The recent lean snow years have had many effects on Nordic skiing in the northeast and in other areas. Many have been pleasant unexpected surprises, others not so good for the sport. One of the challenges that many people face regardless of snow conditions is making time for skiing. It is something even gifted lovers of the sport struggle with. Lean snow compounds this, but there are easy ways to free up time and to be prepared for enjoyment of the activity.
Skiers need to reframe their perspective on the sport. In the younger years skiing is a team/club activity and is very structured. Skiers tend to have set practice times, a coach and someone to hold them accountable for training. As we grow we graduate from these programs and components of things we never thought about appear and become our own responsibility. This is a difficult transition that comes with progress, and perhaps the magnitude of the technical and structured elements of Nordic skiing come as a shock.
Not to worry, there are simple solutions. The purpose of this article is to help people make the transition by suggesting an easier way to ski on their own and to encourage joining a local team or club. Skiing can be as complicated as you like and the emphasis is often on doing just that, but if skiing is what you love it is just as fun to dial it back and enjoy the thrill of being on snow!
1. Many people make skiing an event. Event, meaning that it requires much preparation, planning, tickets, tuning, meals, snacks, a lodge and hot chocolate. It can be, and this is encouraged by places that want you to have a spiritual experience at their “destination.” Much of Nordic skiing is a business and the activity will not survive without this component. Going on an event ski is a special experience, but not every ski needs to be an event. It takes a lot of time and resources to plan an event. One will quickly burn out if this is the approach they continuously take towards skiing.
2. Appreciate skiing opportunities by being more spontaneous. There is no guarantee that the conditions will be right no matter how much planning you put into your event ski. To take advantage of spontaneous skiing you need to be prepared for the moment. To do this, have a Ready to Go Ski Kit. This is a basic ski kit that is simply ready to go anytime, anywhere, no matter what. This is your go to kit for training and recreational skiing. The kit consists of a pair of skis, boots and poles. It is also good to keep some extra clothing as well, most importantly a hat. Depending on your experience and desire the kit can be adjusted, but the principle remains the same. This is equipment of the “rock skis” variety. It can be assembled cheaply from equipment you no longer use or from the cheapest stuff at the ski swap. Do not use new equipment unless you have no other alternative.
The Kit Mentality is one of efficiency. You do not care about or for this equipment. You care about skiing. The kit should be maintained once a season. In the fall before the first snow flies you wax your skis. Use a mid wide-range wax such as Swix CH7, Toko System 3 Red, or Rex Blue. The skis will always work and you do not have to wax them every time you ski. If you classic ski only or if you have a pair of classic skis in your kit use Start Grip Tape as your kick wax. It works good enough in all conditions. Properly applied you can get two seasons out of one application. Your maintenance is done for the season and your skis are ready for any condition. Remember these are basically junk skis, but often they become more than that to the owners. Have the kit handy. Keep it in your car or if you have a roof box leave it in there. The peace of mind of always having this kit handy is incredible. They can act as spares when you forget a piece of your race stock. You can even use it as a platform for jacking up your car on a soggy road side after you flat on a monster pothole. You do not have to do your mental checklist every time you set out. As you gain more experience with it, you build more trust and build it to meet your needs.
The importance of having it handy is that you can ski when and where the opportunity presents itself. On the way home from work, you literally can pull to the side of the road and go for a ski. Want to know who laid tracks at the rest stop on the highway? Someone with a ski kit possibly wearing a 3 piece suit. The truth is, you do not know where or when the snow is going to be, but with the kit ready you are that much closer to be being there and many steps ahead of everyone else, so even if you go to a destination, you can be skiing first tracks while others are still scrambling, scraping and testing wax.
3. Where to ski is the next hurdle to cross.There are different ways to approach this dilemma. If you are dedicated to a certain ski center, buy a season pass there. In Vermont there is a reciprocal program, so a season pass at one center gets you a one day pass to most others. This is a great program to take advantage of to explore or get a change of scenery. Not to mention someone else may have great conditions when your favorite area does not. The advent of snow making at certain areas is also a consideration and could make for less of a gamble when purchasing a season pass.
4. Joining a club or team also helps with getting on snow. Many clubs have a spot for some exclusive training, or set training times at area centers as well as a discount. The club word of mouth is valuable to getting accurate reports of conditions and more. Take advantage of a club membership for everything from pointers on technique, carpooling, conditions, shared wax and more. Clubs also bring in the element of accountability that is often missing when skiers graduate to being on their own. The structured environment lives on in the club, the difference is that no one will give you a pep talk for being late for practice, or having the wrong clothes.
5. Carpooling does so much for skiing. First it makes you stick to your plan. It saves time and money and you share the experience multiplying its value by the number of people in the car. So much success can be attributed to carpooling. While it is not something you do for every ski, if there is one thing to plan it should be to carpool. If you are a member of a club simply send out a message that you have however many seats available. You will not always get takers, but when you do the experience is enhanced.
It still takes commitment to ski. There are different types and levels of commitment and some are more important than others. The simplest and most important is to commit to ski. This is the essence of what you want to do. There does not need to be anything fancy or commercialism nor an event or place. Skiing can be done regardless of what you think or the advice people give. If it is important to you then you will find a way. Hopefully you have learned a little different perspective from this article and that with its guidance you realize you are closer to skiing than you thought. Accept that with the ski kit you will not have the fastest or fanciest skis, that is ok because you still get a great workout and whether you are training or touring, you can spend more time skiing than preparing and organizing. When everyone else is removing their fancy stuff to cross some questionable terrain you can ski through without worry. Being ready for any skiing will also allow you to commit to taking advantage of smaller periods of ski time. You can go out the door if the opportunity presents. No need to get to special trails, prep expensive equipment, or organize things that are all over the house. Commit to being ready and go.
A person once asked if I was “embarrassed about doing a race in a chicken suit” at a local fundraiser. I replied “a little, but not as embarrassed as the guy decked out in the latest performance wear that lost to me wearing a chicken suit.” You do not need to be perfect to be awesome. There is no shame in skiing in less than perfect circumstances, there is when you get out of shape by missing what you love because you are waiting for perfection in an imperfect sport.
About Damian Bolduc: Damian is a lifelong Vermonter and endurance sports enthusiast and the director of the local Nordic ski racing club Northwest Vermont Endurance www.nwve.org. He is also a recipient of the Pole-itzer Prize for excellence in ski race reporting and a USATF Level 2 Running Coach (as of 1/1/2018). Damian works in Radiation Oncology in Lebanon, NH and resides in South Burlington with his wife and daughter.
Picture: Damian (in blue) at Craftsbury Eastern Cup