The Dryden Observer

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Modern primitives on the ski trails

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

Sometimes I think about how wonderfully circular it is that tools which were first used to aid in mankind’s quest for calories are now almost solely employed as a way for mankind to rid ourselves of our excess calories.

And it was at that particular tipping point in the history of cross-country skiing that the sport was doomed to become much less popular.

Perhaps that was a good thing. There’s nothing worse than a crowded ski trail.

These prehistoric machines on my feet were once tools for hunting moose and deer and travelling long distances in deep snow. Norwegian cave paintings featuring figures on skis date back 5,000 years and they’ve even fished skis out of Swiss peat bogs that they’ve managed to radio-carbon date back 4,500 years.

Millennia of technological innovation have left me with standing on polyethylene base material instead of wood waxed with whatever animal entrails were found to provide the lowest coefficient of friction on snow. My clothes too are spun from some mechanical spider’s abdomen of advanced chemistry, a heat exchange system designed to wick perspiration from my skin and release it to the air while at the same time stopping the wind.

Of course, I look ridiculous, but this ain’t no fashion show.

Despite my tighty-pants these rudimentary tools of snowcraft still connect me to our most distant ancestors who gulped the same cold air and felt delight in the thrill of the glide.

Be you Homo Sapien, or Neanderthal, you will take stock of all the weapons at your disposal when you happen upon a fleeing timber wolf at Junction D.

You will force yourself to imagine snapping your carbon-fiber pole in half and using it as a stabbing weapon in the unprecedented event you are pinned to the ground by a large predator.

Today, Al Delong has groomed the track before me into a three metre-wide carpet of firm, fast corduroy and polished a parallel trackset.

It is under these most ideal of conditions that I work to unravel the complex subtlety of the diagonal stride in classic cross-country skiing technique.

When you hit it right, you can feel it instantly in the release of friction and extended glide — a body position that requires no less than a half a dozen simultaneous motions, each with its own threshold of success or failure, all converging in a brief moment to place one’s weight on a small part of one’s foot between the heel and it’s hollow.

The success of which transfers the whole of one’s body weight throughout the length of the ski and disengages the grip wax directly beneath your feet. And off you go, infected with ancient knowledge, a stride 5,000 years in the making.

Repeat for 12 kilometres.

Easier said than done.


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