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That First Ski: `Arrgh..` vs. `What a Winter Wonderland`
By:  Justin Demers   (2008/12/08)


The end of the first week of December has come and most of us already have 2 solid weeks of skiing under our belts.  I figure most of you have been skiing at least once this season and you know all about the title. After many months of preparation and anticipation Winter has finally arrived. You get on snow figuring that after a good off season you will pick up right where you left off last Spring. You get to the trailhead, start skiing and before you know it you will be deciding which phrase ‘arrgh that first ski’ or ‘what a winter wonderland’ is most appropriate.

The demands of balance, physical exertion and lack of that darn classic kick make you want to lean towards the former. On the other hand you have been dreaming of this for several months and have possibly expended extraordinary amounts of effort and discipline to be ready for the day when it all starts. For me, this year's first ski was definitely of the ‘winter wonderland’ variety.  I did not skate and yet I have a method that will certainly be repeated on a yearly basis from now on.

Skiing with girls. Sounds unlikely that it would do any good from a purely rational and calculating perspective... but it does. Going for a social ski with girls prevents me from focusing on the actual skiing because lets face it; the skiing isn’t what’s at stake in those circumstances. Forget about trying to keep that end of season pace with comfortable technique because that would just get me ahead and start a rivalry between myself and myself in three weeks.  Skiing with guys invariably turns a first ski in an espionage mission to detect any weakness in your opponent.  Social skiing enables me to stay calm and not rush my technique. I start out with a shuffle then gradually start to stride and double pole. Going nice and slow also enables me to reconnect with my skis and the snow. In the early season you are redeveloping the motor skills to ski in different types of conditions. I find social skis a good opportunity for my body to do this adaptation without the pressure of performing.

After those first couple of outings you will find yourself used to skiing again. There is still a little bit of adaptation left to do but it takes much more time and I find it’s mostly about feeling comfortable and hitting the technique sweet spot. In the mean time the races or events have not started and there is plenty of early snow. I sometimes wonder what to do with this period of the year as I got used to thinking that the pre-race season should be cold, wet and often enough, miserable. Instead the past 2 weeks have been fun and relaxing.

Early snow years give you a good opportunity to go out and explore new trails with your rock skis. Once the racing season begins the training volume goes down and you are left mostly with short skis that don’t let you appreciate the vastness of Gatineau Park. You can also do little time trials to prepare for the first races but my personal favorite is relay races. Short sprints where you go head to head help you settle into ski mode and dissipate a lot of uncertainties about your fitness. Invite people from other clubs and make it a dual. For all the racers and their parents out there remember to make the most of the daylight weekend skis because soon enough we will all be hitting the road. We all know at least one skier from school or work that we never end up skiing with because of scheduling conflicts. This is the time to spread the love of skiing.

Talking about skiing spirit, last Saturday a few fellow XC Ottawa members and I were out skiing when we heard ‘Salut les enfants!’. Intrigued and not sure we hard heard this right we stopped and met an 84 year old man who still looked pretty good on skis. After a quick conversation we learnt that he had raced the Gatineau Loppet until he was 74 and that he was one of the founding members of Nakkertok ski club. He had been a groomer and trail clearer for a long time. He was quite proud to assure us that he had been skiing for much longer than any of our parents had been alive. He turned out to be quite right and his member badges on his wool mid-layer testified to that. As we parted ways I looked back and he imitated our skating technique on classic skis for a while. I couldn’t help to think that I would love to be just like him in 2071 when I turn 84. By then I will also be able to say ‘salut les enfants’ and marvel about the future with full knowledge of the past.

Interesting Reading. . .
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