Monday, January 11, 2010


Now that bike season is over, most, if not all of my cycling friends are skiing. Cross country skiing that is.

Cross country skiing has undergone a revolution since I first skied many years ago. My cross country skis (and I still have them) were wooden with ligenstone or reinforced edges. They were wide and heavy with cable and then three holed plates on the boots. I used them to take photographs in the woods of animals tracks in the glinting snow or heavily laden branches of conifers. I would pack a thermos of hot chocolate and carry a piece of chewy frozen Christmas cake, and an assortment of waxes. I wore corduroy and wool knickers, a sweater and a bright orange anorak. The anorak was made out of cotton which is a poor choice for skiing as it gets wet, and then freezes. My boots were black leather with grooves for the cables. They were unlined and invariably cold. I would ski for hours and take rolls of splendid photographs.

Fiberglass skis came out next. They were clumsy and inflexible and once they came out, for some reason, my skiing tapered off. Coupled with a few snowless winters and my skis had a thick coating of dust in the back corner of our furnace room underneath my rawhide and wooden snowshoes.

In 2006 I purchased a pair of mid range cross country skis. To my horror I discovered that I had no control on these skis and could not stop. The slightest incline would send me and my skiis racing towards an uncertain future. After an accident and a feeble attempt to resume skiing, I resolved that my cross country days were over.

I have since resumed skiing but have a pair of fiberglass skis with metal edges. They give enormous control and enable me to go downhills, uphills in control. The sense of control and indeed the control that a metal edges provides is second to none. Boots have also improved. Gone are the days of my leather boots which I would stuff with numerous pairs of socks only to have a wet half frozen foot at the end of the day. The new boots are stiffer with built in insulation, coupled with one pair of woolen socks they provide far better insulation than their old counterparts.

Cross country skiing, when you are in control, connects you to an otherwise inaccessible hinterland. On skiis you are in the land of the beaver and the fox and the wolf and deer. You ski past their homes, across tracks of white powder, across frozen lakes and past beaver lodges. Once I heard the beaver kits, warm and safe in the lodge, chuckling as I bent down to listen to the sounds of life beneath the frozen sticks.

I have seen splendid tracks in the snow that tell their own story. Tracks of small mice that vanish and a new track with wings appears then vanishes again. I have heard wolves when I have been skiing and relish the crisp clean air that fills my lungs. I imagine myself to be a native hunter, only my weapon is my camera. Years ago I had a large SLR with interchangeable lens that took up a lot of my backback and weighed as much as my skis did. Today I have a pocket ELPH digital camera that can fit in my pocket. I even have a pocket sized movie camera, but I am not brave enough to take that skiing.

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