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.

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