Monday, January 19, 2009

Some Improvements, Some Boring Consistencies

The trail network at Jackson Ski Touring is in great shape this year. The improvements on the homologated race course have added fun and exciting options to trails that were fun already. The grooming staff is doing a first-rate job. The executive director continues to show drive and energy that has kept the place going for more than three decades now.

When this director is gone, the operation may not survive. For all of his annoying quirks, it takes a personality as big as his to drag together all the other players and their egos to get anything to happen at all. He has sacrificed much, even with what he has gained from his position here. It would be nearly impossible to groom a successor when what exists today owes so much to the character of the dominant creator of it. He and it have grown together in indigenous symbiosis. It's not like a normal job. It has a life of its own, made up of the lives woven together throughout its history.

Last year, Big Time Nordic was a bit of a bad joke. The incompetent grooming staff made a mockery of the advertising. One guy was a one-pass wonder who produced sloppy tracks and a lot of death cookies. The other one just had a screw loose. It's hard to get good help. But this year a veteran artist of the Pisten Bully has returned full time, and the trainee under his guidance is actually learning, and learning fast. The winter is colder, so the snow is better than last year, even though there's less of it, so far.

In good years and bad, the inmates of The Village amuse themselves with various intrigues the day skier or vacationer from away would probably never notice. They grow tiresome to those not inclined to play such games, but they have their endless secret life having nothing whatever to do with skiing. But then business has nothing to do with skiing. Even the ski business has only a tangential relationship to the sport it exploits, particularly at the high corporate level. Nordic divisions of downhill-oriented companies are minuscule appendages dangling precariously from large octopi.

A six-foot, five-inch chuckling alpine blowhard put it in a nutshell today when he picked up a Nordic racing ski from the rack.

"Don't they make these in adult sizes?" he asked his weasel-like companion. Still laughing at the pencil-necked pipsqueaks conversing in the lodge, they ambled out the front door.

Nordic is just a joke and an afterthought in the world of skiing. That world owes its existence to Nordic skiing, but the majority of gravity-propelled, grease-fed heroes of the lift-served area will never know it.

Within the little world of American cross-country skiing, those who fancy themselves major players treat it like a game of world domination. Standing in the center of it they can squint and imagine that it extends beyond the farthest horizon. It is clearly worth all the stress they dump on anyone who does not express it in the way those self-anointed powers see fit.

That has become extremely tiresome.

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