When I got my skis, I was introduced to 30 years of innovations in the classic sport of Nordic skiing. True, the sport has always been perfect, but people are always fussing.

Nordic skiing is — besides fun — transportation up in the “frozen wastes” where some of my ancestors came from. Originally, the skis were very long, made of wood and steered along with a pole used something like a paddle on a boat. I can imagine how that worked. The pole would have ensured that they never got stuck in deep drifts besides helping with overall propulsion. Their feet were fixed to their skis with leather straps, then, with advancing technology, with “bear trap” bindings.

Skiing is an ancient “sport.”

Rock paintings and skis preserved in bogs show that hunters and trappers used skis at least 5000 years ago, but skis are even older than that: As glaciers retreated, stone age hunters followed reindeer and elk herds from central Asia’s Altai region, moving to the northwest and northeast, using skis covered with fur that worked like modern climbing skins. Skis came to be used across the Eurasian arctic regions.

Skis were in regular use by Scandinavian farmers, hunters and warriors throughout the Middle Ages. By the 18th century, units of the Swedish Army trained and competed on skis

You can imagine Vikings on skis. ❤

I always loved that Nordic skiing has a legit reason for existing. As much fun as downhill skiing is (was?) it’s just a spin-off from what must have been the REALLY FUN moments of going to a friend’s house in Norway in the olden days.

Photos of Colorado skiers in the 40’s show the same gear. I saw many of these skis in the mountain cabins of friends when I was growing up. Long wooden skis, bear-trap bindings, a steering pole or old bamboo ski poles with large snow baskets.

Back in the day, these old Nordic skis had to be carefully waterproofed when they were put away in the spring. In use, they had to be waxed during use for grip and slip. It was an art (and a lot of work) In 1970, a ski design innovator came up with the idea of “fish scales” on the bottom of Nordic Skis ending the grueling (ha ha) “art” of waxing skis to go up hills then scraping off that wax and replacing it with OTHER wax to go downhill.

For climbing steep hills and mountains in the VERY olden days, skiers attached strips of seal skin to the bottoms of their skis to grip on the uphill. Today there are innovations in ski-skins, using mohair, goat-hair or nylon for climbing.

Historically, Nordic skis have also been very long — in my case they would be 80 inches or 200 cm. My new skis are 170 cm, roughly 15 inches shorter.

The long, steering pole is long gone, replaced a while back by ski poles.

My new Nordic skis are wood with metal edges and fish scale bottoms. Some users have complained that they don’t have great “grip” and that might be true, but as I’m on the heavy side for the length of my skis, meaning I can probably succeed in getting the ‘gripper’ down to the snow, and I’m happy to herringbone up a hill (if there’s room) if I have to, I don’t really care. The boots are warm and comfortable; the bindings — NNN bindings — are better than the old three pin bindings for moving a skier forward. Three pin bindings replaced the “bear trap” bindings but real back-country skiers still use something like that to make sure they and their skis are more intimately attached. Losing a ski in the wilderness would be almost as bad as it gets.

The old skis I rescued from the flea market last year, the ones that are like the ones I once had, have old-school three-pin, backcountry bindings.

But it isn’t just skis. When my brother and I were kids and lived near a forest in Nebraska, we took our sleds to the woods. There were lots of great hills in our town (it was beside the Missouri River) and great winding trails down the hills. The best trail went all the way through the forest, then ended in a chain of backyards which was a veritable rollercoaster of steep, wide hills. It was probably insane as we didn’t wear helmets or mouth guards, but we had a blast. Disneyland is an inferior imitation. Sleds as we knew them were also the fun part of someone’s old school transportation system.

Flexible Flyer ❤

Yesterday I took Dusty and Bear out to the golf course for a walk. The snow on the tracks is seriously packed, but I bent down and touched the surface. There was a good inch of softer, looser “snow” (as old as it is, it hasn’t really been snow for a long time and if I were an Eskimo I could tell you what it is). I decided that if the temps this afternoon are anything like yesterday, I’ll give it a shot. All I can do is fall or have a really bad time.

4 thoughts on “Wintervations

  1. Living in the land of skiing I am more or less up to date on what is new, although I have never in my life stood on a pair of skis. It is just that everyone here does. Even the kids learn to ski when they are learning to take their first independent steps. So good luck and I find it great that you are training for the next Winter Olympics in what we call “Langlauf”.

    • In Colorado, too. Kids start skiing when they’re in elementary school. I didn’t, because I had the parents I had, but when I got the chance — and my first job — I saved for skis and my first $100 went for skis, boots and poles in 1969. My Aunt Martha bought me lessons. That was Alpine skiing and it was great. Nordic skiing became kind of a fad in the 1970’s and I liked it, too. I could only afford an “outfit” for one type of skiing, so I borrowed Alpine skis from my neighbor back in the day. I don’t know if I will give that a shot or not. I worry about knees — one of which I hurt skiing. 🙂

  2. Until very recently, I had a 3 man toboggan and 3 Flexible Flyers in our shed. We finally passed them to a family who would use them. They were such a lot of fun!

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