Monday, January 23, 2017

Mediocre winter good for spring

In the winter of our dreams, the cold weather comes and stays, not brutally cold, but cold enough to keep our plentiful storms of powder snow firm on the groomed tails and fluffy in the back country. New England terrain and weather have trained us to want a little heavier, denser snow right at first, but if we have to settle for nothing but powder, we'll manage to live with it.

This has not been the winter of our dreams. After a little 6-inch tuneup and a solid 14-plus inches in a storm of moderately powdery snow, we've had repeated thaws, some rain, and only wet snow when we got snow at all.

Density is the key. The warm cold, just below freezing, and the high moisture content of the snow, have put down a dense layer that has consolidated a lot under the cycles of freezing and thawing. When powder melts, it vanishes like cotton candy. You need a ton of it to give you any spring skiing at all. But this stuff we're getting this winter handles thawing beautifully.

I've only been out on the groomed trails about three times, but I've done a lot of skiing around my own woods, just checking out the scenery and wildlife, or gathering dead pine limbs for kindling. When the temperature has been just above freezing, the top layer of the dense base has softened up perfectly for maneuverability.

The National Weather Service tells us that the storm that is moving in this afternoon will bring mostly snow and sleet in a temperature range from the mid 20s to the low 30s. An accumulation of 4-7 inches total, largely made up of high-moisture snow and sleet, will fill in the ungroomed areas with a very durable surface to enjoy when winter fades. Things being as they are these days, winter could start to fade in a couple of weeks, or hang on to the verge of April. Unless we get a disastrous thaw and deluges of rain, the ground cover should provide hours of fun in the longer daylight and milder temperatures of late winter and early spring.

A blockbuster storm would only push the closing date farther. Even without that, with a couple or a few additions of several inches here and there, a lot of terrain at low to moderate angles will be a fun house. In suitably open woods, it might be a great year to take the skating skis off the reservation and go wild.

New England teaches us to let go of our hopes and expectations. I'm just pointing out technical observations, not making a rock-solid prediction. If this then that. If we keep this high-density frozen product, which is actually not great for skiing among trees when it is frozen hard, our reward will be some quick and challenging skiing in the warmth of lengthening days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On and Off Winter

Here in central New Hampshire, the winter seemed to get a good start with a 14-inch snowfall on December 29. But the temperature has lurched between the warmth of early spring and appropriately bitter January cold, as if April and January had been broken into chunks, shaken up in a box and dumped out to make this jumble of a winter.

Recognizing the power of exercise to help maintain health as well as fitness, I have explored the possibilities for a person with a low income to pursue a healthy lifestyle by using muscle power for practical purposes. It started with bike commuting, which led to non-motorized outdoor recreation. That was a bit of a cheat, because I could work in the field and take advantage of opportunities the average retail drone would have more trouble pursuing.

Start with this idea: Wherever you live, find the natural environments in which you can explore. I happened to end up here in New England, in the bike and ski business. But when I lived in Maryland, I biked more, hiked where I could, used the bike and my feet for transportation, and went boating with a borrowed kayak in the disregarded margins of the nearby tributaries of Chesapeake Bay.

An ex-wife once said of me that she thought I didn't want money. I answered that I would not mind money, but I care where it comes from. Most of the quick money, the big money, is in destructive activities. The wealth is seductive. It has blinded many people to the underlying demolition of the very supports of life itself. Future generations are going to have to sort that one out, starting with figuring out what to breathe and what to drink.

For myself, I continue to be reminded of how restorative exercise is. Even tedious sweating indoors with weights or machines can administer a tonic, while a nice fast blast on cross country skis is the ultimate one-stop-shop for an afterglow of gratifying well-being.

At slower tempos, cross-country skiing offers perhaps a slightly lower level of metabolic turbo charging, but in return becomes a meditative glide through a winter landscape. It still activates every system in the body. It's good to go slow sometimes, as well as fast. Indeed, if you want to go really fast, you have to go slowly some of the time, and make sure you rest, so the body can build from the destructive phase of training. And if you just want to enjoy a broad spectrum of the ski experience, and benefit from a lower intensity version of the training wave, mix it up as much as you can between sporty outings on prepared surfaces and mellower sessions to enjoy the scenery.

Coming off of a respiratory virus that dogged me coming out of the Christmas Week tourist onslaught, I did a few chore skis in my woods, gathering kindling, and made one slushy plod on the groomed trails on a warm Wednesday. On Friday night of that week, I spent the night in wall-pounding agony, passing a kidney stone that came from who knows where. I was back at work on Saturday and Sunday, because wage slaves gotta keep that paycheck coming. That was going into the Martin Luther King Day holiday, so I went in on Monday morning, too, in case the rental shop was busy. As it worked out, I was able to punch out after a couple of hours. I took advantage of the surviving machine groomed granular snow on the hillier half of our trail network. It was great for skate skiing. The aftermath, as always, was a deep feeling of warmth and energy.

Wherever you live, keep moving if you are moving, and start moving if you aren't. We have to prove that there's a demand for infrastructure to encourage people to move themselves. It's not a chore or a penalty. It's a gift. It makes you sleep better and be more awake when you're awake. It reminds your body that there's a reason to be ready. You don't even have to know what to be ready for. You just know you're ready.

We've rapidly evolved a social system and civilization that shoves us into motorized cans and sedentary environments. That feeds itself, making us feel more tired, more pressed for time. It was easy to decide not to join it in the late 1970s, when I was becoming legally an adult. It's harder and harder to escape from when you've accepted it as normal from early in life. But escape is vital not only to your own survival, but the survival of our species.

Cross country skiing may live or die in many parts of the world, as climate change destroys the conditions that support it. The activity itself is great, but the mindset that you bring to any self-propelled activity is what really matters. Refuse to be stopped. By sheer numbers, we become something the bean counters can't ignore. When destruction no longer has customers, the market will shift. But it takes informed consumers to demand it.