Monday, February 20, 2012

Long, narrow, and fast or short, fat, and maneuverable?

I could be talking about kayak hulls of course. That discussion and debate over the relationship between the length of the boat vs. the width and amount of rocker has fueled many a blog post over the years. Most people that are into the sport can get a pretty good idea about a boat by looking at the specs, checking out a couple reviews, and discussing the boat with kayaking buddies at their favorite watering hole. The other interesting aspect of kayaks is that you can still buy a short, fat, rec boat as well as a long, skinny surf ski. This may be the case with surf skis but it's certainly not the case with snow skis and I really don't know why. Maybe it's the fashion aspect of snow skiing. For a while you were looked down upon in the downhill ski world if you wore a color found in nature. I remember that my sister looked like some sort of fluorescent, glowing alien for those years, not a brown or green to be found anywhere on her person. A peek at RawhidePhil below illustrates that fashion train wreck perfectly. A person can't buy a pair of long, skinny skis these days, except maybe in a garage sale, but fortunately many of us have a pair of said boards sitting in their own garage. Sunday I dug out my vintage Black Diamond Eclipse telemark skis and headed to Welch Village for an afternoon of retro skiing.

I headed south by myself because a goodly bunch of cronies were up winter camping (shudder!). I guess that's why it's called the Superior Kayak & Outdoor Adventure Club. The reason that I thought of the Black Diamonds was because of a new app called Ski Tracks that I put on the iPhone. It keeps track of runs, vertical footage, actual routes down the hill, actual time skiing, maximum slope angle, and, oh yeah, the maximum speed for the day. It was this last feature that caused me to pull out the old skis. People say the reason that bars don't have breath testing machines or list the ABV of their beers is because then it would turn into a contest. People would always buy the high gravity beers and try to outdo one another with higher blood/alcohol levels. I've always pooh poohed that notion, but that maximum speed thing on the Ski Tracks app did pique a certain interest in me. Those short, heavily side cut skis tend to turn when the thought of turning enters one's head. The downside of that however, is that when you go fast they feel like a car that has loose lug nuts on the front wheels. Shimmying, fishtailing, and generally moving all over the place at higher speeds is not a comfortable sensation. That made me haul out my old Black Diamonds, both for some speed work but also to remember how to actually ski again. Moving the hips, driving the knees through the turns, and staying dialed in to the big toe/little toe nuances of the telemark turn were all things that I'd gotten sloppy with on my 'automatic' side cut K2's.

I had a great time. In addition to really skiing like the old days and having great stability when I pointed the boards down the fall line, I had some great conversation with my fellow chairlift companions. Since I was solo, I always rode up with someone and most of the time got some sort of comment since my skis stuck out considerably more than most of theirs did. It was a beautiful day, albeit a bit warm with snow that was a bit sticky, but I was happy to take what I could get in this non winter. Driving my knees through the turns to move those long boards was a blast, although my elderly muscles reminded me of it when I creaked out of bed this morning. As far as speed, Ski Tracks told me that I'd gone 17% faster than last weekend on the side cut K2's for a maximum speed of.........a maximum speed appropriate and prudent for an AARP eligible guy, pushing 60, and known for his prudence and good judgement ( You know I wouldn't do anything unsafe or inappropriate....right honey?).

Like jumping into a skin boat or playing around in something other than a 17' sea kayak, skiing on the long boards was something that I will be enjoying from time to time. Unfortunately in the mono culture that is downhill skiing, I was the only person on the hill that was out of step with the rest of the herd. Snowboards and those irritating two foot long skate/skis were all over the place to lend a bit of structured diversity, but none of the original long boards that made the sport popular back in the '60's. If that is a persons choice, that's OK but if they have never experienced the mechanics, technique, and fun of actually skiing a pair of skis, I think they are missing out on something that should be experienced.

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