...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Winters are too short around here, don't you think?

Year 2010 on the infamous “Joy's hill”. Cross-country skiers' mördarbacke (hill of death) is a relative term. Don't see a hill? Actually, nor do I!

My plan for the winter was to improve my tour skating technique (rather, to acquire some technique at all), so I was in the ice rink with the skating club for four Thursdays in January, trying to work on getting that long, effortless glide. I think I might have just gotten it, about time too, on the very last session. The instructor thought that I had considerable improvement. A club member who saw me last year on my very first Bambi-steps on the rink complimented and nodded in that quiet Swedish way: “You're doing well now”.
Anyway, during the Thursday sessions and in other places where I talk about my skating project, I often hear this comment: “If you can ski, it's easy to learn to skate. Children who can ski have no big problems with skates”. Perhaps. Doesn't help me, though. But perhaps the other way around works too? Could I learn to ski better because I've learned to skate better? It was just a thought. So for a couple of times when snow conditions allowed, I borrowed Margareta's skis and played around on them on a trail behind their house, seeing if it made any difference if I moved my body this way or that way. My first test about three weeks ago was a lot of fun. I've even been surviving “Joy's hill”, haha! (but there are new ones, huhu!). I lost myself in enjoyment that I couldn't help but take myself to the end of the trail and back and up and down several hills just because I could! Without any technique though, it was no doubt that that tour was seriously energy ineffective and I sweat through my clothes as if it were a summer day. The next time, a week after, I stayed to flatter surfaces and, with M and M to watch me, continued to experiment on these “how to’s” of skiing technique that Swedish children supposedly learn from when they're like three years old and have just grown their milk teeth.
Learning these things from scratch at an adult age is challenging. On the one hand, as an adult, I could probably better understand the theory behind the techniques and be more reflective about what I need to improve on. On the other hand, like biking or swimming (which by the way I also had to learn as an adult), some bodily movements involved what we call “technique” is actually muscle memory. Imagine how much muscle memory is rooted in a small kid walking on skis by the time he reaches 19, or 29. And the perspective of my 29 years lived, I feel that it's impossible for me to just have the same kind of vana  – the feeling of being accustomed to something that it becomes routine – as one who is born here. When I think about this, I feel that I'm hopelessly old. I can't possibly “win back” 26 winters or so that I have no experience of, and since thick snow-covered winters don't come by every year, who knows if I ever get to the point of skiing quite as well as a Swedish-born recreational skiier? Then again, 29 is no high age, I know. In running, some start long-distance races in their 30s, and set records in their late 40s. That's running and this is skiing though. And no, I'm not after a record, which, on the bright side of things, means that any improvement on my part is a personal best.
Anyway, despite my lack of technique whatsoever, I may have spread my still-unshattered optimism during that morning on skis with M and M, because I got money from them to help fund my first pair of cross-country skis. Everything seems to be on sale nowadays, since the thick snow is fast disappearing. Buying skis is a whole story in itself. The abundance of choices seems a bit of a jungle, especially if you know next to nothing with basically the internet and the salesman to trust. But what the heck. Now I've got a pair of sporty (too sporty?) skis and I gotta learn how to ski well on them in some way or another, at one time or another, to kind of deserve calling them mine.
In the meantime, I've signed myself up on a ski touring course, starting soon, where the aim is just to go from one place to another in the snow-covered mountains on skis, like hiking. I really like that idea. Because we won't be skiing on trails, I have to rent broader tour skis, which is also in itself new equipment to learn. As usual, I take the phrase “no previous experience needed” in course descriptions very literally. I have to. Where does someone like me begin to learn these things otherwise, without 26 or so winters behind my back and for whom winter sports is very unexplored terrain? I'll probably survive the course, even if I end up sweating like it's a summer day again. Better to look like an idiot for a short time during the course than to feel ignorant forever! Come to think of it, from Joy's hill to the Swedish mountains is like, uh, a big leap. It's crazy, but it's exciting.
I never thought that I would ever say this or think this, but I want more winter! Spring and summer are not bad at all, but I just don't want winter to end just yet. Next winter seems too far away for all the things I want to learn.

If I manage to update on the ski course sooner or later, at least you'll know that my arms are still attached to my body.


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