Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What's cross-country skiing worth to you?

A recent article in Cross Country Skier magazine reported (in a four-page valentine to the behemoth of New England cross-country skiing) that a day pass to Jackson Ski Touring costs $21 now. A quick check of the Ski NH listings of cross-country ski centers shows that Jackson sells the most expensive day pass of any area in New Hampshire, but only by a dollar over Waterville Valley and two dollars over Bretton Woods and Great Glen.

Great Glen? Really? Their website advertises 40 km of groomed and backcountry trails. Backcountry is a code word for ungroomed and possibly ungroomable, which in many common snow conditions means virtually unskiable. You decide if it's worth the drive to the top of Pinkham Notch and a $19 ticket.

A lot of areas offer a day pass for $12 or less. They may not offer 76 or 100 kilometers or a view up the skirts of Mount Washington, but how much can you really ski in a day? The old argument that cross-country is cheaper than downhill is still true, but that's mostly because downhill is now absurdly expensive with lift tickets commonly well above $70 on weekends at major mountains. The merely ridiculously expensive $21 trail pass looks downright economical. And according to the Cross Country Skier article, executive director of JSTF Thom Perkins says that the $21 ticket does not meet their expenses.

Ski areas depend on season pass revenues for the bulk of their income. Day skiers are unpredictable. They go with the weather. They decide on a whim. To guarantee some level of operating funds, ski areas have to convince a lot of people to throw down a bet before a flake hits the ground or a cold cloud even gathers in the sky.

Cross country skiing, especially in New England, depends on expensive grooming equipment run by skilled technicians. Some areas have experimented with snowmaking, which is another large expense. The downhill industry tells us it is one of the biggest drivers of their pricing. So the claim by cross-country ski areas that their sport is cheaper than downhill faces a growing challenge if they're going to invest in infrastructure to put down a guaranteed surface of manufactured snow on a significant amount of terrain. Will people love cross-country skiing enough to pay what it really costs to provide it? History hints that the answer is no.

The same issue of Cross Country Skier had an article titled "Beyond Grooming" in which the author put forth the radical notion that a skier could get some wide touring skis and heavy boots and ski the trails they use for activities such as mountain biking. Wow! Make your own tracks? That's the craziest idea since hippies invented cross country skiing in the late 1960s! The article was also an advertisement for Rottefella's widely licensed NNN-BC boot and binding system, since the war on 75 millimeter has never ended. Word to the wise: find yourself some good beefy 75 mm boots and bindings for your exploring skis if you plan to go far from the car and you might be trying to drive some turns. System bindings from Rottefella or Salomon are made with a lot of plastic and plenty of small parts just for the sake of skiing performance that is only debatably better. Old boring 75 mm bindings are simple, durable and readily repairable in the event that you actually get snow conditions that will permit you to venture away from groomed trails in this era of warming winters.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holiday decorating

"Are you guys all caught up?" Beth asked as she came into the shop on Friday morning. It's the kind of imprecise question that often precedes a job assignment one of us would not have come up with for ourselves. When Beth is making the assignment it often reminds me of a girl interrupting a great greasy game a bunch of boys are playing to get someone to play house.

Big G was safely elbows-deep in a bunch of preseason base waxing for some of the local racer kids, so I got pulled into Beth's project, decorating the shop Christmas tree. I tried to make a stand and say we shouldn't decorate before the Friday after Thanksgiving, but she wouldn't hear it. Besides, no one will come in on Thursday night to do it.

She should know better than to leave me unsupervised. Something about the configuration of one of the ornaments, a snowman holding snowflakes on a black wire in front of himself, suggested something more sinister. I wonder how long it will take anyone to spot it.

It's the little things that help the day go by.

Later I discovered I could record sounds on my phone and use them as my ring tone. For the rest of the day it belched. Now it meows. A whole new world beckons. The problem is that even I don't recognize it as a phone call at first. I also pissed the cats off by following them around all day trying to get the perfect meow. I still haven't gotten the one I want. When they meow they want you to answer, not shove a phone down by them and wait silently for them to do it again.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Transportation Skiing

As someone who commuted by bicycle in a place where it seldom snowed and the snow that fell seldom stayed, I looked forward to trying to use my cross-country skis for transportation once I moved to the Frozen North.

Global warming quickly combined with the fact that the Frozen North's reputation was quite exaggerated already. Also, like everywhere else in the United States, transportation infrastructure was entirely committed to motor vehicles. That's changing now, but only very gradually.

The best years for daily skiing were the otherwise dark ones I spent running a retail concession at Jackson Ski Touring. Whatever else might happen when dealing with a staff and clientele that could be patronizing or duplicitous (big word, JSTFers -- look it up!) I had pretty good odds of getting out on the trail.

Along with the relief of returning to Wolfeboro came the realization that I had probably skied my last. The trail quality at Wolfeboro Cross Country can often rival that of its large, smug and more expensive cousin in Jackson, but our small staff can't assure that much of it will be ready for employees to take a meaningful training session before the shop opens. Everyone has to wear a stack of hats here. Gone are the days when we could tag out for a scamper on our own trails.

After three winters basically without skiing, a trudge on the rail trail on my 200cm back-country skis now sounds downright attractive. Forget the beauty glide, the perfect stride, Blue Extra kick wax or a ripping skate over hill and hollow. I never even took the storage wax off my performance skis last year. I might have gotten out twice on rock skis. But the farther I get from the beautiful rush of fast skis on good grooming the more willing I am to settle for a ski-like plod witrh some long, pointy planks and heavy boots. It's a good walk enhanced.

Parking, as always, is the key. You have to have a relatively secure place to stuff the automobile when you switch to the skis. If snow is falling will you be able to get the car out of its spot or will the road crews have turned it into a monument to Shackleton's Endurance? My colleague Big G and I think that we might find a usable spot at a reasonable distance out the rail trail. Big G has the advantage of someone who might be convinced to drop him off, thus eliminating the need for parking on those days.

When snow fell in Annapolis I would stay up all night if I had to, skiing around the neighborhood and the nearby Navy housing. Until the plows caught up, local cross-country skiers would go as far as the snow cover let them. I remember racing a jogger through the Naval Academy one day. The snow was the perfect depth to make our speed nearly equal, but I had a slim advantage. I hope he was as ready to puke as I was by the end of our sprint. We never got closer to each other than about 30 yards on our parallel lines across one of the parade grounds.

With any luck Big G and I will come out of this winter slimmer and happier than we have been in the previous three years. Because the rail trail is level we don't have to worry as much about ice-like surfaces as we would if we had to climb much or set edges to turn or stop. This could be good, or at least better than nothing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Frank Zappa was wrong. The crux of the biscuit is not the apostrophe. It's the asterisk.

When it comes to human-powered equipment the answer to almost any question  is "it depends." In addition to cross-country skis I could say this about bicycles, kayaks, hiking and climbing boots, snowshoes and a host of other equipment that's simple to use when properly chosen and correctly applied.

Many a ski sale starts with a long explanation about all the different kinds of ski and skiing. You can streamline it to some extent, but customers ask questions. Before you know it you've spent 45 minutes you would have preferred to spend with the lunch they interrupted, giving someone who came in with no idea at all a general picture of what their opportunities are. It is never meant to confuse them or bore them to death or make the salesman look smart. It is only intended to put a new skier or a skier making a change of equipment onto the most enjoyable ski for them. It's intended to build the sport, one satisfied skier at a time.

In Jackson the touring center management was looking for something more along the lines of a prostitute turning as many tricks as possible with no backtalk. Show some respect for your betters! Get 'em in, get their money and get 'em out! Quit wasting people's time with long-winded explanations and big words! It was amazing how much advice we were expected to take from a bunch of people who had never been in specialty retail -- perhaps not in retail at all.

As much as I may sympathize with people's wish for the simple pleasures of the world to remain simple, even something as basic as food or sex becomes extremely complicated in a hurry.

If I could sell someone the perfect set of skis time after time with just six well-chosen words it would certainly free up the rest of my time for a long list of other things I enjoy. Indeed, the opprobrium leveled at me at Jackson Ski Touring has made me gun shy about approaching anyone with my previous good faith and optimism. If not for the fact that the vast majority of customers compliment us on our thorough and informative presentation I might quit bothering at all. Given the quality of equipment the industry is putting out these days and the unreliable winters I already have enough challenges to my enthusiasm.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Winter lovers getting antsy

You have to ask yourself how much of the Old Farmer's Almanac prediction of a cold, snowy winter is based on ski area ad revenues in Yankee Magazine. "Secret formula" indeed. Sunspots. Precession of the Earth's axis. Woolly bear caterpillars. Full-page ads from Killington. Ka-ching! We have your prediction.

Every winter is going to be great until it turns out to be lousy. The progression goes like this:

1.  "Maybe it'll start early! If we get an early hard freeze and a good Nor'easter in November we could be on snow in early December and keep it going until April!"

2.  "It never really snows until late December at the earliest. We're still on schedule. Squirrels have been hiding a lot of nuts! Surely an animal known for dashing out in front of cars has powers of prediction beyond our comprehension."

3.  "It never REALLY snows until January. Skiing at Christmas time is more of a treat than a regular thing we can count on. We're fine."

4.  "The big stuff moves in in February. Just use your rock skis for now."

5.  "It could still turn around. You know it never really comes down deep until March."

6.   "There's probably enough for good spring skiing up high."

7.  "F*** this! Where's my bike?"

Whatever will be will be. But hard core skiers are not known for philosophical acceptance. Businesses that depend on their optimism can't afford to look casual about it either.

I'll be hiding in the back because I'm a lousy faker. I care, but I refuse to get all wound up over it.

Monday, March 05, 2012


Back in the days when I thought of myself as a good skier I would start to feel the elation of a good, vigorous ski as I headed out the door. It wasn't always that easy, but during a good active season the momentum would build in waves. Even my bad moods were good. My good moods were insane.

The past three winters have dismantled all that. As a result I have conducted an accidental experiment. Starting with a fit, athletic specimen I have reduced him to a sedentary blob, aided by the pressures of work and life. Now I have some hint of how normal people feel.

Normal is awful.

The recent snow came too late to save any of the high-earning periods of our commercial season, but it did open the trails for a weekend. Grateful skiers and snowshoers appeared in crowds of one or two. Those ones and twos added up to a full parking lot from time to time, but the shop remained mostly quiet. As a result I suddenly got to ski two days in a row after the winter of nearly complete inactivity.

Warm days made the surface slushy. The first day, on Fischer RCR Crowns, the track had been nearly obliterated by skiers, snowshoers and stomping teenagers who trample all over the trails with a plastic sled. My half hour plod didn't change me much. The second day, however, my results varied.

The day was warm, the surface was slushy and the trampling teens had been back. Based on my observations from the day before I decided that waddling on skating skis would be marginally better than waddling on the classical skis I had available. I went for about 40 minutes on the widest soft rental skate skis I could find. They weren't as wide as my old Atomics, but they would have to do.

It was my first real workout since January 2011. Bike commuting is good steady exercise, but it does not work the body as thoroughly as vigorous cross-country skiing does. In the summers I used to paddle a kayak. In any season without skiing I used to train with weights. Choosing to use my time on other things, those activities have disappeared from my schedule.

As an experiment it set the stage for conspicuous results.

I finished my haphazard waddle feeling quite a bit of the usual euphoria. All the effects were there: higher body temperature through the afternoon and evening indicated increased metabolism well after I finished skiing. Annoying cheerfulness indicated the release of endorphins that had seemed inaccessible under the sludge of inactivity.

Weak propelling muscles and a deteriorated cardiovascular system make you slow. Weak steering and stabilizing muscles make you sloppy. Trained reflexes call for the right action at the right time. The body remembers. But early fatigue in the support system makes the response inaccurate.

Because many of the stabilizing and steering muscles are pretty small, they tone up quickly. This is why form returns rapidly once you get to go out on a regular basis. This late in the season, regular skiing seems highly unlikely. Who knows what next winter might bring. I no longer plan for anything. Understanding how the body responds to an activity makes it easier to adapt when the opportunity does arise. So in a matter of a  week or two at most I will probably be getting my posterior accustomed to regular bicycling again rather than trying to hone anything related to skiing.

Reality has a way of slapping euphoria right out of you. I could say something glib about how we should all just go ski, but honesty compels me to admit that many problems remain that can't be addressed by any artificial mood enhancers. Maybe a few minutes of escapism are the best anyone can expect. Nothing really gets fixed because too many points of  view need to be accommodated.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Skiing is a nutrient

Exercise is not a luxury. I wonder how the political climate in this country might change if the majority of people got out for a nice walk or bike ride every day. The feelings of frustration and irritation so common between factions might disappear almost entirely. They creep up so insidiously that a person's outlook can shift drastically toward greater darkness and anger by nearly unnoticeable steps.

For a cross-country skier that activity forms a critical part of metabolism. Because cross-country skiing is the most complete exercise you can perform on land, it activates every system of the body. You burn food more efficiently. You hydrate more thoroughly. You tone every muscle. A body accustomed to that suffers from the loss of it. A mind accustomed to it notices the difference. Everything slumps.

Snow has arrived as winter enters its final phase. The season begins as it ends. It's too late for most of us to get the confident, calm feeling that develops over many weeks of skiing. But the wretched season has crystallized the concept for me that skiing needs to happen. Everyone who works in this business needs to get out there and do it every day there's snow. It's not an indulgence any more than being properly fed is an indulgence. It makes us better at our jobs. We serve our customers better. We run the business better.

In the economy in general, a more humane attitude toward the work day would go a long way to making life much sweeter and the population healthier. How about this: everyone gets two hours in the best part of the day to take a jog, a walk, a bike ride, a ski or an indoor exercise class, and get lunch. It doesn't come out of your pay as long as you do something active. Self-propelled commuters can substitute somthing else for the exercise hour, like an art class, chess games, writing or a music lesson. You can't take a double lunch or just go smoke somewhere. You can, but you don't get paid.

We have to live by the experience, not by the numbers.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cross-country skiing in New England

Did New England ever really have the winters depicted in popular myth? If they ever occurred, they don't anymore. We can't even seem to get an average winter most years, let alone an epic one.

Whether the decline in cross-country skiing is really due to changing climate or to a long-overdue acknowledgment that snow conditions are normally inadequate south of the mountains, the sport is clearly dwindling. The people who love it love it, but fewer and fewer people are falling in love with it. It's too unreliable.

Resorts in the mountains will still be able to provide skiing for something like a full season. Skiing belongs in the mountains. We may revise our standard of what a full season means, but mountain weather will probably produce snow for many years after it has become rare around the middle and southern part of New Hampshire and all of southern New England. One or two big storms every couple of years won't be enough to support sophisticated grooming equipment at a touring center if the rest of the time they get meager slush, rain and mud. Sliding around on cross-country skis will be a novelty, not a lifestyle.

Every time we get a storm, calls come in. People want to believe. Personally I feel more and more like I don't have time to waste encouraging people to pursue an activity they won't be able to keep doing regularly even if they want to.  With all the uncertainty about the nation's and the world's economic future, should people really be wasting money on a mere sport, and a dying one at that?

The ski industry says, "The heck with that! You just need to buy more stuff! If your stuff isn't working, it's the wrong stuff! Buy different stuff! You'll get to use it eventually!" Bless their little hearts. Everyone wants to keep their thing going as long as possible. I'd like to believe the climate could settle down again and that people could prosper enough to play out in it. I'm just afraid that for most of the past four decades we've already been on stolen time.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ski Repair

Delamination is a common problem. Skiers are always coming in with one end or the other of their ski bases flapping loose.

Today's victim needed a six-inch section of the tip re-fastened. How to clamp the radius of the repaired tip?
Use the other tip. I waxed the surface of the ski so the glue would not adhere to it. Then with light but firm pressure I clamped the sandwich together. We'll see how that goes.

Last year we had a repair on which we tried to see how many clamps we could use.
It was another tip repair, but we either did not think to use the other ski as a mold or we couldn't. In that case we used a lot of small blocks to secure sections of the curve.

For adhesive we use Gorilla Glue. It's easier to work with than epoxy and has a shorter curing time. Instead of mixing a batch that might be too big or too small we just squeeze out what we need. Not much adheres well to plastic, even epoxy, so we might as well work with something that's fairly easy to get along with.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


Sundays are so tedious they've started to slop over into Saturday.

Sundays have their own time warp. On a Sunday afternoon, a flurry of activity that would eat up an hour or two on another day will prove to have expended about 10 minutes at best when you check the clock after it ends. This extended boredom has started to attack Saturday as well.

The ground is bare. Hardly any cross-country ski areas have any open trails. The next storm is shaping up to be warm and wet, not deep and white. We lost Christmas week. Now we're fixing to lose Martin Luther King weekend. Our big winter earning periods are getting hammered.

Aside from a bit of maintenance on rental skates and one or two out-of-season bike repairs, we have little to do but brainstorm new directions for this business or new businesses in case this one is too damaged to survive.

If I had known that winter was going to die out in my lifetime, I would not have wasted time learning to ski. I enjoyed cross-country and backcountry skiing skiing immensely, but I would have put the time into bicycle-related skills and boating. I might not even have moved to New Hampshire, although I have enjoyed mountain hiking and rock climbing. For all that I get to do THAT I might as well have stayed on the immediate coast and stuck to maritime pursuits.

Chaos being chaos, you can't change one variable without affecting a whole slew of other ones. Parallel universes are fun to imagine sometimes, but I happen to be aware of only this one. So I chart my course from this point on.

One thing's for sure: this is a great year not to be at Jackson Ski Touring. While that's true of any year, it is particularly true in a year like this, that far exceeds even the disastrous season of 2005-'06. It was a major financial burden to maintain the inventory and staff that Jackson required on the off chance that we might get snow. Fortunately, that bad winter afflicted enough of the country to make the ski industry lenient about credit terms. Even so, the scars have lasted long enough to be considered permanent. This hideous winter only gouges deeper at the same injuries. The devastation of the ski business is once again widespread enough to keep our creditors from sending the leg-breakers after us, but that indulgence is little help when the changing climate seems well on the way to destroying our whole sport.

Cross-country skiing was a beautiful experience. I can't say that any of the memories make me feel like I'm back there doing it, but I can appreciate how much fun it was while it lasted. No single activity can equal it for full-body and full-mind exercise. Because of that, nothing can replace it and its skills cannot be applied to anything else. Parts can be applied to many things, but, without skiing to reinforce them, they will have to be maintained piecemeal.

In 2005-'06, bitter, paranoid and angry after the cowardly treachery of persons still unidentified in Jackson, I enjoyed the winter without skiing. I rode my bike while I watched the addicted skiers curdle with frustration. I felt as if nature itself had jumped in on my side. Now, as cross-country skiing seems to be lurching toward extinction, the fact that I don't get to do it simply merges with the way all cross-country skiers are having it stripped from their lives.

From a business standpoint it's a bitch that we're stuck with all the ski gear in our inventory. There's an investment we will never recoup if snow has really gone the way of the passenger pigeon and the dodo bird. If winter really is just another casualty of human folly, all business related to it will suffer.

I can build and repair bicycles. I can get used to having slow, quiet winters in which to prepare for busy, active summers, at least for as long as I am able to be active at all. I decided in 2005 that I could live without skiing. I still skied as much as I could, because it's fun and good for you, but I knew I could let it go when the time came. Has the time come? We shall see. It seems to have come for me, anyway, given the needs of the business and the rest of my life. Whatever I do with myself after whatever happens to the business where I currently work, I will not invest anything in the future of cross-country skiing. I don't think it has one. Not until the collapse of industrial society allows the climate to rebalance itself in however many hundreds or thousands of years that will take.

Mind you I will be content to let the winter make a fool of me by delivering commercial quantities of snow to save us. I still advise against investing heavily in cross-country skiing, though. I'm afraid it's really finished, for the most part.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Hotbox Backlash

Last week the SkiPost e-newsletter had this item about the practice of saturating ski bases with wax by the slow-bake method known as hot boxing or heat boxing. The term heat boxing has emerged recently to differentiate the ski prep technique from the pot smoking technique also called hot boxing, in which smoker or smokers indulge their habit in a purposely confined space.

How to Hot Box?

[A reader wrote]"You referred to proper & improper hot boxing. I have a hot box of my own construction but I have never seen any real guidelines for how to best use it. I keep the temperature at 120 - 130 degrees (Fahrenheit) for about 6 hours. It has a fan that continually circulates the air. How does this sound?"

[Ski Post answered]First of all most ski manufacturers do not suggest skier hot box their skis. [emphasis mine]

While an iron exerts heat to the base, the hot box exerts heat to the entire ski. It can do nothing to improve a ski, over normal waxing done properly and with patience, but can weaken the epoxy and alter a ski camber if the heat gets out of control.

That being said many people and ski shops hot box.

To do it with the least risk
1) The base needs to be open and not sealed so it can accept the wax easily. (Stone grinding to achieve a fresh open base is another issue)
2) The max temp at any point in the box should not exceed 55C (130F). Some boxes have great fluctuations in their temps throughout the box.
3) A wax with a melting point at 55C needs to be used. Not many waxes are actually molten at this low temp. They may be soft but they are not molten. Start suggests Service Wax LF for its unique double molten points one just below 57 and one at and one at 120C.
4) Melt wax onto base.
5) Leave in hot box for as short a period as possible. Less than 2 hours should be sufficient. The base is only a couple of mm thick and will absorb wax quickly or not at all.
6) Realize this is speaking from the standpoint of the ski manufactures.
7) This is not speaking on behalf of the Hot box and Hot bag manufactures who would argue differently.

I hope this helps.


We try to respond to new information to improve the service we offer at our shop. So far, our research has not turned up any service providers who have cut their heat box times significantly. Many recommend warming the skis for as much as 12 hours. Most agree on the temperature range, averaging 50-55C and never exceeding 60C. According to SkiPost, one should never heat skis as high as 60C, let alone leave them there for 50 minutes to an hour, as some service centers advertise.

Many heat box providers do acknowledge that extended heating can affect some skis.

I was initially skeptical of the heat box compared to ironing. Even when I accepted the idea of heat boxing, it was more as a time-saver and basically harmless rather than outright superior to ironing as some proponents were saying. I still feel that way about prepping new skis. Much of the time spent prepping new skis would have been spent ironing in and scraping off numerous applications of wax just to achieve maximum saturation of the base material.

As with most technical arguments in skiing, there's a lot of opinion and very little real science. Experts apply some general principles based on one or two variables rather than all possible variables and then issue blanket statements. For instance, SkiPost cites the fact that the base material is only a couple of millimeters thick to support the statement that less than two hours of heating should be enough for complete wax absorption. There's no consideration of base density, which can vary with the quality level of the ski, and no supporting experimentation to test whether the wax penetration really is complete. Toko did provide data on wax absorption based on actually shaving down the base material to see how far the wax had gone at different times and temperatures. Another tester claimed to have weighed the skis to determine how much wax had been added by a box versus an iron.

In the end, the statement that ski manufacturers do not recommend hot boxing may come from the legal department rather than anyone in the company who actually skis or develops equipment. If the manufacturer gets behind a procedure that might damage some skis they could face possible aggressive warranty claims. I don't see how it would turn into a very expensive problem for the ski company, since the cases would never involve a big enough damage award to interest much of a lawyer, but why not nip it in the bud? It only takes a short verbal statement to protect the ski company from ANY such claims. So there it is.

All this fog leaves the individual skier and the small shop to decide for themselves about the relative risks and merits of letting your skis get baked. I still lean toward the "mostly harmless" theory.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Commercial Expertise

"You had some purple ski goggles with a picture of Lindsey Vonn on them. Did they get sold?" the customer asked.

The goggles had sold. The customer left the counter to browse around other displays.

It's only a matter of luck that I know who Lindsey Vonn is. I barely do. I just happen to recognize the name from some downhill ski coverage I caught somewhere along the line. It made me notice the difference between the expertise of real experience as opposed to commercial expertise: knowing the trends and buzz words your customers are likely to use before they come in and use them on you.

In my ideal life I would spend a lot of time actually skiing. At one time the ideal and the real coincided enough to give me a solid amount of experience I could use to help less experienced skiers make good choices selecting skis for groomed or off-trail use. This kind of expertise is almost useless in a commercial setting. This is the point the management of Jackson Ski Touring was trying to make when they kept trying to get me to spend a lot less time trying to educate customers and a lot more time separating them more quickly from their money and shoveling them out of the lodge. A boring expert, no matter how helpful, is a lot less attractive than a cheerful, fashion-conscious servant who knows exactly what the customer is talking about at any level and has a quick solution for a price, ready to deploy.

Mind you, in the heyday of the servant class their cheerful demeanor hid all manner of scheming. That almost did not matter to the ruling class as long as no one gave them any attitude. The commercial expert needs a touch more showmanship than a mere servant, but the facade is still more important than actual stick time with the product being sold.

Here in Wolfe City the clientele is a bit less high strung and the management is as woefully unfashionable as I am. We're all stupid enough to believe that actually skiing counts for a lot and that the truth often trumps the misleading presentations of the industry that feeds off of the activity. No doubt that explains a lot about our financial circumstances. The poor bastards hired someone to whom principle matters. You know THAT always leads to the poor house.

At this point no one is skiing much. One wonders whether we're seeing the quick end to the cross-country ski era in the United States. If we don't get some winter soon we might be better off making funky furniture out of the rack full of weird, colored sticks in the showroom and devoting ourselves to bicycling year-round. That's actually a diverse enough industry to support many points of view and it doesn't depend on a very narrow and increasingly rare range of conditions to survive.