Monday, January 25, 2010

Fish scales

For some reason I tend to gravitate to things that have a basic, manual function, and need to be screwed around with a bit. A prime example would be my cars, which have mostly had manual transmissions from the old 'three on the tree' to my current six speed manual. I shoot a single shot rifle and a break action double shotgun, a couple of guns where the only chance of jamming or misfeeds is if I fumble. Cross country classical skis have been the same way, waxable skis all the way, but a couple years back I picked up a pair of 'no wax' or fish scale skis and this weekend pointed out why they exist and what an advantage they can be.

When I first started cross country skiing in the mid '70's I purchased a pair of wooden Norwegian made skis, complete with the high tech lignistone edges and three pin bindings. The guy who sold them to me, my buddy Loren, told me the difference between no wax and waxable was like the difference between a one speed bike and a 10 speed (note: I'm so old that the idea of 21 speed bikes hadn't even been concieved yet). Armed with my trusty scraper, 4 or 5 tubes of wax, and a real cork, I could wax up for any condition. The no wax skis of the time didn't have the fish scale design and I seem to remember some sort of fuzzy strip of fabric with bristles that would fold down in one direction to facilitate the kick. The two conditions that caused wax angst in most skiers however, were ice and slop. This meant, at best, the gooey red wax and, at the very worst, klister wax. Klister is a miracle substance, stringy, viscous, clinging, and with the ability to get itself on clothes, hair, dog, car, and damn near anything else that got within a couple yards of it. It worked but unlike shifting from 2nd to 3rd gear, or sliding a couple shells into the over/under, it was a complete pain in the ass. So much so that on 35F days or the day after the 35 degree day where is dropped down to 15F, many folks just didn't go skiing.

This weekend featured such conditions. The original plan had to been for a half dozen of us to ski the Vasaloppet practice loops north of Mora, MN and then spend the night with homemade pizza and adult beverages at the home of TheLegend and GraciousPartier. Two people dropped out at the 35F and rain forecast.......actually that's not accurate. The forecast was for an 'unpredictable' system, which could give us rain, freezing rain, sleet, ice pellets, or maybe snow. In other words, for one of the first times NOAA had no idea what would happen and actually confessed that was the case. Refreshing. Anyhow, we all had no wax skis and that was one of the deciding factors to pull the trigger and head to Mora to ski.

It was a good decision. There was virtually no one on the trails because of the drizzle, the track was just fine, and the no wax made for decent kick and glide without that 'handing a strawberry ice cream cone to a two year old in the summer' look that occurs when red klister is stuck all over everything. RangerMark and I did all the practice loops for a total of 25k while the VoiceOfReason and GreenThumbChef knocked off about 20k in order to hurry back to the camp and get some venison weiners and sauerkraut on the cook stove. It was a fine weekend of skiing and as we left the camp Sunday night in anticipation (for one of us anyway) the big Vikings-Saints clash, it started to snow in earnest.

I still like the manual choice in most things I do but I have to admit those fish scales worked pretty darn good in the slop. Much better than my skate skis, which broke through the crust and dumped me on my head a couple times. When the season winds down and the rentals are selling cheaply, adding a pair of fish scales to the inventory is a pretty solid investment.

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