Friday, January 05, 2007

PROSE: The Real Ski Report instructions


The Real Ski Report
By Hansi Johnson

After listening to numerous friends gripe and joke about the ski reports that they have read on some of the ski web sites this season I have decided to write the “Real Ski Report”. This will be done every few days as long as some semblance of “skiing” is out there.

How to read the Real Ski Report

First several things need to be defined. You see a ski report is completely subjective to the person making it and that I feel is why the reports on many skier sites and web sites can be so hit or miss. This applies to Nordic skiing but also backcountry and alpine skiing as well. Unless you know that person making the post and know how they ski you cant take their report on good faith. With that said let me define some basic criteria of a skier that needs to known before reading a ski report.
1) Skiers ability. A good skier can ski on just about anything and not only can but will. “Skiing” itself is a term that is totally up for debate. Bill Koch himself made a few bucks promoting “skiing” on sand. In Vermont I had friends who would “ski” on wet grass and heavy frost and would not even make a noise about it. In other words snow is not really even needed to “ski” technically. The sport is called skiing, not snow skiing. So the surface itself just has to create anti-friction or a sense of glide. The stronger you are the better glide you to can create, so yes fitness also comes into it a bit.
2) Skiers sense of danger. If a skier has less sense of danger more things are considered “skiable”. Nordic skiing in adverse conditions is one of the most dangerous things you can do. I remember when I first started tele skiing in the big mountains of Europe, I was thinking this is cake versus riding a 40 mm wide, double cambered foot rocket down a skating rink of a tree lined course in ankle high floppy boots, 15km into a 25km race. So a skier that has survived more adverse and horrible ski conditions is more likely to accept even worse conditions later on and have not an ounce of fear for that danger because it has already been accepted. IE if you have become a bottom feeding dumpster diver, the food at Wendy’s tastes like it came from a five star gourmet Restaurant. I could go into several other analogies here but this is a family piece.
3) A skiers ability to sacrifice gear. A skier that does not care one ounce for their gear can quite frankly go anywhere because the fear that they had in hurting that gear is in the back their mind. Rocks, sticks, mud ashphalt, sand, dirt, blood and small children become irrelevant. You can literally go anywhere.
4) Skiers age, marital status and health insurance coverage. Pretty self explanatory really. A young, single person with really good health insurance is going to rip down a trail that a father with three kids, 6o years of age dealing with paying retirement health insurance premiums would shutter just looking at.
5) Addiction. Addiction has put many a person in many a crazy situation and many a dangerous one as well. Know if that person posting that ski report is a ski addict. Because if they are a ski addict, then you had better be one too. All bets are off on a ski addicts trail report….all bets.

Ok with all that said. I am a young recently married guy, I have health insurance, I have skied all my life, have skied all disciplines including “you fall you die” alpine lines, have a medium to low sense of danger, buy most of my gear at thrift stores for less than five bucks a crack (I ski road crossings with the same speed I did the trail before it) and would consider skiing in an iced over parking lot pretty fun if the right people and chemicals were involved. Oh yeah I forgot to mention the chemical part but that perhaps should be addressed on another day. (family piece) Suffice to say that I have skied in some low places and will do it again…… My name is Hansi Johnson and yes I am a ski addict.

A word about EL Nino and global warming: Certainly the combination of both of these things has been incredibly effective at really screwing up the snow pack and the skiing in general. I have always thought that El Nino meant Carpe Diem. You don’t have that feeling that the snow or the surface that you skied on today will be there tomorrow so you have to take it day by day and ski it like you stole it.
I personally feel that these situations bring out the best in a skier and not only that bring out the best skiers. You have the people that wait for conditions to improve and you have the people that ski whatever is out there, even if that means roller skiing. People who ski anything learn how to ski and when conditions eventually improve to skiing where you can once again turn your head off, they ultimately are the better skiers overall. Plus nothing gets you fit for skiing like skiing. I have also said that you can really tell the ability of a Nordic ski community by an El Nino year. When you go out to a ski area that looks like the trenches of WWI Verdun and see that there are two dozen people there too you realize that you have a community of pretty committed and crazy skiers. An El Nino year is where skiing gets interesting and if you have the skills and the ability to adapt you can have a pretty damn fun time while everybody else waits around for “Ideal” conditions. You can also screw yourself up big time!

A word about Conditions. So the big problem in an En Nino year is temperature. No cold, no snow and no freezing. However if you do get even a small amount of snow it tends to be wet. Initial wet dumps mean classic skiing with waxless boards. You don’t need grooming, you just slap em on and start trucking. Later, if at night you get freezing temperatures, the morning snow is going to be crusty. In this case you almost want lower levels of snow, that way the snow will freeze totally solid and create a firm base that can be skated on easily. Deeper snow tends to feeze on the surface and that sucks, literally so if that is the case get out the waxless boards again. That said almost all good crust cruising is in the early morning hours before the snow heats up again. Sometimes you might also get an evening freeze but that is not so likely this season. With that in mind keep your eyes and ears open for flat, level places that are relatively open. IE golf courses, farm fields, bike paths, closed roads. Always remember that just because somebody has cleared a path and charged you twelve bucks to ski there that means that you have to always ski at ski areas. Skiing is self-expression so ski whatever and where ever the hell you want to (Conditions allowing of course). The lower the snow levels the lower the angles. You don’t want a great many downhills when there is a half inch of snow on the ground. Granted long flat skis are boring but what do want to do? Run? Just keep in mind that a persons report on their morning ski might mean your evening ski is going to be a totally different animal….. a rabbit in the morning might be a bear in the evening, or visa versa so check the temp.
Clues to look for in a persons ski report. First look to see if the person posting has a history of posting at the same place consistently. If so they are not out searching for better conditions and are going to be useless to the whole reason to reading reports in the first place. Secondly, look to see how long they skied the place that they are posting about. If a report says that the skiing was horrible but they did five laps instead of one and heading for home it may not be as bad as they say it was. Always remember that in a low snow year posting is important as it tells other people where there might possibly be skiing. Also remember that snow is a finite resource and that in low snow years you might not want to tell people where the good snow is! Subterfuge is everywhere so beware of being led down decoy reports. By this I mean, use your head. If Nordic center “A” has a close neighbor “B” and “A” has a good report it might be prudent to check out “B” because everybody will be heading to “A”.

In conclusion.
Take the time to learn more about the people and skiers in your community and then make educated choices based on the information that they provide. You now know my info so beware when you read the “Real Ski Report” and if you are of like mind and mentality come on out………..

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