Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Choices and more choices
Last weekend was nearly perfect for the annual Intensive Training weekend on Lake Namakagan east of Cable, WI. This event was founded a couple decades ago when many of the attendees actually skied the Birkie race and the pendulum is swinging back in that direction. It's organized by the WoodFondlingBarrister and part of the tradition is merciless criticism of his choice of accomodation, food, sleeping arrangements, trail conditions, weather, poker chip quantity, and pretty much everything else. This year it was hard to criticize anything, other than the KingOfIronwoodIsland's Tourettes-like outbursts at the poker table. Everyone had a place to sleep (although I was defrauded out of a real bed and stuck on the back breaking fold out couch), and the weather and trail conditions were superb. 20F and 4" of new snow just can't be beat. The only things we had to decide were which trails to hit and whether we wanted to classic or skate ski.
The choice of whether to classic or skate ski is yet another crossroads in the sporting equipment decision making process. Fortunately, like Euro and Greenland style kayak paddles, a person can easily do both and switch back and forth. Most of us grew up with the classic style and wood skis with three pin bindings. I got talked into trying the skate technique when both sons decided in high school that ski racing was a lot more rewarding than hockey. The one thing I noticed right away is that you need a much more powerful and well tuned motor to power the skate skis than the classic. The fact that I was just learning the technique and No1 son was racing for the Wisconsin Badgers at the time did nothing for my self esteem regarding my slow progress. Striding on classic skis is a pretty natural movement which can be akin to running or walking depending on how much energy you want to expend. Skating requires the motor to keep running as you shift weight from ski to ski while also moving forward. Going up a hill is even more interesting from the energy expenditure standpoint.
We chose to ski the beautiful Rock Lake trails on Saturday, a 16k loop that is the prettiest and most enjoyable classic trail I've ever skied. It goes through terminal moraine of the last glacier and has roughly 1/3 each of up, down, and flat. It winds past 4 small glacial lakes with hills that are harrowing the first time down but as soon as a skier realizes that there are no surprises they can easily be made. There were a couple of face plants but I guess that's to be expected. Sunday found us on the Birkie trail just east of Seeley, WI. This is a section of trail with 50% up and 50% down; I don't think there was a flat stretch longer than 20 yards on the damn thing. It's other advantage was it was down hill from there to sustenance at the Sawmill Saloon with its Berghoff Dark on tap and excellent burgers. RonO, TheManFromSnowyLegs, and I skied about a 10k segment and that was all we needed. RonO is signed up for the Birkie and is training so it likely didn't bother him, but the MFSL and I, a guy just learning skate technique, were most definitely breathing heavily.
Choosing between classic and skate skis, like paddles, deer rifles, kayaks, and damn near every other piece of sporting equipment we encounter, requires some self evaluation and careful thought. For a relaxing and enjoyable ski in the woods, classic is by far my first choice. For more of an aerobic workout and more speed, its the skate technique. Most races have categories for both style and its pretty much a matter of preference. Like the small group of Greenland paddlers, there are a number of people that are returning to the wooden skis, wool clothing, and three pin bindings. It's just plain fun and gets people back to the roots of the sport.
The month of February had races every weekend. Some of them will be skied on classic and others on the skate skis. That's the beauty of learning both techniques and expanding the repitoire. There is also no better time to be in the northwoods than the winter. A person can see forever though the leafless trees, the evergreens provide color and contrast, the animal tracks let us know we aren't the only ones out there, and there isn't a mosquito within 500 miles. You can truly experience the winter wonderland on a pair of cross country skis.
Last reminder: Keep plugging your 10 votes per day (almost like a Cook County election, eh?) in to save Grand Marais harbor. The contest ends next week.