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.

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