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First Race Syndrome

Wed, Jan  23, 2008 - By Hugh Pritchard

It was always clear that this ski season would be very different from previous ones, with my priorities altered by a baby and a job, but it was not clear just how.

Planning was the first victim. I made the decision to go to the weekend’s races at Boyne on the Friday morning. Then my boss grabbed me as I left work, so that I arrived home with just 15 minutes to pack before my lift arrived.

We were 10 miles up the road when I realised that I had not packed my hairy skis. Not to worry: although they should work in Sunday’s forecast 45F weather, so should my klister. It was not until quite a few miles further north that I realised I had not packed my glide waxes.

By luck, there were a couple of more or less suitable waxes in my tool box, but as I was applying them late on Friday night, while the rest of the house slept, I realised that I had not brought my race suit.

I had just grabbed a couple of pairs of skate skis from my rack, and had waxed the harder pair. I thought it odd that they showed no sign of ever having been used, so I fired up my computer to look at the results of my ski testing and indeed, all those years ago when I last acquired a lot of skis, I had found that these were consistently the slowest. So I waxed the other, softer, pair.

At breakfast I managed to procure some roughly suitable clothes to race in, and we drove to the start. Having forgotten my check-book I had to suffer the penalty of using the resort ATM, and put another note in my list of things to do differently next time.

I put on my skis and almost fell over backward, but that feeling soon faded. The course was one of those with a sharp narrowing after the start, so a quick getaway was essential. That demon starter Weingartz lined up beside me, so I knew I was in the right place, and got away fine.

I had had a nasty cold all week, so I was not expecting much. My plan to convert my long Christmas break of big endurance skis in Ironwood into racing fitness by a couple of interval sessions had been scuppered by illness, so I would have to rely on whatever else I could find. One of the resources in abundant supply was excuses, so I made the most of that.

The course was a nice one: a lot of steady climbs and undulations, with no really nasty steep stuff. From the start there was a lot of gentle climbing, and once that was over it became very clear that my skis were not at all good. In fact, they were decidedly bad. I had an interesting duel with a couple of the guys, with Smiegel Jr screaming past me on the descents, making me work hard to bring him back on the climbs. I could really have done with stiffer skis, as well as more glide.

Oh, and I noticed I was having to work to get the skis to edge properly. I checked afterwards, and sure enough, I was using the standard insoles: my custom insoles were still in my rollerski boots. I suppose I had not noticed when skiing in Ironwood at Christmas, as the tracks there are always a little soft, and edging is not an issue.

I finished the race, and went for a ski up the big hill with Dave MacLean and Denny Paull. That made a nice cool-down, before I joined the beloved leader Muha for an afternoon taking advantage of the wireless internet access and ice cream in the lodge. A very entertaining dinner with team-mates rounded the day off, and it was back again for Sunday’s classic race.

The forecast temperature was absurd, though of course it would not get that warm until after the race, and the tracks were in surprisingly good condition. I waxed two pairs of skis, and ended up on my stiffer Madshus. A good spread of Toko orange klister made for adequate grip and glide.

The Boyne courses are always interesting and challenging: the golf course has some sustained easy gradients punctuated by tight turns, while that unrelenting climb in the woods, with little breaks that serve not to permit recovery but just to add more climbing to the aching skier’s load, really separates the sheep from the goats. There is no bluffing, there is no scope for use of any tactic but sheer perseverance. Some say that is how a course could be, but there are plenty of us who like to bluff our way round a ski course by blitzing the short climbs, recovering on the frequent downhills and cruising the flats.

Skiers and geometers disagree on the question of whether a loop course must have equal degrees of ascent and descent – from a skier’s point of view, even the lake at Hayward is uphill – but Boyne offers at least one long descent for those who don’t quit during the climb, before a frantic final sprint over the last kilometre. Denny was kind enough to show me that the snow was faster on the snowmobile tracks between the classic spoor, and I took advantage of that to gain enough time that I could hold him off at the end. Having good skis is as gratifying as having bad skis is vexing.

When I took my socks off, I was able to wring the water out of them. How much does half a pint of water in each boot add to your time up a big hill?

So, my first race weekend over. All in all, it was surprisingly successful: I feel it always takes a few attempts to tune in to racing, and with the additional handicaps I expected far worse this year. I have a long list of things to do differently next time, and am looking forward to it already.

Hugh Pritchard is a member of Team Alpina, and races for Team NordicSkiRacer.com.