Rob's Blog Archive

December 13, 2015

Rock Skis










Each year, I start skiing just as soon as the real and imagined snow let me.  Unfortunately, only real snow protects my skis or makes the skiing pleasant.  Still, while I do okay on my Nordic Track, I can go much longer outdoors, even on tours when I can see rocks protruding through the snowpack.

On those first runs, however, I do use skis that have already seen a lot of abuse.  For me, these are a pair of Rossingol Chamois that I bought during the mid eighties.  Almost everybody who skis, both downhill and cross-country, has one or more pairs that they use when the snow is thin, rock skis.  These are mine.

On Wednesday just at sunset, rock skis waxed and loaded into the truck, I drove over to the cross-country ski area.  It’s about 200’ higher than the trailheads nearest my house and it would give me access to both dirt road turned snowmobile trail and the ski area itself.  The former is a little flatter and often requires less snow to come into shape.  Once there is coverage, the local x-c ski area is wonderful.  I looked at both the x-c trail and the snowmobile track and decided on the latter.

Diagonal stride skis have not changed much since the late eighties.  Boots and waxes, however, have both improved a lot.  The boots are lighter and more torsionally rigid.  The waxes, aside from now using the same colors as glide waxes, have much better range.  Conditions that would cause all but a perfect wax job to ice up now are no problem.  I had waxed the skis for snow in the twenties, always an easy condition to wax for, and that worked well.

I had inspected the trails at dusk and it was dark by the time I started skiing.  While running continuous dogsled races and managing my kennel have improved my ability to work at night, my history of this goes back to my first few years in graduate school.  At the time, I would frequently run at night.  That was usually on lit streets with the quality of the lighting varying a lot.  I found two things:  First, I was a lot more likely to sprain my ankle at night than during the day.  I could avoid this if I was careful, but inevitably my focus would wander.  Second, any hills irritated my knee.  For the record, I’m using singular correctly as it was always my right ankle and left knee.  Anyway, until very recently, I gave up running at night.  However, without the jarring that happens while running, I’ve never hesitated at x-c skiing after dark.  My first winter here, I did my longest tour at night.  Since then, headlamps have gotten much lighter and much brighter.  Now, I’ll even run at night.     Those same good headlamps also let me go out on my first runs before all of the hazards are covered. 

The snow was thin, but the coverage was actually pretty good.  When a ski does hit a rock it feels like fingernails on a blackboard sound.  That actually happened only a couple of times on that first tour.  What I did have to contend with was twigs and sawdust on the road from people cutting firewood before the road had been closed.  This changed kick and glide to step and lift.  There were about half a dozen of these, but they did make the skiing tedious, though not at all bad for a first run of the season.

I wanted to do at least a couple of miles---this was much more a workout than a tour---and I turned around just past one and a quarter miles on my GPS.  I couldn’t just glide on the way back even though it was downhill, but between slow spots from firewood collectors I could extend my glide quite a fair bit. 

Back home, I downloaded my GPS data and looked at what I had done.  It ended up being the fastest first run I’ve done for the past several years.  In part, while the snow was thin, it was still hard packed enough that I could move very efficiently. 

I had one more run in similar fast conditions.   Since then, I’ve run on fresh, slow, snow.  There’s still not enough to sled, but another few inches will at least let me skijor.  In the mean time, the skiing I’ve done has been beautiful, even if it has been slow, and I’m now on the skis I’m planning on taking on the Iditarod Trail.  The rock skis have been put away. 

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