Survive to Ski Another Day

Using Your Outrigger

We all find ourselves as some point, a bit over our heads in terms of hills and conditions. If you have previously downhill skied or xc skied a lot, you probably have a few survival techniques so you can “ski another day”. My days of riding the rails down all and every hill are long gone, I am too old for “crash and burn” so I find this technique pretty handy.

Just like an outrigger canoe, a skier is also more stable in a wider stance. The Outrigger stance has a lot of advantages and some very specific uses, even though it is poo-pooed by the better skiers. In fact, I don’t even think it is considered a technique. But that is okay – we can call it a survival exercise. (I did find that Ski Instructor Keith Nicol does mention it in a video, and calls it a Half Plow. More on ski videos in another post.)

This is a technique for longer and steeper or curvy downhills. The problems:

  1. The hill has been skied a lot and is almost icy and very fast
  2. The hill is softer with skate or herringbone ridges dug in
  3. Some of the curves are difficult to stay in track.

Problem #1

The hill has been skied a lot and the skate lane is almost icy or bumpy ice after grooming. This makes it difficult to hold a regular snowplow as the skis are unable to grab anything. Getting your skis to “plow” straight while putting extra force on them as they jump around due to the bumps is also tiring.

Photo 1

Solution: use the outrigger by keeping one ski in the track and the other snowplowing in the skate lane. You can make quite a wide “V” with your ski and push down to slow your decent while the other ski runs in the track and keeps you going in the right direction. (Photo 1) (Okay, this photo is not taken in icy conditions! We just haven’t had any lately!)

Problem #2

The hill is softer with skate or herringbone ridges dug in to the skate lane. When you try to snowplow, your skis are parallel to the ridges and your skis catch in the ridges. (Photo 2) This limits your speed and comfort.

Photo 2

Solution: use the outrigger by keeping one ski in the track – and the other snowplowing in the skate lane. This puts your snowplowing ski at right angles to the ridges that the uphill skiers created. (Photo 3) And bonus, it regrooms the track, getting rid of the ridges.

Photo 3

Problem #3

Some of the curves and are difficult for you to stay in track on a long hill in fast conditions, but you want to stay in track for most of the run. The tricky corners may already show several crash marks.

Solution: you want to get used to having both skis in track and moving your inside ski – the one next to the skate lane – in and out of the track as required. You may only need the brakes for those two tricky curves where the centrifugal force seems to want to throw you into the bush; the Outrigger allows you to maintain some speed through the turn and then you can enjoy the rest of the run.

Here is a Keith Nicol trick to get your weight on the outside ski. Gently bend to touch your outside knee. This will get your weight over the outside ski and hold you in the turn. (Until it doesn’t.)

So which track should I keep my straight running ski in?

This kind of depends on conditions and your comfort level. If you are Outrigging a long way, you will potentially wreck the track if you keep your straight ski on the outside track, so use the inner track (Photo 3) and your snowplow will be more confined to the skate lane – where it should be. It also allows you to get into the skate lane more easily if you choose to.

If you are going in and out from two skis straight in track to Outrigger, keep your straight running ski in the outer track (Photo 1). Weight shift is a bit tricky here, but keeping your hips facing the track should help.

I will be the first to admit it is an “adrenalin killer” and maybe not as much fun as heading down full out, but I want to ski another day. Lately though, after convincing the one of the groomer guys to leave the pads down more, I have been having a lot of fun “outrigging” at higher speeds and through tighter corners.

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Sanity During a Pandemic

It is a spectacular winter day. Sunshine and fresh snow. The groomer has taken this route before me, and he has laid down beautiful corduroy bordered by crisp track. Perfection. Best place on earth – right here, right now. How many times over the previous 30 plus years have I thought these same thoughts? To be conservative, I am going to say five times per year. So that means one hundred and fifty times I have felt blessed to feel this snow below my skis. One hundred and fifty times I have been thrilled to ski these trails. One hundred and fifty times I have felt my body happily tired. One hundred and fifty times my mind has found space to contemplate. One hundred and fifty times, at least, that I have skied myself sane.

And then came this year. March 2020. The COVID 19 pandemic. It was still winter for us. There was sunshine and great snow. The groomers maintained the ribbon of corduroy. We came and skied and social distanced ourselves. It was wonderful to be out there. It was wonderful to forget all the other stuff happening. It was wonderful to see the world was exactly the same as it had been a year prior. But all too soon, a word “covid, pandemic, isolation, or virus” would flash through my consciousness and remind me that the world was not the same as last year – nor would it ever be the same again.

Historians refer to events which transform life as a “watershed moment”. A watershed moment is a dividing point, from which things will never be the same. It is considered momentous, though a watershed moment may or may not be particularly dramatic and is often recognized in hindsight. I recall watching the drama of 9-11 unfold and telling our kids that they were experiencing a watershed moment. And here is another one. Bigger. Longer. Wider. Worser.

After that previous watershed, I could not wait to get back on snow to “ski myself sane” in what felt like an insane world. And while life does not feel “insane” to me this time, it is undoubtedly irrevocably changed from the life we knew only four months ago. Changed how? No one knows. 

When ski season returns, 6 months from now, what will life look like? One thing we do know, the natural world is responding well to the holiday it is getting from us: no tourism, less pollution, and fewer greenhouse gases. One thing that I can count on is that the backdrop to my sanity ski will be there, pretty much unchanged. (That is if the club can maintain the grooming.) But life? That may be a different story.

I know life goes on. Covid has already obscured one milestone – I moved to the official ranks of a senior citizen without any hoopla. (Personally, I was grateful for that piece.) And now I find that I will enjoy another milestone, becoming a grandmother for the first time, either during or post-covid. What will that mean for the lovely hoopla of visiting and traveling and holding the new, wee creature? What life will await this grandchild? And its parents? And the country? What will the post-covid world look like? When do we get there?

You can see where this brings me. Back to the trails. Back to boards on snow. Back to skiing myself sane. Back to hoping for an early winter.

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The Queen of Corduroy

Ah, perfect corduroy. The snow conditions that dreams are made of. Gorgeous tiny hard ridges that hold your ski, not too hard, not too soft, as you skate kilometre after glorious kilometre, your super hero cape billowing out behind you.

So not too long ago, on a day just like that, on our gorgeous Golden Bow, I got to thinking. I realized that I could not have ever imagined motors, fuel and technology creating something as amazing and glorious as a perfect corduroy trail through the wilderness for me to skate ski along. (And that is not even counting the gear and clothing.) And it made me, The Queen of Corduroy, do some soul searching. 

This glorious stretch of corduroy does not stand alone. Many of the steps on the way to this wonderland are things or actions that I would like to abhor: development, logging, road building, earth moving, manicuring nature. But isn’t that pretty hypocritical of me? I like to think of xc skiing as a superior, green sport, but in my heart, I know my corduroy is as dirty as bitumen – well maybe not that dirty – but it sure isn’t bright green!

I do my share of granola skiing – out the door into the bush. And I love that form of skiing. Is it as amazing as a corduroy corridor through the forest? Are the endorphins pumping through my brain by the end? No. But maybe I, the blissfully addicted xc skier, am not all that far removed from the downhill skier. And maybe closer to the motorized sled-heads than I care to admit.

Darn! My skate ski addiction is dirty green? It sure feels bright green being out there, flying along the corduroy highway through the silent winter forest.

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