Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Researching Fat

Looking for something about medieval Nordic footwear, I found information on primitive skis. You think you've seen short and fat now? How about something 161 centimeters long and more than 200 millimeters wide? Add an animal-fur base for grip and a single staff-like pole and you're good to go, Nordic style.

None of this is a secret, of course, but it's easy to forget in the rush of new and improved. A fat ski of today doesn't really correspond to a fat ski of ancient times. But they share some influences in search of control and maneuverability.

Ancient skis show variation akin to true native kayaks. They vary by region depending on the conditions. Even in the modern evolution of the downhill-only ski, terrain and snow type drove the change as well as narrowing the skis' overall capability to increase one aspect of it.

The modern skinny stick would have little place in the ancient world, where humans were more forced to take nature as they found it and devise tools to adapt to conditions they could not massively alter.

At this moment, conditions out in the woods around here are setting up to allow some bushwhack skating. Too bad so much of the Pine River floodplain is no longer accessible. That has some wonderful flat and mildly rolling terrain to enjoy when the snow is like this. You don't want to develop too much speed down a hill on your skate skis when you could hit a weak spot and crash through into a ski-snapping pit trap. Steep terrain with tree cover can be difficult because the trees impede a wider V for climbing and require quicker turns than most of us can produce on a stiff, narrow racing ski. But flatter open glades can be a blast. This is all best enjoyed with a softening layer of what we call cream cheese, a moist inch of compliant turning snow on top of the frozen base. If you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time you can check it out.

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