Thursday, December 30, 2004

The story of a pair of wooden skis

It's no secret to family and friends. I would go cross country skiing every single day of my life, if time and climate permitted. So it's not as flashy as its wilder cousins, alpine skiing or snowboarding. So what?

I started out alpine skiing in my college days. I loved it. There I was, on the slopes of places near the Twin Cities bearing names such as Snowcrest, Afton Alps or Trollhaugen. My friends and I would pack up on a Saturday morning, before dawn at times, pile into someone's car, and spend from 10 am till closing, up the lifts and down the slopes. It was fun. It was hip. It was happenin'.

It was expensive!

We were in college, for crying out loud! College kids don't have that kind of money, at least not back in the way early 70s, when we were college kids.

One day, around 1975, my friend Kevin noticed a great sale on cross country ski packages at the Campus Ski and Bike shop. So we checked it out on our way back to the car from Wilson Library. Bought ourselves a matched set of Silva cross country skis, for about $65, including poles, boots and three pin bindings. That very night, under a full moon, we headed over to the Como Park golf course to try them out.

It was quiet, one of those crisp Minnesota winter nights when the stars seem legion, even bathed in the lights of the cities. How could it be so quiet, just a couple miles from the Nicollet Mall?
We were hooked. No more did we require a tank of gas and an hour's drive before shelling out the $13 lift ticket fees. We could snap on our skis and go anywhere. My love affair with cross country skiing had begun.

Those Silvas logged many miles over the years. After starting graduate school in Stevens Point, I discovered that just outside my apartment complex parking lot, I could glide through undeveloped woods north of town. Every afternoon, when I returned from class but before I hit the books, I'd head out. Especially memorable were those afternoons with falling snow, when I moved silently through those woods, scaring up the odd rabbit or squirrel, and sometimes, if I was quiet, coming upon whitetail deer browsing through the brush.

Rarely did I ever bother with what were called "groomed trails." I preferred finding a spot in the woods and just slogging through to see what I could find. I relished checking conditions and then trying to apply my klister just so. Even when I reached the point where I could afford new skis, I kept those Silvas. I refused to embrace the new, waxless technology. I'm sure part of what kept me on my circa 1975 skis was the association with my friend, his matching set sitting somewhere in his upscale townhouse storage closet in St. Paul.

Then...one day, while browsing the ski shops in Ironwood Michigan while visiting my in-laws, I saw them. Solid wood skis. Pure, unadulerated ash, lightly sealed but never hiding their origins as part of a felled tree. My size, 205cm long. Mine!

Finding someone who still knew how to apply the necessary pine tar finish was a challenge. I'm sure there are many ski shop employees who laughed at the notion of this middle aged woman, wanting to know if they could treat her brand new skis with pine tar. Oh, I knew how to do it, and that was why I wanted to pay someone else!

I was persistent, though, and finally found a place not far from home that knew what I wanted. These guys actually appreciated my skis, wanting to know where I'd found beauties like these. I had the new binding style placed on them, bought new boots---really, boots that are almost thirty years old do start to crack and show their age, anyway. It was time for me to head out on new wooden skis.

However, el Nino has been telling me otherwise. For two long years, very little snow has fallen in my corner of Wisconsin. At long last, a few days before Christmas, about 7 inches of lovely, fluffy flakes began to cover the ground, before plunging the area into a deep freeze. The day after Christmas, though, the planets must have lined up. Sunshine, just a light haze, and fresh snow. We were off!

It was just a jaunt through the county park, but it was wonderful to feel the kick and glide. My age could feel it later, but in another day, my muscles had forgotten that cross country skiing is a full body workout. All they knew was it was wonderful to be out there, in the quiet air, hearing a tree sparrow or chickadee, looking for tracks as we made our own. Somehow, getting out on the trail again brought me back to that first glorious night skiing the golf course with my friend. It was a bittersweet memory. I gave the eulogy at his funeral a little over a year ago. Of course, I started with a story, then told stories about him, including the story of our introduction to the joys of cross country skiing. I hope I never have to do another eulogy, but I'm glad that I shared that little bit of history with others there. I'm glad that thirty years ago, my friend Kevin saw that ad in the Minnesota Daily and said, "Hey, let's go check this out!" Though Kevin and I went our separate ways, we never completely lost track of each other. I'd like to think that maybe, at those moments when my husband is trying to challenge me to fall, and I don't, that perhaps Kevin is guiding my glide and keeping me upright. I hope it snows again soon.

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