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Ski equipment: Technology-Dorks and Zen-Masters.
By:  Karl Saidla   (2004/12/10)


It seems that like many other people, I have always had what you might call a love-hate relationship with ski equipment. It seems that when it comes to equipment, ski racers can generally be categorized under two types: The first time is your classic technology nerd dork. This type, from certain perspectives, seems more interested in equipment and technology than they are actually interested in racing or skiing. If you visit their basements, you are likely to find industrial storage systems put to good use looking after bulk quantities of things like Maxi-glide Speed Powder, which for those of you old enough to remember, was the hottest glide wax around for about 6 months back in 1993. Oh yeah, we put that on all the time. A nameless coach from this part of the Great White North has actually installed an infra-red light in his wax room. Apparently, cooling the skis under this light slows the cooling time of the skis, maximizing absorption. Finally, one technology-dork I know has been spotted at a New Year's party, after one too many, with his pants around his ankles madly squeezing skis together in a vain attempt to determine flex patterns. Ok, so people like that are technology dorks.

The second type are the Zen Master hippies, who believe wholeheartedly that their equipment does not make any difference at all. It is the soul of the skier that is paramount, they will tell you. Also, make sure you eat plenty of pine needles beaten into a powder and chant the Great Dharani of Original Mind Energy several times daily and you will have no need to worry about slow skis. Slow skis, like all things, are transient.

Now this is certainly true. The skier is more important than the wax or the skis. But put even Kris Freeman on a pair of wooden skis, three-pin bindings and bamboo poles and I am fairly convinced that no amount of chanting would allow him to win a Worl Cup. These people, if you ask me, live in a constant state of denial. They have been so intimidated by the technology dorks that they find it easier to simply choose enlightenment.

My personal problem, like that of a smaller yet signigicant group of racrs, is that while my natural inclination is to be a Zen Master hippie, I have been exposed to the thinking of the technology dorks just a bit too much. To make a long story short, I hate waxing and equipment, but I hate the thought of someone else having an advantage over me even more. This leads to a tricky and messy predicament. I am not technically inclined and do not like dealing with equipment in the least. But unlike the Zen Masters I have not mastered the self control to just forget about it. Maybe I need to eat more pine needles. Regardless, the technology dork apparently has a voice somewhere in my head.

So hear I am with technical abilities of a Zen Master, trying to do the job of a technology dork. The result is something like this. I wax up a pile of skis I want to test, following the technology dork advice of prepping them all exactly the same way etc. It takes me twice as long as it would take for the technology dork because, as mentioned, I am not good at this. Then I finally make it outside and start my systematic testing by trying to determine if ski A is better than ski B. Inevitably I find out that whichever one is on my right foot feels faster. This makes the job of getting to test skis C and D considerably more difficult. Of course I keep the advice of the technology dorks in mind: Some parts of the course will feel different from others, some skis will work better on uphills, others on flats. If it is windblown expect inconsistency in results. All in all, there are an alarming number of variables to consider. The Zen Master might just be able to ignore all these issues, and pick the skis they always use, but of course, they risk getting it wrong about 10% of the time. The technology dorks, I am sure, think that that they have isolated all the variables and have arrived at a definitive answer. I will contend that while they might have a better idea than the Zen Masters about what skis are better, they could also have just as easily fooled themselves or left out at least one crucial variable, thereby making all of their efforts useless.

So what is the answer to all these problems? In some ways I wish skis were handed to all race entrants at bib pick-up, all waxed up and ready to go. I envision some sort of computer-selection process that would match skis to skiers in such a way that nobody has a significant advantage.Now there is a project for a technology dork!

A more realistic option would be to simply accept that technology is an important part of our sport, and that while it might drive you to the brink of insanity once in a while, other times you luck out and do better in a race than you otherwise might have thanks to your equipment. Ultimately, equipment, despite its negative aspects, is part of what allows us to practice our cherished sport. So grudgingly, I will accept its place in the world of skiing for now.

Anybody have an infra-red light for my wax room for sale? Or perhaps someone else could teach me a sutra?

Interesting Reading. . .
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