Saturday, January 20, 2007

Skate Revolution's Western Front - 1985

Ski Season 1985

After the excesses of 1984's season and resolved for a life of aceticism. Least of all, I had scientific and administrateive problems to solve in grad school where I was doing food habits research on captive elk, and that was after the immediate problem of just catching up to finish the spring semester in good standing. Over the summer and fall I attempted to run again but my 5 and 10k times were much slower than the previous year. That summer I also met Tamara, a lively CSU senior cross country runner at a concert, so that was one resolution scratched.

Skiing was not even on the agenda through the mild, snowless fall. But just before Christmas, Tamara and I headed out to Beaver Meadows, a small resort with about 10 km of tracks/trails, an hour out of Fort Collins. I may have discussed ski team experiences briefly, but it was already just a memory. Although Tamara had done backcountry skiing with family and friends, she had never seen Nordic track skiing. With finals and reports behind, I put on my skis and instantly fell into a race pace diagonal stride, and realized within seconds that I had missed skiing!

Tamara’s burst out in uncontrollable laughter as I showed her diagonal, double polling, and marathon skating. Was she laughing at my skinny legs covered by that silly green skin suit?

“I had never known that people could ski fast!” she later mused. “I had always thought that Nordic skiing was about plodding through deep snow.” We were instantly hooked and went skiing at every opportunity during break.

By January the snow had fallen in Fort Collins and we were back on the 1 km circuit at City Park. We’d get up early in the morning and ski 8 or 10k, before heading to class. Tamara would do an afternoon workout with the track team and I’d either ski again or go for an easy run. Much of the team had scattered to different parts of North America. Franz with his girlfriend, Heather, had moved up to Summit County and were focusing on the USSA and marathon circuit. Parker, Holcomb, and I were still in town, but had completed our eligibility with the CSU team. Hofer was the last holdover from the 1984 team and he was now their leader-guru.

Otherwise most things were much the same at the City Park loop, but the look of the tracks had transformed. Rather than the double groove classic track around the Firecracker Hill circuit, you would see an angled track jutting out a couple meters at maybe 30 degrees. Rather than double polling, we were marathon skating more and more. Pekka was still there too, and he was up to his old tricks. After making an appearance he would lock in behind for half a lap before we’d have to step aside and let him zoom past with a powerful diagonal stride.

All our January and early February races were along the Front Range on soft snow at Eldora or Snowy Range in Wyoming, where I broke another ski with in meters of where I’d done the same thing a year earlier. Parker streaked by again, claiming massive victory in our internacine rivalry. Nevertheless, my diagonal technique was much better and I was placing higher in these low-key citizen races.

At this time our technique was a mix. We’d diagonal or kick-double pole about half the time, marathon skate maybe 20-40% of the way, and use the diagonal V about 10% usually on the steeper climbs. By mid-season 1985 the skating revolution raging in Europe and in pockets of North America, including a few enclaves in the High Country of Colorado, like Gunnison, Granby, or Summit County. On the Front Range we were out of the loop. The university teams at CU and Wyoming were traveling and full bore into their competitive season.

In late February we ventured to the Western Slope and the Frisco Gold Rush, a 10k with 500 or 600 entrants, one of Colorado’s most popular races. The event started on Lake Dillon at 9,000 feet. I was shocked and awed to see how fast people skated out over the first kilometer, and was in no better than 50th place. Although I had a strong finish, aided with a flurry of marathon skating and finished in the top five percent, it was disheartening to be some 9 minutes behind CU’s John Main (not even their top skier) who completed the course in a blazing 30 minutes. He had skated the entire distance and had blown away the field by several minutes.

Main was onto something that had traveled all the way from the Scandinavian Arctic. Meanwhile, the World Championships in Seefeld Austria were aflame in controversy over skating vs. traditional skiing. The skaters ruled, with those holding onto the classic technique finishing far down in the standings. And while the controversy raged in Europe it was apparent that the new wave of the skating revolution had also landed in Colorado.

Italian legend Marulio De Zolt leads a Norwegian skier at the 1985 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Both skiers are using the powerful V1 skate up the steep section.

Over spring break, I had two more races, a 10k in Grand Lake and the Turquoise Lake Classic at 10,000 feet near Leadville. We had a mini-reunion with Franz and Heather at Grand Lake; I hadn’t seen them all year, and they were fresh off of US Nationals and the Great America Ski Chase. I started to prepare my skis with my favorite kick wax, Swix Extra Blue, when Heather asked, “What are you doing?”

“Why waxing my skis,” I replied, defensively but not knowing exactly why.

“No you should take off that kick wax and put on glider from tip to tail, and skate the whole way!” Heather responded.

I was incredulous. “What about the hills, how can I climb the hills?”

“It’s scary at first, and it takes a lot of commitment,” she replied. “You have to commit to skating the entire way, but it’s faster because you have such great glide.”

Commitment. Heather and Franz were engaged, so commitment must have been on their minds. I’d been with the same girlfriend for eight months, a record by half a year. If so, maybe I could commit to 10k with paraffin waxed skis.

With trepidation, I re-waxed those skis and resolved to skate the whole 10k. On fast spring snow over a rollicking course through lodgepole pines, meadows, and around a mountain lake, I marathon skated in hypoxic ecstasy to finish in 31 minutes, at least three or four minutes faster than would have been possible with kick wax.

You're Go-un The Wrong Way!

A couple days later I went for a ski with Franz and Bill Allen, who had also been on the elite circuit. We ventured to Keystone Mountain to ski UP the alpine slopes, some 1,200 feet vertical to midway, back down, and then up again. Three skinny guys in lycra, skating on featherweight skinny skis, going uphill against spring break afternoon traffic.

If that weren’t enough Franz and Bill were doing something quite different. Rather than the single-pole diagonal V skate, they were propelling themselves with offset double pole skate.

Countless times the alpiners hollered, “You’re Go-un the wroonng way!!!” most with a strong Texas twang. Every so often Franz and Bill would stop and give me some pointers on this strange new technique, but between dodging angry or confused tourists and fending off verbal assaults, learning the timing was slow. Before we had a collision or had someone pull out a six-shooter, we turned around and skied down the mountain along with into the flow of thousands of spring break skiers.

A few days later at the Turquoise Lake Classic at 10,400 feet near Leadville, I struggled with this new skate technique. Although no grandmas zipped by, I do recall diagonal V skating helplessly as a 98 pound high school girl, fresh off the medals podium at Junior Olympics, skated by easily using the alternating double-pole stride, later called V1. Nevertheless, the season had ended in a satisfying way, and I was already thinking about the next year.

Meanwhile Chris Hofer lead CSU to another solid shoing at the NCSA Nationalswhere he took 13th
place in the individual race. Interestingly, he reported that he and most of the skiers relied primarily on classic technique. We found this noteworthy because by then the NCAA and elite skiers had switched completely to skating.

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