Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Knights of Old had Squires

In days of yore, the chivalrous heroes who dashed around on quests and crusades, rescued suitably wealthy damsels and duked it out for the local earl had little sidekicks who took care of the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of arms and armor. These breastplate-polishers and horse-waterers dealt with the mundane details of the chivalry business. I can only imagine what they said to the knights while performing these vital but unheralded tasks.

"What do you do with this f#%^%$%^ing sword?! Chop f$%^&^%$ing rocks with it? Do you lie in the salty surf in this armor? It wouldn't hurt you to OIL something once in a while!"

In the present day, the knight has been replaced by the athlete. Take cross-country skiers, for instance. Most of the racers pay lip service to the concept of thorough, frequent and meticulous waxing, but the majority of them have used a lot more quickie smear-on crap than they might admit.

These knights need squires. Racers on a well-supported team might get products and services for periods of time, but every one of them has to fall back on their own resources eventually.

Big bike races rely on squads of mechanics who keep the machinery running. Cross-country ski teams rely on wax technicians. Freelance racers have to polish their own bases or live with the consequences. A lucky few manage to get someone else to bring the love.

A couple of days ago my associate in Nordic technical matters undertook the full prep on our own noble knight's two sets of skating skis. Sir Smears-a-lot had been resorting to the wishful-thinking paste a bit frequently of late. He IS a busy man. So squire G put the racing sticks in the lovin' oven for a rebirth of speed. A few hours in the sauna with the base prep wax was followed by an overnight rest. After that Big G laid in a coat of moly-fluoro base wax followed by some XIMS HF6.

Our skating champion paced and fretted for hours as he waited for Big G to finish the meticulous process. It did involve a lot of ironing and scraping. It was worth it, though. The knight came back bursting with enthusiasm. Now squire G has a permanent assignment as Minister of Speed.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Snow, Lies and Ski Reports

Promoters of skiing look for any way they can make conditions sound inviting. At its worst, this means sheer ice referred to as packed powder because that's what it was three weeks ago and big, brown patches of bare ground called "thin cover." But the psychology never stops.

Nordic skiing has always tried to wear the white hat. Reliance on natural snow and small budgets forces a measure of honesty. Cross-country ski centers find creative ways to interpret how many kilometers of trail they have, and refer to a portable toilet as a restroom, but we don't get paid enough to defend claims inflated far beyond that. And of course we describe our snow conditions as charitably as possible.

To keep enthusiasm alive, some operators resort to such entertaining fiction as the Inaccuweather 15-day and hourly forecasts. I suppose some veterans of such a weather-dependent industry as Nordic skiing might believe that a forecast further than three days out has any value at all, but not many. Especially not one who spends summers sailing the New England coast. But when it's time to spin the ski report, out comes the 15-day fable.

"Snow is mentioned on ten of the next 15 days in the forecast," this expert might say. Let's not say that the probability is 10 or 20 percent and the snow is merely showers or flurries.

I understand how the fervent desire to believe in something like a good, snowy winter, eternal life or the human race living in peaceful, prosperous harmony can cancel out rational intelligence. The rational leader looks for ways to sustain belief in wavering followers. Their lives will be better if they believe. The collection plates will be more full. The truth is as fuzzy as a snow cloud on the horizon. Think of the possibilities, not the likelihood.

It's funny how flakes in the air can add up to so little on the ground. We had two or three days of snow, sometimes falling thickly, and netted perhaps six inches of very compressible fluff. To the north and east, parts of Maine and the adjacent Canadian provinces got the real stuff, measurable in feet.

Snowshoe hiking has largely replaced cross-country skiing for the average tourist. With somewhat shallow snow, those who still ski have the advantage. There's no point to plodding around with something like a couple of cafeteria trays on your feet when you don't need to float over knee- or thigh-deep snow. Meanwhile, we sliders can slither on the compressed snow, provided the surface beneath was fairly smooth.

As for the future, I readily admit I do not know. But it is winter and we could get snow.