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.