Monday, December 12, 2011

A walk down classic ski tip lane

So many skis so little time.

Although I started skiing at about age 5 or 6 in Colorado during the early-mid 1960s, I didn't try cross country until about a decade later. My family had moved to Iowa by then and every year (sometimes twice) we'd make a trip out of corn land to ski country. Some years we'd go to back to Colorado, but usually it was a trip to the upper Midwest: Wisconsin and Michigan's UP.

I was all set to go to Michigan on New Year's 1974, but caught the flu. So my dad and brother went, and I had to stay home. My friend who was supposed to travel with us and I decided to try cross country at Kent State Park, near Iowa City. So we rented some skis from a local bike shop, and I recall it was a lot of fun making fresh tracks in the 6 or 8 inches of fresh snow.

That winter I don't think I even left the state for downhill but took an interest in cross country, so my parents bought me a pair. I felt guilty taking their money and took the cheapest things on the shelf. Old wooden skis with cable bindings that were suitable for any kind of shoes. My dad tried to get me to at least go with a 3-pin system but I refused.

I spent hours prepping the bases with pine tar, and actually used them a lot over the next three years, usually just on my own. My favorite was Hickory Hill Park just a mile or two from home, but also City Park, or back at Kent State Park. Then I went to college and hardly gave it a try; maybe two or three times. I was into running by then and did downhill on winter vacations.

After graduating I moved back to Colorado for a while, and picked up a pair of recreational Fischer waxable skis, with something like these Skilom bindings. I used this system for light touring and a couple races a year.

By 1983-84 I decided to get sort of serious about skiing and got a pair of silver top of hte line Rossignols. Broke one of those within a month. The shop replaced the ski, and then I quickly snapped another. They shoo'd me out of the store. So I had to borrow a friend’s Kneissels to finish the season. He moved to Hawaii so I think ended up buying those, and I used them for another half season, and broke those at the same place at the same race as the second pair that I'd broke the year before!

So in January 1985 I got a good deal on some Fischer Air Carbons (205 cm). Those were the bomb! Light and fast. But that was at the start of the skate revolution and by early 1986 I blew out the sidewall of those (4 broken skis in 2 years, not a good pattern). So I got the first generation Fisher Skate ski, with metal edges and sidewalls made of iron. Virtually indestructable. I still have those!

But we're talking classic here. Nobody did classic in the 1985-86 season. It was all skating (if you wanted to be competitive), but before the 1986-87 season the FIS and USSA governing bodies brought back classic and issued the edict that World Cup and championship type races would be 50-50 classic-skating. So I went to SNIAGRAB (bargains spelled backwards) at Gart Brothers in Denver an picked up a 5 or 6 (8?) year old model of Kastle classic skis for about $50 and resurrected my classic skiing, usually twice a week for recovery days of 45 to 60 minutes.

In early 1987 I went to my first big time race, the World Championship tryouts in Biwabik, Minnesota. I got some looks, and remarks from people saying hey those were great skis back in the day. I should have taken that hint. The opening race was a 15K classic. The skis were soft and slow on the icy northern Minnesota trails. My big time race debut was auspicious in that I was so far back, near the bottom of the rankings, and 25% back from the winners (will have to look that one up!). Fortunately, the skate races went better.

So when I got back to Colorado the first thing I did is got to the ski shop in Boulder, where I stumbled upon the best deal ever. A pair of 1986 Fischer Air Carbon Klisters (soft flex) for $50. No one was buying classic skis yet. At the retail and local level skating was all the rage. Only racing nerds knew that classic was back. I snapped those things quicker than you could say Flatirons, and got out of town before the shop owners realized the steal I'd gotten.

Those were simply the best skis ever! That spring I went to California and race US Nationals and placed in the top 40 overall in the 15K, and was about 16% back. A 9% improvement from two months previously. Those skis made a big difference.

I raced on those Air Carbons for years, a full decade! By the end they were beaten up and patched together with epoxy, but I was still kicking some classic butt (by then in northern Minnesota, where we lived for a few years) until the spring of 1997. I tried them a few times ca. 2000-01 when we had moved back to Colorado (for the third time), but they'd lost their magic. I did maybe two classic races between 1998 and 2004 and they just felt slow and old. I still have them and plan to keep them forever.

Okay, up to modern times, and I must admit it hasn't been pretty.

Bought a pair of 206 cm Atomic RC11s in the fall of 2004 and immediately hated them. Slow and noodle like. So I asked around a bit, and local skier Mike Kramer had some 206 cm Atomic Beta Classics that he didn't really like so I tried them out. Hmmm. They'd do for the season I figured. That was November 2004.

I kind of muddled through that first season here, and actually did better at classic than skating.

For whatever reason (i.e., investing in skate skis and my kids' equipment) I kept on those Betas through the ‘05, ‘06, and ‘07 seasons, and they served fairly well. At the beginning of ‘08 I decided it was time to get a new pair of classics so I went after some Atomic World Cups, but asked for a stiffer pair. Now Fred at Raven's warned me, but I insisted. And lived to regret it. Those were just way too stiff and I could barely get up anything more than 6% grade without falling on my face. As we know, hills like South Tower, Tower Direct, White Bear, and Black Funk are all well over 6% grade, so I spent a lot of time on my face that year! Bad Bob has video tape, which I hear he likes to show to friends from time to time.

Shelved those puppies and bought some new skate skis. (indeed, I have two great pairs of Atomic skate skis).

Went back to the beaten up blue Betas for 2009. And then in 2010 I was injured with the knee thing, but jumped into a few races (all classic). With the Betas.

At the beginning of last season I decided it was time to give Atomics one more try and I got a pair of the new World Cups, this time easy to handle 201s with a medium flex. Perfect. They feel good. Light, handle well. Setting the pocket for the kick phase usually isn't that hard. I've got the wax pocket dialed, at least for practice.

But I'm now convinced those things are slow. When my 120 lb. high school freshman son pulls way on an easy downhill on Tower, and puts a minute on me from top of tower to the Biathlon range (almost all downhill), yup, it's time for a switch.

Guess what? I just dropped off the (what, 8 or 9 yr old) Betas at Goldstream for one more grind. I'm going back to those this winter for any more classic races.

They're not the greatest. Besides being old, they're too long (206), and certifiably too stiff for me. But I've had some good races on them (the Skiathon a few times, some of the 10 and 20Ks at Birch and the 25K classic for Tour of Anchorage) and can make them work.

Next year, however, I'm saving up and will place an order through Boulder Nordic to get a handpicked pair--right out of the factory in Europe--that should fit just so.

A really good racer can probably make about any decent ski work. Likewise, an everyman racer like me can make skate skis work. It’s harder with classic. I really think you need the right fit.


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