding it in its embarrassing predicament, but the driver got lucky and reversed course safely.

I did not have a chance to ask or observe what kind of tires the car had.

I don't see how this squares with reports of traction control failures in these cars on slippery inclines. Maybe our intrepid Massachusettsan was just trying to test his own car's response to a slippery slope in a place where he knew help was close at hand.

We have no confirmation at this time that Toyota is really planning to introduce a high-powered, all-wheel-drive version of the car, called the Priapus, for 2009. For people who want to save fuel and reduce emissions while driving like a -- well, you know.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Race Weekend

Competitors started arriving in Jackson late last week for the White Mountain Classic 30K marathon. Most identifiable were the skiers from Harvard, in their bright red, white and black, but you can always tell a racer. You just can't tell them much.

Traffic started picking up on Thursday. Racers flitted all around the trails on Friday. All week the local neurotics had been talking about weather and wax. Forecast providers fed their anxiety by changing the predicted high temperature across three grades of kick wax in three days. No one would wax too early, but it's never too early to start obsessing about it.

By the night before the event, the forecast had settled down solidly in the range for anyone's favorite brand of wax rated for the upper teens to the low twenties. The night was supposed to be pretty chilly, lower teens if not a bit colder, with a forecast high from 21 to 23, depending on which forecast provider you like. With a start at 10 a.m., the temperature should be on its way up. Top racers will knock off the 30 kilometers in about an hour and a half. The slowest skiers were personally predicting they would take more than four hours. It should have been pretty straightforward.

Eight a.m. brought a temperature of 21 degrees F, after a much milder night than anyone had predicted. Where would the temperature go from here? Would it zoom up to the 28 or 29 mentioned days ago?

We had stocked up on a big pile of the wax most likely to work, based on forecasts from the latter part of the week. Next to that stood a much smaller pile of the next warmer wax, which quickly dwindled even further as skiers panicked. It was a race between our small supply and the inexorable clock ticking down toward starting time.

Anyone who actually put on that warmer wax probably had a rough time. The temperature never got above 24. The original wax choice remained the right choice. The best glide wax turned out to be a grade warmer, but even there, the ranges overlap sufficiently that many racers had already chosen that option.

For the race organizers and the actual workers who carried out the grand plan, it was a long, hard day. The course had to be built the day before and taken down after the stampede. Two hundred registered skiers came through the lodge, building gradually to peaks before and after the race. Since they had not come to shop, we had some time to observe them from the retail enclosure.

I prefer to see racers from a distance. We don't have much to talk about. I don't get absurdly tweaky about equipment, and some of them decidedly do. Many of them know more about the intimate technicalities of the gear we sell than I do. I came from the woods, and only developed much interest in fast skiing on groomed trails as a result of working beside them day after day. When a real gram-geeking millimeter freak comes in, he usually leaves soon after with his sense of superiority reinforced.

One guy was pushing seven feet tall and weighed 240 pounds. Through his thick northern European accent I gathered that he felt slighted that ski manufacturers do not produce a lavish selection of top-end skis for gentlemen of his size.

"What can I tell you?" I said to his sternum. "Here's their 800 number. Let 'em have it."

Many more people need just a little technical leg up as they try to decide whether to get sportier skis than require detailed analysis to get the absolute perfect ultra-performance racing ski for someone who weighs exactly 73.547297 kilograms. But don't those ultra-tweaked racers like to look down their nose at the shop lackey who isn't up to speed on the latest greatest and the last 15 years of the history of the top ski from the brand of their choice? It's another whole sport to them.

To be a good host I should probably polish up my game enough to be able to volley with them a while before they smash one past me and leave the court in triumph. But frankly, the real world needs me more than they do. What happens in a winter of mud and desolation? I do other things rather than pine for what I can't be doing.

Ski manufacturers will have a new marvel every year or two. That's just how it is. It may be a repackaged old marvel or it may be a shiny new abomination, but you can be assured, there will be technical specifications.

I'll have to read them some time. But right now I'm going skiing.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Ski Prep

Experienced skiers and ski technicians have always known that new skis need their bases prepared before they will perform well on the snow. Ask ten of them what they suggest and you'll probably get ten variations, but they all come back to the same principle: put on a lot of wax.

We're talking about glide wax. With the rise of skating, glide waxing has become a more complex science than it was when the pursuit of reliable kick eclipsed most other concerns. Then, once the technological genie was out on skate skis, all that glide wizardry has come back to land on the glide zones of classic skis as well.

Using only the basic hydrocarbon glide waxes in any wax company's range, a skier can charge up a new ski base with an initial fund of wax to provide a good foundation for the routine waxing that will follow it.

The glide wax for the warmest temperature, for instance Swix CH 10, melts at the lowest iron temperature, making it the best choice for cleaning glide zones. Never use solvent to clean glide zones. Scraping and wiping hot CH 10 (or equivalent) while still melted to liquid will remove dirt from glide zones without drying the bases. On a new ski, a couple of cleanings with CH 10 will start your base prep procedure.

Do NOT hot-wax clean the kick zone of a classic ski. Sand that with 100 grit and brush away the loose lint afterwards. Once you complete your glide zone prep you can iron in a thin layer of base binder to prepare the kick zone to receive grip waxes, or you can leave it sanded and ready in case you need to use klister binder instead. If this makes your eyes begin to glaze, you know one powerful reason why skate skiing became so popular.

Several years ago, Swix had an exhaustive ski prep procedure involving multiple grades of wax. The warm waxes saturate the bases well, while the cold ones help refine the surface, as microscopic hairs of base material are encapsulated and scraped away. That's the theory, anyway, and the scraper seems to prove it. Scraping away an application of cold wax, even while it is still warm from the iron, you can see black base residue in the shavings. Then they introduced Base Prep waxes, which supposedly combine soft, saturating components with hard, surface conditioning components. I do see base residue coming of when I scrape these waxes, so it helps me believe what I want to believe. I want to believe that a single formulation takes care of the bulk of the waxing, so I don't have to remember how many times I've applied each specific wax, as I did before. I can just lather on many coats of BP and then top it off with a couple of layers of whatever wax will be skied on. If I feel ambitious I might throw on a coat of CH4 late in the procedure, but it isn't supposed to be necessary.

All this just reinforces the notion that lots and lots of wax makes skis fast. A Peltonen tech rep a few years ago gave a clinic in which he described (among other things) the exhaustive waxing the factory team did to skis before glide testing to select for the racers. Dozens of coats went onto the skis to be tested. Dozens more went onto the survivors of the first culling. At each reduction i the fleet, more wax was applied to the skis carried forward.

"Recreational skiers wanted to buy the skis we rejected, because they'd been waxed so much they were faster than most people's skis already," he said.

Once the skis are prepped, keep up the good work by rewaxing them at least after every two or three outings. Change waxes as the temperature changes, to get the most out of your skis and your own effort.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Getting Over the Yadiloh

I work when everyone else has a holiday, so I have the opposite of a holiday. That's a yadiloh.

Yesterday was the Martin Luther King yadiloh. As January's only holiday Monday, it has typically been quite busy. How might it have been this year, with the best snow in several seasons, if the New England Patriots had not had a big game on Sunday? It was busier than the past two pathetic years, but never quite the human tidal wave we've faced in years with fewer distractions.

The economy is a factor. While the analysts debate whether we are actually in a recession, the consumers who already know they are don't have the funds to take off for the weekend. Of the ones who do show up, at least half will look without buying, while the other group doesn't have to worry about money now or ever. Those with no money worries will divide into easy spenders and exhausting chiselers. To complicate matters, we still have little to sell anyway. If we have the sizes of ski or boot, great. But we could get someone all ready to gear up and then have to send them on a scavenger hunt over a 50-mile radius to look for things we have convinced them they should choose.

At least the skiing is good. The temperature stayed in winter ranges all three days of the holiday weekend. Monday's wind challenged skiers crossing open areas, and blew loose snow and tree debris into the tracks, but overall it was still good. You just have to laugh about the slips and staggers interrupting your perfect form as you run over beech leaves, evergreen sprigs and little-bitty hemlock cones.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wax, You Idiots!

In comes another customer with sporty clothes, a decent physique and a middling expensive skate ski with a base as smooth and polished as the rough side of exterior plywood.

"I just haven't had time," she said. "They've never had anything done to them, but I only went out a couple of times on them last year."

So she's been out there trying to push a moldy sponge over a rough sidewalk and calling it skate skiing.

I decided quite awhile ago that, as long as I don't have to push it around, I don't care how crappy someone lets their ski get. And if they ask me to clean up after their neglect, especially urgently (we want to go skiing NOW!), they'll find out how expensive it is to have servants.

None of this applies to the average wide, waxless touring ski. I do get a chuckle out of it when someone brings in their scabrous planks, which have obviously been worn while crossing roads and stone walls, and asks for a hot wax. But the idea of seriously waxing a wide touring ski, even one lovingly coddled, is about like fitting a spoiler to a tugboat.

The longer I do this high-performance Nordic thing, the more I believe that a ski is just a device for delivering wax to the snow. Light weight is important, so you devote less of your energy picking them up and setting them down, and more of it to moving forward, but a well-waxed mid-grade ski will almost always out-glide a neglected high-end ski. The only time a neglected ski will glide well is when things are so screechingly icy that rocks would glide.

People get confused by the term "wax", because it applies to a couple of different substances. In classical skiing, there's grip wax and glide wax. Grip wax is often called kick wax. If, long ago, the kick potion had been called Grip Sauce, or Traction Gunk, and the term wax had only been applied to slippery things to make gliding easier, Nordic skiing would probably be thriving wherever the ground turns faintly white for even a short portion of the year.

That opportunity passed before we knew it would be missed.

If you have a high performance ski, even if it's just a sporty touring ski, it will work better if you saturate the glide zones with wax. And skating is a completely different activity if the skis don't glide because the bases are dry and scratchy. You're not just working harder, you're working differently. Your balance changes when the skis grind to a halt instead of gliding forward. You work the core muscles and pole across a wider range of angle as you twist to apply more force. You even increase the risk of overuse injuries as you continually try to re-accelerate a draggy ski.

It's a bit like those cyclists who grind a 30 rpm cadence in a huge gear and call it "a better workout." Yeah, until their kneecaps explode off the front of their legs. So, non-waxers, enjoy your rotator cuff injuries and tendinitis of the elbow. Ironing, scraping and brushing is a lot less strain. So is skiing afterwards.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Adding to the new lineup of winter months, northern New England introduces Jarch.

You may recall last Decembruary, how novel it seemed to be skiing on full winter snow cover before winter had officially started. This made a nice contrast to the two winters of almost continuous NovApril that had marred the previous two years.

Now Jarch has arrived. Nighttime temperatures barely dip below freezing, while daytime highs in the northern part of the state flirt around on either side of 40. The storms have gone warm, assaulting the snowpack with streams of water.

In Jackson, the last storm sealed the snow with an inch of sleet, so the rain rolled off harmlessly. However, warm temperatures start streams of melt water eroding the snow from beneath, and eating at the edges of any thin or bare patch.

On the plus side, classical skiers can reliably use klister instead of taking their best guess at transitional-temperature "hard" waxes. Anything that spreads on the ski like melted Swiss cheese doesn't really qualify for the term "hard," but they aren't really klister, either. Fair enough, because what falls fresh and white at 32 and above doesn't qualify for the term "snow" for more than the first few minutes of a busy day on the trails. Now that the snow has definitely melted and refrozen, all its forms respond to klister or the trendy new miracle, grip tape.

Skate skiing improves also, especially right after morning grooming or the first bit of morning thaw. If the day warms much, skating becomes a plod.

In short, it's spring out there.

Past or present performance does not guarantee future results. Winter simply claims the whole spectrum of weather these days, not just the frozen varieties. There were even thunderstorms the other day. And Monday calls for snow.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Hundred Words for Snow

Linguists debate whether the Arctic natives really have more terms for snow than we southerners do. In any case, all cultures that deal with snow develop their vocabulary for it.

In New England we often deal with a tan substance created by mechanically tilling and re-tilling the same patch of old snow and ice to create something slightly slipperier than a sidewalk. This is called "snirt." Snow and dirt, get it?

With December's bounty, we don't have to deal with much snirt right now. I just love the succinctness of it.

Each snow-using culture has their own take on snirt. Snow machiners refer to thawing trails with stretches of mud as snirt. Some ski technicians even group all man-made snows in the snirt category. This is because snirt is made up of shards of ice rather than anything that started out as a hollow, crystalline natural snowflake. For waxing purposes, man-made snow is as abrasive as 100 grit, much like the beige surface we produce on well-worn trails when new snow falls at long intervals.

Right now I'm working through all the terms for snot. Some bio-terrorist sleazebag managed to give me a nasty head cold just as I finally get a couple of days off from work. I stumbled through the last two days of 18, one of them our free on-snow demo. Huge crowds did not overwhelm us, but anything free brings out the kind of people who flock around anything free. When someone mentioned that we should have a banner out front to attract attention, I suggested we have some helium balloons that look like vultures circling overhead. Maybe next year.

Most of the season still lies ahead. Days are already noticeably longer, but January has just begun.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Insidious Foe

Beech leaves in the track can bring a classic skier to a snappy halt when they stick to the kick wax. This specimen was actually captured inside the lodge near the wax room. Apparently the beech leaves have heard about the new XIMS product Leave Off, a leaf repellent currently being tested.

Secrets of the Backshop

Using the XIMS permanent marker, technicians can leave messages for other technicians who may work on a ski later.

Step one:

Step two: binding in place.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Good, the Bad and No Relief Yet

Snow conditions are phenomenal. December 2007 was the snowiest on record in Concord. Even though we're facing a serious thaw next week, we have to get through two Arctic days and a fairly pleasant weekend to get there. Our multi-vendor demo day should attract a good crowd.

All well and good, but we have nothing to sell them. And K2 sold Karhu's soul to the devil, so all their skis are mounted with NNN.

I may be loading up a pack, snapping on the heavy boards with 75 mm and heading into the woods for good.

At this point, I have worked 13 days wrapped around a single day off, with four more ahead of me, including the demo day. As if mere civility weren't enough of a challenge, I will have to explain why the best snow conditions in 30 (thirty) years happen to coincide with a gear famine.

The few guests who remained when the massed onslaught withdrew yesterday still manage to demand full attention. One even quizzed me on the technical details of our facial tissues.

"Are they two-ply or three-ply?"

She did not say which she preferred. She did go on at length about how wonderfully cross-country skiing clears her sinuses.

I share your joy, lady.