Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Catching up with a friend

A guy I used to ski with a lot came by the shop the other day to visit. He also used to live right around the corner. Somehow, even before he moved, we did less and less together as his employment changed and our schedules didn't match. We're always glad to see each other. We just don't manage to do more than chat in passing.

He was born in this area. He grew up skiing the way people do around here. He skied cross-country and downhill. Like most people, he found the downhill more interesting until he destroyed his knee in a silly fall at Sunday River.

Funny how the drastic injuries seem to come from unspectacular crashes. He was actually trying to get up from a minor fall, but his ski tail was trapped in such a way that he blew his knee apart just by trying to rise.

When I met him he was developing his Telemark skills so he could ski freely in the woods on his heavy touring gear. He had the advantage of a lifetime of downhill skiing, so he learned rapidly. We started on almost the same level as free-heel downhillers, but his overall ski experience and well-practiced disregard for personal safety have propelled him farther than I care to go.

As Telemark skiing started to evolve in the late 1990s, I went through only a couple of stages of mutation with it. I never found a plastic boot I liked, and I never got a super fat ski. My friend has stayed nearer the edge of that advancing front. During his visit he said something about "reverse camber skis." I looked blankly at him.

"We used to call it a bent ski," he said. "It makes a longer ski ski like a short one, but still gives you the float of a big ski in soft snow.

It sounds like sort of a variable wheelbase, as if you could change your bike from a short, tight criterium bike to a comfy open-road tourer. In soft snow, the "bent" ski floats on its whole length. Set on edge, the pre-bent section initiates a turn instantly. On hard pack the contact area is actually shorter. As a downhill tool it sounds very functional.

"I wouldn't have anything narrower than 95[millimeters] under the foot," he said.

A ski that wide automatically implies a big boot.

Downhill skiing and ice climbing seem to call for quite a bit of pricey gear for a limited activity. That's why I have let my ancient ice tools gather dust, and I ski on old stuff.

The Telemark turn is completely irrelevant on wide, downhill-only skis. It feels nice to assume the position, but the skis are going to come around no matter what. The shape and flex of the boots may make some of them more comfortable than a hinged AT setup for approaches, but I think we passed the exit for "light weight" more than a decade ago.

When I shifted my focus from pointless athletic endeavors to pointless attempts to make art and music I made the final turn away from endless gear and trip cravings. Really, from my 20s I only wanted to live in a place where I could keep myself in halfway decent shape with locally-available activities while I concentrated on my pointless attempts to create. They didn't even seem pointless for the first couple of decades. That only sank in fairly recently. Certainly the sustained distractions that disrupted my happy plan did not help me develop those creative endeavors. So here we are.

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