Monday, March 30, 2015

A farewell to arms

Fast conditions on Sunday morning invited a last blast on skating skis before we surrendered the trails to the post-holing dog walkers who have already been trying to reclaim them.

As I charged along I thought about the way fast cross-country skiing demands the use of arm power more than recreational touring or exploratory trudging do. All of them, of course use more arm power than cycling. But skate skiing gets almost a third of its power from proper poling.

In a skate lesson, the student is taught to skate without poles. You need to have that fundamental skill on which to build the rest of your technique. But that technique is not complete. Poling adds rapid, repeated surges of power. In a fast sprint, the poling is quick, each thrust following the previous one instantly. In faster gliding conditions, the pole timing may slow to every other stride, with longer glides in between, but a skater only stops poling when the descent is steep enough to eliminate any boost from pushing with the poles.

After that last rip around on fast granular it's probably time to put the storage wax on the old skating skis. I still have a few chores to do in the woods on wide skis, but for the most part it's time to tone down the arms and build up the legs.

A bicyclist who is accustomed to going kind of fast and taking the corners in a bit of a sporty way will tend to gravitate toward the sportier techniques of cross-country skiing. The faster you try to ski, in skate or classical, the more you use the poles. So a winter-training cyclist would actually do better to plod methodically on touring skis, than to thrust along aggressively on racing skis, striving for a semblance of cycling's flight through space. But winter training has to serve the mental as well as physical needs.

For a rider living in areas with unreliable snow, or getting by on a limited budget, basic touring skis open up more country than performance skis that need groomed trails. For that matter, any skier on a budget will get more use out of skis that can be used on almost any snow. Groomed-trail skiing is an addiction. It's a fairly benign addiction, but a dependency nonetheless.

In a broader sense, all sport is an addiction, a dependency of industrialized societies. To me, the ideal is to find utilitarian applications of sporting activities, and to find the most economical forms of the ones that stray further from the utilitarian. Ask yourself how the activity might fit into a subsistence lifestyle. Inspect it for harmful side effects, not only to the user, but to others.

I know, that's a heavy bag of bullshit to tote along on your recreational and fitness outings. But you know what? It's not. You need to imagine yourself as part of a much wider world to keep from falling into narrower and narrower views.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

In winter's claws

Some people hate to let go of winter.

Sometimes winter hates to let go.

This year, the cold keeps coming, and with it the wind. Here we are, two days into spring -- by the calendar -- with a high temperature of 18 degrees and a frigid wind blasting from the west at 10-20 miles per hour with gusts to 40. It swoops on the landscape like a great bird of prey, ready to snatch up any warm body that dares to scamper across its path. It pounces on the timid. The only way to deal with it is to meet it with your own ferocity. For an hour or so, anyway. Then get the hell inside and have something warm to drink.

As a bike commuter, I am more than ready to put away my car and get back to pedaling. But as a skier and a practical person, I'll keep using the ski conditions we have. Who knows when they'll be back? Winters seem to be all or nothing anymore. So maybe the next one will be another epic or maybe a muddy slog. Gather ye ski days while ye may.

I would have no worries at all if I wasn't running out of firewood. Fortunately, as daylight gets longer the sun helps take the edge off during the day. Just don't sit still for long. The house that felt warm when you walked in from the frigid gale feels less like a nest when your metabolism slows down.

Can't complain about the skiing. The ridiculously bitter cold has kept our snow from sizzling away completely in the strengthening sunshine. Because business has slowed way down at the shop, as it does at the end of every winter, our groomer can put in plenty of time to till up and smooth out the trails. We have basically full coverage. The skating is particularly fast. Like, "holy crap, that's fast!"

The rare thaw days are slow. They probably seem even slower in contrast to the days on either side of them.

Rain in the forecast for mid-week may spell the end of all skiing. It has to come eventually. The snow won't hold up to several days of wetness and warmth.

I'm really glad I got to feel this good before we have to put away the skis for a few months. It had been too long.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rogue snowmobilers vandalize cross-country ski trails

Last weekend,  a small group of snowmobilers was observed ripping up the grooming on part of the Wolfeboro Cross Country Ski Association trail network.

Approximately five individuals traversed part of the network around the Abenaki Ski Area. They proceeded up to an open area, where an artificial pond caught their attention. They careened up and down its banks and across the ice where it was frozen. They also skimmed the open water near what resembles a dock.

They probably did not know the pond contains treated sewage effluent.

The rest of us are laughing our asses off.