Wrong Type of Snow!

I think the snow has come and gone, only to come again five times since november. Fluctuating around the magical white button point of zero degrees means not just that it disappears, but allso the snow that is there is not so darn useful! “kram” snow which although ideal for snowballs and those rotund sculpted carrot nosed people, it can be frustrating for XC skiing.
The whole winter has been frustrating in fact. Firstly and foremost I have dammaged my two once so new and perfect skis. Possibly someone has thrown the ski bag around, someone maybe being me, but I managed to delaminate the back of one skate ski from a shock to the top surface, while the screws on my Atomic skintecs in the crucial place, pulled out on one side leaving decrepit, dusty holes. Lucilly the top break is a straight forward exppoxy and clamp job, while the latter could be fixed with a new binding. Fortuitioulsy the NIS system uses a base plate with six screws I beleive, all very different points to the traditional type! Most advantagously again, the NIS bindings can be adjusted with a little key spanner thing, so you can get some more grip or glide as required out of your ‘furry bottomed skis’
Claissci skis fixed, the last two or three runs have been frustrating and made me wonder what I am doing wrong? I even trained up for the season in my usual doldrum November by joining the day memerbership at the local gymn! It seems it is the ‘wrong type of snow’ as British Rail once put it when their new premiere trains out of action. Or rather I get into having the wrong type of ski !

I felt this year should be a plateau year on classic while a progress year on skate skis, and so far that has only proven true because I have bothered to skate on my classic skis! It has been hard work on severaaal days without much of an immediate explatnation apart from the day with glider on the furry bit which turned out to be a massive mistake in asking for it! Washed out with the neighbours spray cleaner, the next day prove to be not much better, but at least I got some good kick with double pole out of the day, in kind of mixed conditions, mostly quite fimr and a little wet. 
Bad workmen complain about their tools, but the best workmen on the ‘Lonmg Tour’ style have about a dozen pairs with them! I have come up against the issues with fast skis – they can be slow as hell in the wrong conditions. My newish atomics have a lot of camber tension which makes them ride well with the mohair inserrt about the snow when gliding. Some days with my firend out before me I can just kick a little with double pole and feel like I am freewheeling along. Then came the new snow and minus seven, and then came the ‘kram’ snow, the snowman rolling perfection which is so rotten for daphne here! 
I found the extremes of my otherwise perfect classic skis. In fact so much so that on all three of my last tours I have gone over to skating with them, all 210 cm of them. Yesterday I had in fact some very, very satisfactory skating on them in quire heavy snow , and able to practice pushing out to the side on the boot to get the best skate. The skis have also been cleaned and glided , also over the mohair ‘skin’ which seems to have been an instant mistake ! They felt like kicking on a ski without any grip wax. 
On the second of three runs on them, I picked up a pensioner behind me, and although he never got past me, it felt like i was being whipped all the way while having a heavy pack holding me back. I turned at the top of the fish bone on the back to the car park, and decided to whip myself again if only to show the pensioner i was made of better stuff than he may have thought. I ended up skating about half of it!
I just have too much camber spring ! Without a good kick you can’t get good glide and in slow, kram conditions or cold and soft new snow, you cant make up for it with double poling as a rank amateur. You need the power of kicking with good grip in both diagonal and ‘keep the wheels rolling’ kick with double pole. Since I am heavy anyway, I dont get the advantage of being held over the snow. There is possibly some other dynamic going on there too, where the pre bend is actually digging in a litte at the front, I dont know.
Waxing for null conditions hasnt been a big issue for me before. Special Lilac flourinated worked well, whille the grip tape from Start was as good as red special or an expensive clister. However my old skis were broader and this helped quite a lot in the glide round zero, as I remember when the tracks were just lain by skidoo when the bases are really pretty soft.
Even the pensioners here go with pretty sporty, race style skis and I found out for the most why, because the narrower skis are by in larger a hell of a lot faster. It used to nbe a mystery why so many old folk had fancy Fischer skis, but now that is obvious. Also the mystery as to so many different pairs of skis per competitor at the top levels in the sport. They need different camber spring for the four different temperature ranges. 

So the question is there then – do I bang my head against the wall with skis which have their limits in soft snow? At easter I have several times taken out my broad jumble-sale waxless, 1979 type models, a fully wooden structure with a fishscale sole bonded on. They are a lot of fun when the snow is otherwise porridgey!  

A good workman will also, as they dont like to say, will choose the right tool for the job and sharpen it for the task ahead. This year could be the bumper long, late season which means the snow can go three ways- icey or at least firm, wet and sloppy or there can be new mild weather snow. Two of those three favour a softer ski but will I invest?

 

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Keith’s Tips for Getting Into XC Skiing – Part I

You may have seen the successes of British skiers in the winter olympics on XC skis or have moved to an Alpine or northern area where XC skiing seems a more practical propositions for winter training than cycling or jogging How do you get into Cross Country Skiing?

In this blog we will go through an introduction to setting your first herring bones  down on snow and what skis to buy, aimed at those of you who will have access to prepared ski trails. Learning XC is a good proposition for an alternative week long winter holiday to Alpine downhill if you have are fit and have good balance, and it is a good means of getting really fit in the winter if you live near to prepared tracks. Also of course as the key to success for British competitors, you can train on asfalt with roller skis all year round when snow is not available or too far away for daily trips.

I feel a bit like an old hand now, although far from being expert I actually find myself giving some Norwegians tips on their skating style skiing, and often get into discussions on waxing and the new ‘furry soled’ skin-skis.  As an adult it has been a long journey to become competent on classical kicking skis, and I am still learning skating technique. I can look back and see that I made a lot of basic mistakes by not having good instruction or not listening to what people told me, and most of all not asking questions of experienced skiers.

There are many pitfalls in terms of technique, tuition and of course equipment and those waxing problems. So here are my toptastic tips to help you get a head start and a fast learning curve while enjpoying your skiing to the max.

  1. Decide What Type of Skiing You Are Actually Going to Be Doing

My own journey into skiing sans gondola  came from days spent walking in the Fruin hills between Luss and Garelochhead. Often the highest 150 m of the hill and the long ridge towards Arden were covered in lovely fluffy white stuff, which was a nightmare to trudge through . On a couple of occaisions I saw how someone had managed to glide over all this, leaving their tracks as tell tale to the lifting heel variety of skier! I was mad keen on this idea. Perhaps mountain skiing with randonee skis or ski touring in the more gentle wild country is most for you?

For some reason I decided to learn to go in the tracks on skinnier skis and took a holiday to Geilo via Bergen, underwent some instruction and at a party on the way home, met my Norwegian other half. So living here with XC skiing as a national sport it is fairly straightforward to go and and enjoy both nature and an extremely good cardio-vascular work out while still getting home toute suite for a shower. I dropped the idea of back country, making your own tracks, only now to rekindle the idea.

So if you want to explore wild places then get into that type of back country skiing, and go on courses to do it as it is a challenging form of downhill skiing it has to be said, and there are some things to learn for traversing both valley and moor on ‘BC’ skis. Certainly many keen mountaineers in Scotland use XC skis for winter ‘ski -ins’ to remote areas and to scale the gentler hills of the easter grampians, like Mount Keen, or those suitable in the Perthshire area.

The only real places to find perpared ‘tramline’ tracks and a groomed centre area for skate-skiing style are near Huntly, Braemar and around Aviemore in Scotland. There was earlier discussion on Ben Wyvis plateau being used to both wild and prepared skiing, north of Inverness due to its very high number of snow covered days, but nothing came of it. The ski centres though have allowed XC clubs to come and train on their green slopes and Aanoch Mor actually groomed a skating track on the top plateau for the national team.  I have often met ski mountaineers using chairlifts for access, and I think that many of the low level green runs at like Glen Coe and Aanoch Mor are good for learning ploughing , skating and going up hill! I would however ask before travelling and choose a less busy time for your first go, booking tuition if it is available, or going with some folk from the club you have just joined ! ( Huntly and Avoeimeroe and some other clubs aroudn England too)  Nearer Glasgow Lowther Hills ski club in the southern uplands are getting their act very much together and enjoy up to 100 snow days a year, so may be persuaded to piste top sections for XC skiers if you join up !

Apart from the Back Country and Mountain to Prepared Track “schism” you may call it, there is another division in the prepared tracks which has become such a cultural apartheid almost in some people’s minds, and that is the classic kick style versus skating technique. This is worth taking up as point number two in itself!

 

2. Baby Steps In Learning to XC Ski and NOT to Walk on XC Skis

Now here lies my biggest mistake and how I was kind of mislead into many years of mediocre and often frustrating skiing, with some downright dangerous downhill escapades in faster conditions. XC skiing can be a graceful and fast sport, but not if you think you are going to start by learning to walk on skis. The techniques are really based on a stride onto a glide in essence, where one foot is completely unweighted with the loaded foot providing a long glide.

In assisting this core concept and learning goal, you really have to learn in outset,  without using poles because otherwise like I did for many years, you will use your poles for balance and not learn the fine balance and posture directing weight through the skis that you need to progress beyond clumping around.

Your first day on skis should be with a very baby steps approach to it all, without poles you will feel a little like learning something quite new to the body, controlling slide and balance on one ski, with propulsion alternating between skis. Take that in mind, it is going to be little baby steps, back to play school and if you are a little stiff and untrained, then it is going to be a little uncomfortable.

However you can find you have the knack and get going on a tour, recommended less than 10km to start with, on your first day in those tempting “tramlines”!   On my first day ever I managed 20km which was completely over ambitious and I was left in my hotel the next day aching from all those small muscles which I didnt know I had and a sore back side and thigh from falling in what was very hard conditions.

Your First Hours WITHOUT POLES!

Learning withougt poles is like going back to absolute baby steps. It is going to be slow, awkward and on icier days painful progress. The very fist exercises from an instructor will include:

  • Fishboning up a gentle slope
  • Moving around on skis, changing direction lifting skis
  • Getting up safely and easily when you fall
  • Assuming plough position and skiing in plough down hill
  • the one ski off, scooter drill
  • Skiing parallel down hill in the tracks to a run out stop

Probably the most fruitful of the above will be the one ski scooter drill and skiing in a safe downhill with a self braking run out at the foot. The latter is fairly self explanatory “bend sie knees” look where you want to go, hands out forward (without poles) and weight on the middle of the foot. The Scooter drill is then one ski in the inside tramline track on the course, and use the other foot to stride off the snow and propell yourself on the single ski, practicing balance.

Styles – Learn Both Classic and Skating from the Word GO!

My next point then is for ski schools and instructors as much as for new beginners. Learn the skating style from day one of your skiing! Skating has always been part of the sport, it is just it came as a ‘young upstart’ technique in the 1980s. Your agility on skis will grow exponentially compared to being locked in the tracks or prone to not releasing all the weight from one ski.  You will find out quickly that your outside balance point when you skate out onto one ski, is far further than you imagine, and this will build a great deal of confidence in your skiing.

You can start with scooter technique in the trail and then try it out of the tramlines on a slight downhill. Then try with both skis on, still no poles. pushing off on one with kick backwards and outwards to a glide and stop on the other ski, only then returning the kicking ski to the ground. You can then also try smal step turns on a slight down hill to correct your direction, or on a larger area to turn to face uphill or even in a full circle if you can skate kick round.

When I took up skate skiing, I suddenly got a huge boost to my glide in oridnary classic kicking, and also found it much easier to manoerve in and out the tracks, round un-tramlined corners, and over into full snow plough. It felt like my legs had been made of lead before while now I could glide around obstacles and feel under control at far greater speeds.

Purists will tell you that you need proper skate skis to learn to skate, but that is just not true. Yes it helps to use a shorter pair, which often you will be given anyway as a new beginnner from a school or hire shop, but to start with the only difference is that you should avoid using any grippy kick wax, and if on the usual beginners patterned or mohair skin soled waxless skis, make sure they are ‘glidet’ with slidey wax or spray.

In effect when you are proficient in classic technique you are unloading one ski completely to glide on the other, and in effect ‘parallel’ skating.

So the ideal situation is to go from skis which are a little longer than you are tall, to borrowing skis about your height or upto 5 cm shorter. Then the ski will be easier to skate style with, esepcially when not using poles.  So this brings us onto equipment rather nicely

 

3. Buying the Right Equipment – Candor and Camber!

In general sports shops and some alpine skiing oriented shops, you may not get hold of staff who know enough about XC skiing to sell you the correct skis. Although they dont need to be an aficionado or top competitor, they have to know about not just matching length of ski and budget to the buyer, but also the use the skier will be putting it to, their ability and their weight.

For the typical sporty style of light skiing we have in Scandinavia and the clubs in Scotland tend to practice, then it is the tension in the curve

of the ski which is most important in matching a ski to your weight, ability and the typical conditions you will encounter. The absolute essential of both styles, classic kick- and skate- , is that the ski supports your resting weight on the arch, while being compliant enough for the sole and edge respectively to the styles here, make contact with the snow when you kick or skate off then when they are compressed.

Thus a very stiff, curved ski will hold a proficient skier off the ground while they have to be really quite physical in applying downward/outward force to affect kick/skate respectively. These will be fast skis for experts but even then in very hard icey, or very soft, new snow conditions they will fail to allow the skier to get enough traction. This is why the Norwegina national ski team take a whole containter with hundreds of pairs of skis for their 40 or so atheltes in international championships,.

A soft ski will conversley allow for good adhesion in all conditions, but will not suspend the skiers weight during glide phase, and worse, the wax zone on a kicking ski will brake the ski further and gather ice crystals or be worn off completely over a dozen or so kilometers!

Ski camber and the spring / tension is a function of the length of the ski, the depth and position of the camber ( ie arch ) and the material design of the ski. So for example Fischer offer a ‘short cut’ ski design in their range which has the same spring as a traditionally longer ski. Camber has often been design to have a shallow entry and be a little deeper under the foot, with a steeper exit from the heel towards the back of the ski. Atomic however have an advanced, symmetrical arch design in their top skis, which when combined with carbon fibre side wall elements, make for a stiff ski which when compressed acts like a softer ski during the downwards thrust of the kick phase.

So weight then is important to be candid about, followed by height which is a rough guide in helping the seller, and then how physical you are and how fast you want to go, finally a quick check on where you will be skiing. If for example the lower trails around Aviemore are in mind, then it can be that these are often hard packed and icey, in which case a softer ski will allow for better adhesion.

A good shop or club will have a camber tension machine. This is clamps the ski and then uses a scale to apply the equivalent of skiers weight to the ski via a clamp. You can then see if the ski will be the correct spring for your weight and beginner ability. Also they will mark off the usual average condition ( -4’c about) wax zone front end, with the rear being just before the heel of the boot. There is a ‘shop floor’ alternative whcih oddly enough works best on a light carpet or rug, simulating snow, where you stand on both skis and a sheet of A4 paper is slid forward andbackwards to ensure that you are lifted over the wax zone, or that the patterned fishscale zone is not too much in contact with the snow when you are going to be gliding. It isn’t a bad substitute actually for the machine!

Complications for Later

There are a few more compliating factors. Firstly waxing, and the legnth and type of wax used to achieve grip on a given camber spring in response to the conditions of the snow. Secondly we now have Nordic System NIS adjustable ( and competing) bindings which can be slid back and forth about an inch using a simple tool while you are out.

These complications are a little beyond the scope of this introduction, suffice to say you can correct and adjust for conditions a little bit, but in principle you need a stiffness / spring which is suited to you and your expected, average conditions.

Steel Edges?

Steel edges are a feature of many touring skis and most all mountain (touring) “fjell”  skis, and this is to afford the skier good directional control and braking on icey snow bases. As for prepared tracks, very many Norwegians use these as family tour skis because of the added control over speed they get when goign downhill with their small kids between their legs!

I would only really recommend steel edges for those who either live in an area prone to a lot of thaw back and icing, when they are a boon, or for those who want to use a broader ski for some back country work. A ski up to 45mm will fit in most all ski tracks anyway. The drawbacks are weight and to some extent glide, and they are not good to use around our four legged friends because they can cut paws open very easily when Fido gets tangled up with you. The other plus point is stability on these turing skis and being able to use a heavier soled boot if you are combining with some walking up the hills.

Fischer did actually offer a narrow training ski called ‘steel lights’ but they were not in the catalogue last year infortunetly. These were aimed exactly at skiers encountering icey conditions in otherwise well prepared tracks. Hard, icey conditions can actually be a real joy to ski in because the speed is so much higher, but down hills can be hairy. Very often as mentioned above, you find the track bases are hardened ice while there is enough texutre in the middle lane to snow plough down hill , all be that a little jittery in those conditions.

As mentioned a great many Norwegians use classic madhus or åsnes touring skis in the oridnary tracks, but you do notice when they have them on that they are using a more leisurlely pace and technique!

Waxless Dilema? 

For new beginners it is recommended by all and sundry that you buy a waxless ski. The traditional ‘scaled’ pattern skis gained a bad reputation over time because often beginners bought the cheapest ski and that could mean too little camber spring or a ski which became soft quite quickly. However Atomic and Salamon for example, offer patterned skis through their range, being more popular in North America on better quality skis. Also fishcher offered a top end carbon fibre ski which many a serious amateur had in their arsenal for races where conditions were expected to be very variable.

This type of ski remains an affordable and low threshold ski to getting into skiing. The only drawback with ‘fishscale’ or machined patterned soles is that in order to cover all ranges of grip with one design, the pattern extends into the areas of the gliding areas of the ski, usually by a good 15 cm or so on the front. This causes a lot of friction and if your skis are quite soft spring it can destroy a lot of the glide in ‘stickier’ conditions and hamper the development of good technique. Some people will sand down this front area a couple of centimeters at a time until they get a better compromise between glide and kick, and a good shop may be willing to do this based on using a ski camber measurement machine set for your weight.

Waxed skis however have a very clear place for the beginner and that is if you expect to ski in stable alpine conditions with ground temperatures of -5’c or lower and snow which has not become icey or very hard. Here you can hire or buy a set of nice smooth bottomed skis, asking the shop to prepare the wax which is likely to be ‘blue’. So for example if you are going to learn on a two week holiday to an alpine resort in February then this is a good proposition! You just need to ensure the ski is not too stiff for your ability.

Best of Both World with Furry Bottomes Skis!

A reasonable starter ski in patterned or smooth sole would be about $/€ 200 with bindings mounted and you may get a pair of boots in a package offer for around that figure.  For comparison, racing skis cost around €$ 600 off the shelf excluding boots and bindings!

If you are prepared to spend a little more on skis then you can find that you can solve the issue of wax vs waxless drawbacks with the new ‘skin skis’ such as Atomic Skintec , twin skin, intelligrip etc – all the main manufacturers now offer these skis with a mohair skin glued into a machined out groove in the sole. They are wonderful ! Usually these start at a boots and bindings included package about €350 – 400, and that can be money well spent.

Skin skis are making waves in traditional circles because they cure the problems of varied conditions over the course of a day or over altitude for the popular longer ski runs like the ‘Birkebeiner’ – They offer the amateur who wants to jump out right after work without worrying about waxing correctly, the chance to do just that.

I have a set of Atomic 4000s which are a fancy ski of about €500 and used allegdely by some pro skiers for training.  They are an absolute boon because we live at sea level and have very rapidly changing conditions. They work best of course when the snow has good grip but as long as there is a crystaline pattern in the snow in otherwise ‘clister’ conditions they will grip really well. They also by in large glide nicely without any major comprimise although they can get a little waterlogged in soggy, ‘easter’ conditions.

If you are quite fit and have good balance in outset, and are going to have an instructor/school or a good skier as a friend,  then I can recommend getting a fairly stiff pair of skin skis matched for your weight and then learn to grow into them rather than changing skis later!

What About a Set of Skate Skis?

As I mentioned I recommend learning skate technique as part and parcel of your introduction to XC skiing. How about a pair of skate skis then? Of course you can use waxless or just dewax and glide wax an ordinary set of skis, and borrow longer poles to get a shot at it.

There is real merit in buying these instead of classic when you have few prepared trails or when, as with the Huntly “Clash” snow cover is often little and hardens, or if you are going to have access only to a groomed green runs at an alpine station. Thinner classic skis are quite awkward to use without good ‘tramline’ tracks being available.  In my experience too, the middle flat lane in good ski runs remains useable with some texture and ‘bite’ when the base of the tramlines has become concrete smooth ice.

Another big benefit for UK skiers in choosing this route into the sport is that you can learn to use roller skis, or use your rollerblades from the loft, pretty easily and even London boasts a major specially prepared asfalt course for roller skiiing. Roller blades can roll a little fast but there are alternative wheels which give a better feel. You can use your winter poles with a simples unglueing of the winter ‘bails’ to summer spike-ends.

A word of caution here though. Skate skiing  demands a slightly higher level of fitness as the body is more active in motion and you need to keep up a tempo just to maintain yourself on the course because of the constant zig zagging on the flat and up hill. It also demands or you could say, developes a better sense of balance which is of course the big benefit i point to above.

If your the courses you are going to be skiing are very hilly then you  may want to learn on traditional skis in the tracks first in general, trying skating on flatter sections. This is because classic skis offer a little more stability and far better ability to brake using snow plough due to the longer edges. Given the opposite terrain, for example the Golf Course at Braemar or Kristiansand being your nearest prepared tracks, then you may find a set of skate skis give you much more enjoyment than classic style because you will achieve better speeds for less effort after some practice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XC Skiing Jim, But Not As We Know It….

Today I had an appointment in a neigbouring town, which meant having a few hours over on a rare sunny afternoon.  Rain had washed most of the snow around the house away, but as we live right near the sea, often things just a little in land are much more like Narnia while we are in a filthy soggy mess.

We are blessed in having an enthusiastic xc ski and skating club who bought a former piste basher complete with rotary cultivator type back equipment, and a GPS with a SIM card! So we can track when they have been out doing their ‘dugnad’ , that’s volunteering in Norsk, and know that even quite icey snow can be turned into something useable, Today though was skiing Jim, but not as we know it.

Partly it was in my own resignation to conditions being less than ideal, or even a non starter due to ice and bare patches. Our little 3.7km run out to Jakobs “Kafe” is rather kissed by the snow gods for most of its legnth, because on the one hand it is in the shadow of a ridge of low hills, while on the other it is mostly devoid of fishboning which means you can get a really good work out and enjoy it more than those “kuperte” courses as they call them, which are typical a ring with lights made in a cheap bit of woodland where it is mostly fishbone-up, tuck down …oh and usually covered in dog shit and often joggers make a point of destroying the tracks. In rural Norway that is not the case, because you are likely to get lynched for such desecration of the national sport, but in the towns, some folk see snow and ice as a hindrance to an amble with the dog and talk about ‘condom clad’ lunatics on skis.

I digress a little to set the scene. Why was this skiing, only different? Usually of a sunny afternoon there are plenty shift workers like nurses, houswives and of course pensioners leaping at the chance to glide on their sports skis or touring planks. Not this afternoon. The car park was what they call ‘klink is’ ,  resembling a skating pond with a frozen river runing down to it where the road is. I surveyed the opening by foot, reccie’ing out the possibility of becoming completely stuck with spinning wheels if I dared drive further in. The ice though, as it often is, was not very slippy because it had a texture of rain and gritty snow on it, and it was resolutely frozen so as to be doing a good impression of permafrost! So there had be no other takers, not for their intelligent 4×4 drivetrains nor their metal studded tyres. “Personne” as the French say, with a melancholy tone of voice.

The start of the tracks were equally uninviting being composed of machine track crocodiles, a glacial mid plateau and fossilised footprints to interupt a plastic sided ski like a pneumatic drill perterbs a walk down the high street. What was left of the ‘spor’ ie the tramlines, was a pale resemblence of their former vee-sided, prestine selves. I can understand why many would glance up the forrest track from their car window, and shake their heads and sigh, looking to abandon skiing or resign themselves to an hour round tour the the next, higher ski tracks at Vegårshei. However I knew well that the end of the road is the nasty lumpy tail of the bobcat, while further in you can usually rely on their being skiing as long as the bobcats clump has 5cm of cover.

It became not a lot like skiing at this point. I elected to walk so that if it was crappy further up too, then I could bail out without the furstration of having to take my skis off again, or rip up the outside edges trying to plough to a halt on the concrete like lower stretch. I was kind of resigned to calling it a day, not annoyed, go home walk the neighbour’s dog, do some pilates, have a cappucino. I had the tail end of a cold anyway.

I sruveyed the tracks a little more. The LHS lies a little more in the shadow, so was deeper and better defined than the right hand. Both sides are driven rediculously far out allowing for a super generous centre lane for skating, quite immodest in its sprawling width across the road. In fact the ski run is pisted a good meter either side of the actual dirt road, which makes this method of pushing classic to the extremes frustrating! I use it a lot and apart from on dark evenings, the large majority of folk are using classic style, with only about one in four skating. When you get good at ‘staking’ double poling, you can find out just how far out to the side they make these tracks as your pole disappears into the bank of snow which has been groomed out over the ditch at the side of the actual road! Also now there is more battling with tree branches and the odd little subsidance where the tram line weight trailer thing starts to fall into this soft fringe.

The road is a little narrower for its first 100m or so, and I didnt think too much about the extremities being soft this time. Everything had a consistency somewhat like a cross between concrete and polystyrene. Soon the tracks became better defined and at least safe to rattle along in using doubtle pole “stah-king’.   I was out in the fresh air, and could always just enjoy the walk if the conditions prove to be intermittantly rubbish, and also I elected to walk down the only fishboning part and back that last 100m I had just come up sans planches.

On the brow of the next little ascent, I clipped on my very best skis, which have lots of spring in them, and poled off. It wasnt long until I remembered than around half my time around the very melty-freezy woods and hills of Kristiansand had been spent on such cement like paving. I had my cold, tail end, so this was going to be nice and easy, concentrate on technique if possible. Poling – down with the pelvis, point the knees forward. Diagonal on slippy stuff – press hard down and transfer weight gingerly with a shorter than usual stride, as if on a steeper hill.

The boys of the wee 5 mph machine had done a pretty good job, because there was texture in the track beds! All be it hard, abrasive, big crystals. It was blue clister material but not actually blank ice. I had friction in the kick! I could concentrate on aforementioned technique! But not for long before I missed a step. MMore concentration and there were no missed steps. Slow, but ‘nail like adhesion’ ” Spikerfeste” as I made my way up hills, and then there was just poling with a chance ffor double poloe with kick every so often, which is probably the technique which demands best adhesion to work as it was a little sketchy today.

The first down hill has a soft run out and it was fun. The track then turned and climbed a little and that was slow, there was suddenly lots of friction, and maybe a little suck. My ‘hairy’ Atomic Skintec 4000s were however really doing the job of the best clister prep I have ever managed. I got a real sense of feel for once on the hard snow, because my skis have such hard arches ( nicely they call it just ‘spenn’ which means both tension and excitement in norwegian!) In double pole there was usually no interference from the mohair skin under my soles. They can though get very ‘sucky’ in wet conditions at easter, but there is apparently some magic spray for them should this be the case.

The thing that wasn’t skiing as I am accustomed to it, wasnt really the jurassic mudflat like trail conditions, but my attitude. I had come out with no intention of doing anything more than getting a little air in my lungs, prepared to bail out or walk with my skis over shoulder. Yet I was enjoying a very laid back ski, with the 7.4 km round route completely to myself . In days gone by this could have been a personal hell as I tried to keep up a pace which the conditions and my fitness would not really allow. Like a steam loco trying to go hard at a banking and only wheel slipping while exhaling great plumes of steam in the process.

On the way back there is a long down hill from Jakobs cafe which is usually a little pussy cat of a ride, but in ice it can soon become a 50kmh rush and then if the tracks are a little skew-wiff, then bam, a ski jumps out and you end up hurt. It is very destroying for sports skis to plough or half plough down this stuff, better to know where you are and go into a tuck a little lower than usual. What would have terrified me ten years ago, brought a grin to my face. I remember doing the Nespebøvarden run and coming down to what I thought was a gathering at a Lean-To where the piste basher had stopped. I was hurteling down the narrow one way track and wondered if I would get past the gang of folk talking . However in fact it  turned out not to be the piste machine, but cars at the car park and I was lucky to have newly learned single ski out ploughing because I could reduce my mighty momentum while keeping tracking in the dark, blinded by the headlights a little as I was.  I stopped just short of the boom and felt rather proud of myself. I had kind of graduated. Applied that ‘experience is the condition you aquire at the exact moment after you most needed it’.

I made a good speed back, less hurry more haste as it seemed and met no oncoming traffic, epseically not those irritating snow is whiter on the wrong (left hand for Norway of course) side of the road. It was almost meditative and serine as I poled along, gliding like a great sail ship running her top sails above the fog. Personne.

Even when I came back to the car, there were no after work Birkebeiners blow torching their clisters. It was for once a very secluded feeling of being at peace with the woods and not at war with the ski tracks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XC Skin Skis – Furry Business or Gliding Hairily?

I’ve had a couple of seasons now on Atomic Skintec Pro 4000 models, with built in mohair skin in the usual kick wax zone. What’s the verdict then? Should you get a pair of skin skis as a new beginner, occaisional skier or higher up in the sport?

Firstly you should not forget the importance of picking the right pair of skis for your weight, height, fitness level and style of kicking.   Some shops will tend to set you up against height – length being about 25 cm longer than you are high, but that can be hit or miss. Fischer for example, have often produced a shorter ski with a higher camber-tension ie stiffer flex in the mid arch.  You need to go to a good shop, or baring that if you are in a club ask for advice and try other people’s skis who are around your weight and height.  Good independent shops are also now invariably on line, and will be happy to reply and spec’ you up a pair of skis, all be that maybe a bit more expensive than chain stores for the same ski.

You also have to back up a little here when thinking of buying classic skis for the kick style. I see that conditions in Scotland for example are either lightly groomed, thin and often wet snow at lower levels, like the Huntly Club’s “Clash” routes, while using the upper plateaus of ski senteres usually precludes driving up ‘tram lines’ due to other skiers using the area. So do you actually want a pair of skate skis and to learn that style and potentially with use of the Kuzmin scaper, avoid waxing altogether?

Certainly I would recommend learning to ski on skate ski’s first if you are used to skating or want to be a bit sportier than your average beginner who dabbles in “walk-skiing”. Ther reason for this proposition is that learning to lift the weight off one ski completely and forcing yourself to turn where you want to go, will greatly enhance your balance on skis and you ability then on ‘classic kick’ skis. In reality classic skiing in the ‘tram lines’ is really a kind of parallel skate as you will completely unload the kicked ski as you glide on the forward ski!  Rather than the ‘skate’ motion in the foot being outwards, it is downwards and back. It is still more of a squeeze than a kick.

Given that you have access to prepared ski tracks then as an amateur skier, mohair or other skin integrated skis are a very good option for you.  Good waxing takes a lot of time, in reality and it actually begins to cost a lot of money. Also the flourinated kick and glide-waxes do not decay in the environment and their affects on nature are unknown. They are very much better than the standard petroleum waxes incidentally, wearing longer and often designed to cover temperature ranges standard waxes cant tackle, like thorugh zero degree C.

The main issue with a good wax job which you spend maybe an hour or more on, is that it can be completely wrong for the conditions you encounter. As soon as you have laid on too soft a wax, or a clister, and there are colder conditions with new snow, you have to strip down messily in the open, or go and take absolutely all off your skis. Some people then cover their bases with two pairs in the boot, or a little like me, take their skate ski set in the car just in case the tracks are poor. That said if you have a hard green and blue base you can wax out in the field, using the cork, for the conditions as they actually are, or apply clister. Another typical issue for longer ski endurance races or the organised distance runs over terrain are that either the altitude changes the demands on the ski grip, or the weather changes – typically either a thaw, new snow, or a rapid freezing of what was wet snow.

Skin skis then come in all the varieties of usual track skis, from tour oriented medium broad skis, to out and out, high am’ level racing skis.  Apart from the ski design there is only really two variables we see which are of note in my opinon. Fistly the length of the  skin insert and secondly if it is in two stripes or a single broader stripe. The idea behind the former is that it glides better, and Atomic first offered their Skintec with the fancy magnetic shifting system to switch between the two types. The twin versions are supposed to be for colder conditions or fast, transformed snow which has good grip. However there will quite likely be as much if not more resistance in a double skin if it is either longer than, or on a softer ski than for a single mid zone ‘furry bit’. So in principle a heavier skier could benefit from a twin stripe skin, or if you tend to ski in colder conditions you may find a twin helps you glide.

Certainly in soft or wet conditions you can hear that my skis have a skin, single broad type as it is, covering the front of a usual kick wax zone to just around the ball of the foot/ sole area. However in some conditions a good wax job will still pick up some ice crystals and ‘wirr’  until they wear off.  To confuse things slightly, you can also buy most of the marques with an NIS type binding manifold, which allows you to use a little key and move the biding back and forth on the ski to get either more grip , forward setting, or more glide , back wards. This will not really make up for an incorrect flex in your ski, it wil only compensate for different types of snow, or indeed, if the binding plate manifold is not ideally mounted onto the ski. It is then a useful ability for when you need your weight back a little, heel in as you would call it, such that you avoid the ski sucking or being dragged down into the snow, and the opposite being a little forward when you need more traction against say harder clister conditions.

In the very variable conditions we have had this winter, and the porridge like snow of the spring last year, skin skis seem to be ideal. We also have terrible weather forecasting for around zero degrees to plus two Celsius here, which results in either rain, new snow or thawing and sudden freezing as unpredictable factors. Not having to wax, and not having to use clister is a boon, sling your skis in the car away from the salt and grit, and get on with the game.

In my experience though Skintec have three limitations. Firstly very hard packed and icey conditions in the track beds. Here a good ice clister will keep you going for a decent days skiing. However on a poling course, you could just as well use your skin ski for powering around as long as its mohair is suspended above the tracks. Secondly the other end of the extreme, they can struggle to grip in cold, new snow. Thirdly they are subject to a good deal of ‘ suck and sqaut’ in wet, easter like conditions. Here perhaps those new sprays will help, or putting the NIS binding back, or as I do sans adjustment, rocking back on to my heals on the down hills to release the vacuum.

Where they come into their own is in zero-conditions, plus conditions with transformed or new snow, claissical ‘lillac’ conditions down to about -4 and then older tracks in colder temperatures, or very well prepared tracks. My own limitatsion are in style, fitness and there being a little too much stiffness in the arch for some conditions given I like a light, fast ‘kicking’ style. One work around for icier conditions could be to run some clister from just behind the skin to just behind the heel.

I also expect to see permanent skins on mountain touring skis, perhaps with the ability to have a short skin loaded onto the ski infront or behind the embedded version. The materials used in the skins are very like the glue on skins anyway.  Another little advantage of skinskis is that when kicking, they are grippier than an ordinary ski on the middle lane, bar perhaps clister, while in relation to that, they do not pick up snow crystals in the ‘rough’ here where skate-skiers ply, and so can be skated on quite well without usually catching as you often get with an oridany wax job, optimised for the bed of the tracks.

In Norway the tests on ‘TV 2 Hjelper Deg’ and elsewhere refered to noted that Rossignol produce skis with the best combination of grip and glide, whereas fischer are maybe getting towards pro racer level with their highest model. Sales of skinskis now account for over 80% of all langrenn skis sold in the southern half of the country where the weather is most variable. That is astounding, especially when you consider that they were laughed at only three or so years ago. That is kind of testimony to how good they are and on line you will find that common-or-garden skiers are very happy with them, and it is most likely the type who would complain about equipment or recommend top level pro gear, whom patronises the masses who are buying these in bail loads!

No

Finally an overnight freeze and I could try the Atomic Skintecs out for camber tension in double poling conditions, and see how much grip there was in icey tracks.

This week has thrown all that would be unusual for Atomic or any other ski-house, at me. First new, wet snow and rising temperatures then a freeze back. Really conditions the skin was not designed for perhaps, but also conditions which are almost impossible to wax correctly on the ‘right’ skis. In the soft, the snow was too wet for hard wax yet too soft and granular for clisters. In the hard, it was wet enough in places for a ‘red’ or ‘silver’ clister while the harder areas needed blue ice clister. For me a good universal clister job today would have lasted only about 15km, and I racked up about 25km without thinking about more than water breaks.

So we have to seperate out a few things here

1. The Mohair skin
2. The camber tension
3. Conditions
4. Technique and weight of skier.

1. The skin ….. And 2,3,4 also….

Any skin’s grip varies with the length & width of it, the snow base its on and any treatments such as glider or anti-icing.

Mohair skins in full legnth will climb anything, but being about 30 – 40 cm under the camber sole on all these new class of skis means that there is quite a finite amount of grip relative to 2,3 and 4 !

In other words to get to the performance of the skin alone, you have to subtract the other factors, including your own skill or style , which means you either need a comparable pair of non skinned or you compare to your ‘best ever skis and wax job’.

So my personal opinion and summary on using Atomic Skintec is-

1) the skin’s limits are new snow over 1 cm in the tracks; very soft, wet snow; glazed, icey tracks. Here you get bad traction.

2) the skin seems to waterlog in warm conditions, and ball up just a little bit in ‘zero’ conditions.  Sprays or glide Treatments may help. It both looses traction and glide imho when it gets waterloged

3) camber tension – to race or be really satisfied throughout the season, nyou probably want a softer pair and a pair which are quite hard. Atomic SDS gives an edge here.

In the hard conditions i felt the camber was great for double poling, but i had to press pretty hard on anything icey in diagonal to get ashesion. Downhill i could rock back weight onto my heels to get more speed and lose the little skin-noise there was. Hey, i do this with a clister job or in slower conditions on wax skis.

One odd thing which dawned on me after a few days, like a kind of double take, was how far forward on the ski the skin sits- from a mid ( clister ) forward mark back to only around  the ball of the foot I dare say you could clister back to the heel on the bare ski and get some much needed traction on polished – icey uphills !

So my conclusion – it sucks living near the coast if you want to enjoy an easy life of xc skiing !  The correct length and camber skin ski will give any skier less to worry about in well prepared tracks which are firm but not icey. They bust universal clister, but are not as grippy as red or silver clisters and on pure ice, blue clister.

A Platform Too Far?  Defending Free Speech or Giving Fascists and Extremists Credibility?

Conservatives are very in favour of free speech when it suits them, and one has to wonder about their motivations for threatening universities and student unions who have a ‘no platform’ stance on speakers and lecturers who are deemed to be beyond what a democratic society should allow under the rule of law.

Does freedom of speech have limits? Well many Neo Liberal philosophers thought not, but then again many of those philosophers were reactionairies in the 1930s who aligned themselves with fascism and corporatism.For them, the views of the ruling elite, the chosen illuminatae and successful capitalists, should be permitted freedom of expression, in a time when like now, the media was in a battle between the establishment, the new right and the voice of truth and disclosure of corruption. To us today however, we find that yes, we the public want restrictions on freedom of speech when that goes over into hatred, and the advocating of discrimmination against identifiable people or races. 

Today we have the jihadis versus the Britain Firsts on each extreme, and feeding each other, plus we have the odd attention seeking super-sexist, homophobe, anti semite, or zionist who calls for the (quicker) eradication of Muslims from the occupied West Bank and the creation of an ethnically pure, greater Israel. For years the media kept the lid on the skin head movement and it was a ‘street corner’ phenomenom until the internet came a long and Extreme Islamic terrorism really took off as a threat in the west. Working class dissaffection could be turned into anti islamic sentiment and it could gain a critical mass with the media having to pay attention to the new Alt Right parties across Europe. The ‘unpopulists’ as i like to call them, represent about 1 in 5 of adult voters, and that is about the proportion of small minded racists I have encountered in daily life. That they were denied a platform in the 1950s and 60s was a natural result of World War II, but should they be given a voice?   Is preaching hatred part and parcel of the freedoms we should allow? 

For me the answer is clearly no when it relates to specific races, gender, religion or sexuality. People can seek a private platform for this type of hate talk, but it should be in the media’s and public sector’s interests to not afford them a platform, while also it should be a matter where their existence and opnions should be aired by those institutions. Are we not free as individuals to hate and discriminate against people whose politics we don’t like? . Why then not allow the extremists, the sect haters,  a platform as a matter of intellectual scrutiny and to uphold that concept ? Well in a democratic society governed by the rule of civil laws, we are free to act until we restrict the freedom of others. Hate Speech is     implicit in restricting other people’s freedom by inciting threats and menaces against them. Discrimination speech is explicit in disfavouring the freedoms of definable individuals in society. 

As you may have noticed, the ‘neo liberal’ ideology, like Lenninist Marxism, has failed and been replaced, not too subtly by a different form of ideology, that of right wing nationalism. In large this has always been the resort of the wealthy elite in distracting the public from woes at home, or in expanding their empires and access to resources and economic influence. In this we are not talking about the Alt Right, we are talking about the rush to the right by the forermly internationalist conservative parties, epitified by Trump and Brexit.

 Nationalism suits the billionaires of this world, who by the way are virtually stateless themselves, being constantly in travel and registered only as high net worth individuals in the best tax havens or most attractive dens of excess like Monaco and the Cayman islands. This small section of society, are obsessed with defending their wealth and increasing their power. They are about winning, and the Neo Liberal philosophy including globalisation, suited them extremely well in defeating wages inflation, which in turn eroded the value of money and thus their net worth. They are also obsessed with another thing withihn this,  increasing productivity while decreasing costs, that is part of their big game plan. Nationalism is a dangerous game for them to play becauuse it could move nation states towards protectionism, as is much of the economic sentiment behind Trump’s election and the anti immigrant, Brexit slim majority. 

However that risk of a move back to the old tribal chestnit, them vs us,  is worth taking, becauise Nationalism is the best distraction from the fact that Neo Liberalism, their core ideology, has failed and its low wage, high cost of living net result is now creeping further up the social ladder,  and that automisation is about to be rolled out across western society, decimnating jobs in the service sector. Like in Chess, this is a Gambit, where they give up some march on Globalisation, the race to the bottom – workers being only worth what the cheapest are,  and the inevitable return of slavery at that low end, regulation free level – in order that they can keep the public away from ideas of government acting as a positive force in society in terms of well being, standard of living and technological progress. 

This foray into  anti neo liberalist ground is now revealed as my explanation as to why the Conservative and Unionist party are so keen on punishing ‘no platform’ universities. We are in a period of distractioin from the real economic issues and hang over from globalisation and hyper inflation in property markets and their related financial vehicles. That Neo Liberalism has failed is of no surprise to socialists and centrists, in the same way as the failure of Marxist Lenninist economics in the USSR was no surprise to Conservatives and market economists. What the conservatives need is to hold the ground centre right and in doing so they would like to shift debate to the right, with the extreme of the right wing being given an open platform, to distract the public from the growth of left wing ideology as a major voice in the dialectic, so much of which is formed in each epoch of university under graduate periods of around half a decade. They want Conservatives to be rubbing shoulders with the left, presenting themselves as the vpoice of reason against the far right, such that their radical right wing economic programme becomes wrapped up in a nice cosey, centrist political feel and a new ‘inclusive’ Britain is something they can somehow claim, while in fact they manage to shift the debate away from Marxist ideas.

Marxits ideology may seem dead and buried to most of us in the West, but that is certainly not the case to the leaders of the world’s largest national economy, the correctly addressed People’s Republic of China. They have a different economic model, eminating from a different philosophy. They are driving a Keynsian economy with larger elements of free market econimic freedoms than any previous marxist socialist government has dared. They have a form of command capitalism, where individual entrepreneurs are enabled by the free availability of credit mediated by the central bank, which underwrites the chinese ‘private’ investment banks and manipulates their currency to a low level favouring economic dominance in balance of trade. They have a planned infrastructure which is inclusive to poorer regions, and see their industrialisation as be-freeing their paddy field peasants from poverty and ignorance. So large is their infrastuctural programme that it threatens the long term availability of salt free building quality sand for concrete. They drive forward on five year plans, building whole new cities, rebuiklding the old, and faciliating ‘marketism’ to a state which is domninating the world economy.  Such ideas and the success of the Chinese macro economic policy, as a divergence from tradtional Marxism and an adoption of a controlled level of ‘marketism’ are dangerous in a west with growing inequality of opportunity. These ideas could shift the power base back to ‘big government’ and away from the current ‘big corporate’ driven agenda.   

It may seem that this is a lot of effort and will cause a lot of trouble to achieve, but as I say, Universities breed most of the leaders of the country, and are the hot houses of radical new thinking. An epoch is perhaps defined by the generational span  of social mingling from the newest under grad’freshers to the post grad’s. People  who are in the political clubs and debating societies, going on protest marches, and influenced by the government policy of the day. “No Platform” as a debate is purely a distraction for the current student epoch, indeed some of the speech content in a public place would probably lead to convictions under current law. No it is something for the Conservatives to tie up student organisations with as a different fight from that which is against their economic policy, and they probably have no intention on winning it, they can just back away and be seen as ‘testing the bounds of democracy and free speech’ while having conventiently fillibustered their way through much of current debate, allowing this single issue to even eclipse  all others in the sphere of higher education.

“No platform’ for hate, discrimination, and incitement to act to destroy democracy is in fact a “No Brainer” for any public institution, and a good many private ones too. Holding up the rights of freedom of speech in relation to these ideas being driven into a somehow more dangerous ‘underground’ is just a tautology in itself – democracy is of course going to have to stop freedom of speech when it preaches the end of democracy and freedom of speech. Instead giving the far right, or extreme islam, or anti Democractic Revolutiuonary Marxism a platform legitimises their cause amongst the weaker minded and more vuldnerable young people. Politicians talk of how Hitler was denied a platform and there in lay his core of support and legitimacy, and the Alt Right and Neo Nazi movements have somehow been able to bend the media’s ear to listen to this, much as it is dismissed, it is kind of a foot in the door for a platform, which should be denied. 

The alternative to not allowing any credible platform to extremeists is not the stifling of debate. It is not the appeasement to the imaginary meta liberal ‘dictatorship’ that international organisations perpetuate in order to suppress debate, that is largely a Neo Liberal myth. We can have a sensible debate in open platform politics about the polciies of the council of refugees, about freedom of movement and employment across national borders, abouut low cost countries, about the influence of Islamic fundamentalists and isolationists within our western societies. There are holy cows to be slaughtered or at least endure aputations in order that crises like the Syrian refugee and Afrcian – Asian migrant crises be managed equitably. 

Most of all though, we need to shift the debate back to being the balance between the interests of labour and capital, society and industry, the individual and the environment, science and technological progress, personal well being versus personal wealth accumulation. Most of all between what is truth and how we can define it, and what is fake and mere opinion. 

  

Neo Liberalism Reaches Its’ Bitter End

In today’s western world, we see that the ideology and policies of Neo Liberalism are coming to a bitter, kicking and spluttering end.

In the same way as the unions became too powerful under the era of Keynsian democratic socialism, as the post war period was in most free western countries was in retrosepct, the system has become to powerful for its own good and there with, corrupt.

Regime Change Reveal Partial Political Vacuums

The danger for a system in its death throws, is collapse without replacement by something sensible and democratic. This is was originally in fact launched the individualistic, globalising ideology of Neo Liberalism into politics in 1979.  From being a far right model for a Darwinian society, where the individual is a competitive, existential entity with no benefit from organised society, into the main stream with Reagan and Thatcher.

We see also the same in Iran in its ‘cultural revolution’ and now Libya, that an unwanted regime is not replaced by a movement which represents the majority who wanted some freedom of speech, but rather it represents a large enough minority with a single socio-economic outlook to sieze and maintain power from the core of a smaller, fanatical minority who assume ruling positions.

Neo Liberalism replaced something that no longer worked in the west, just because it was a strong ideoligcal stand point, the same as the Ayatollah Khomeini did in Iran. People were exhausted by the economic and social turmoil of the 1970s and wanted to turn their backs on the organisations which had once offered freedoms, but not seemed to deny growth in the standard of living and quality of life.

The Rise of Corruption Topples Ideological Empires – Then and Now

In the late 70s going into the 1980s, neither Dennis Healy nor Jimmy Carter could have taken on the unions and won, any more than today Theresa May could take on the Billionaires and the Israeli Zionist Lobby. The Peri Menopausal Neo Liberal political establishment today are in the same position as governments held to ransom by their funders the unions and the uber liberals. In the three decades in which the unions rose from their righeousnous to become corrupt power mongerors, they payrolled the Left and the Right dare not go to war with them.

 

The demise of that era of democratic socialism (think about it! Yes in the USA too) was hastened by the inflation crisis which many economists present probably rightly so as being precipitated by the oil crisis. This was to some a kind of chain effect, a mere starting spark, while to other economists, the western thirst for petroleums was too much for their current political economic systems and policy of the time to bear. The unions could demand more money in the face of rising living costs, thus fuelling inflation.

Many Keynsian thinkers propose that inflation is not really such an issue, you print more money to ensure it circulates and short periods of high inflation are a sign of a vibrant economy. However in reality inflation up into double figures is a heavy form of taxation on ordinary worker’s take home pay. Also inflation driven by consumer price index influence on currency, decreases the value of assets and debt, which are bad for capital and investors.

The ‘Great Moderation’

In terms of getting capitalism working for the economy again and tackling the post 70s crisis, the Neo Liberals had with them some astute economists and some very cynical politicians and billionaires. Their main aims were to dergulate the movement of capital, castrate the unions and in so doing bring in an era of lower inflation.

Over time also, after a decade of much volatility of interest rates, their economists in their central banks and IMF were able to secure a low interest era, during which it can be argued that the costs of lending money and underpinning much of the credit liquidity in the economy by central banks, is a kind of crypto keynsian approach, because it is in reality a governmental subsidy to industry via the banking system. (More on the era of crypto keynsianism in another blog of mine).

These aims and methods in themselves may have been fortititous for the lower half of  earners and net personal wealth, had it lead to investment in productive, free market industries. In fact their could have been a new consumer products boom, coupled to the services and financial products boom. But that would have been inflationary. The other key tool in keeping inflation low over a longer time, was increasing competition on a global basis.

Globalistaion –  Slavery Is Reborn, and Exported

The Neo Liberals talked most about free trade, yet this meant in effect the race to the bottom of the labour cost ladder, where what slavery  and what being a paid worker is a grey area. Inevitably also it comes back to that old favourite of empires, disinfranchisement of land rights. Kicking the natives off their land and destroing their subsistance  lifestyles. It is age old, from the persecution of the Sons of David by the Egyptians, through the Highland Clearances, to today’s slash and burn of the equatorial rain forrests. Yesterday’s sheep grazing is today’s soyabean and palm oil plantation.

Neo Liberalism was going to hit the buffers because the world is not a single free market and will never be so. In the same way as communists viewed the human race as homogenous, the globe was viewed as a single opportunity which would obey the core ideological rules of Adam Smith and all the other free market economists down the ages who spoke of indeed, the Wealth of Nations, and not the well being of the world. Where Neo Liberalism hit the terminus station’s buffers was China, most of any other low cost production country (LCC). The race to China.

China – The Waterloo of Neo Liberalism

China as you may have seen and heard on the news very recently, is a country controlled by a large, non democratic ‘socialist’ government, They do all the bad, naughty economic tricks the Neo Lib’s have spent so much effort in eradicating from the public mind in the west through their control of the main media. China now has command capitalism and prints money, while controlling the value of Yuan on internaional markets. They also invest massively in state infrastructure, and plan entire cities before commanding capitalism to move in and do its very best to make a buck, sorry , yuan or two. In addition they are such a large manufacturing economy, that they can manipulate both the supply and demand for any key commodity or even some advanced componentry.  They allow people to become rich, but tax heavily.  China is so populous that their tourist demand abroad alone is powerful enough to give them political influence. They still only allow most couples a single child before there are punitive financial penalties. They do lots of bad stuff. Yet in Neo La La Land, they get away with and steal jobs from the west.

The promise was that China was opening up, and western companies could make a lot of cash there.  The reality was that western companies would make most cash closing profitable plant in their former indigenous countries, moving to China and then selling back to their old countries. The balance of trade is enormously biased towards China when considering both the EU and the USA, with many corporates no longer being geographically identifiable with the west. The Chinese too learned to compete with value added products as well as being cheap on bricks and electric kettles.

Capitulating to China

The west have capitulated because those who fund those in power, were able to tell this lie about ‘free trade’ creating jobs. AAmongst those are the great retail chain owners who wanted to extend choice and margin on products for ordinary, cash strapped workers.

It took a maverick Billionaire, one Donald Trump, to call the game, because he unlike his rival politicians, doesnt need funding or to get any richer, he just wanted power. This week he is in China, and it seems he genuinely will bring into force a new era of better balance mechanisms with China, such that the US can once again compete in manufacturing.

A Property Precipice?

Will Trump be too late, and any way does he not represent all that is wrong with Neo Liberalism in the first place? His own family’s fortune is based on property and laterly hotels, back to what his good ol’ grand daddy from Germany did in the Yukon over a century ago. But it was in property that the Trumps became archetypal neo liberalists. His father made a fortune in building flats sponsored by the state, as the peace dividend for GI’s returning from WWII. Although Donald has tried various other enterprises, often failing, it is property development he is king of, because, like in a game of monopoly, he has a lot of capital to lever to make new gains.

Now property we have mentioned of course. Its’ value is deflated by high enough inflation in currency,  over time in a typical slow post war ‘2.4’ kids demographic. Inflation running at the levels it did even before the oil crisis of the 70s, means that there was more risk in property. However the returns were still good for developers, landlords and home owners over time due to urbanisation and concentration of industrial centres in the 1940s to the 1970s.

Property and metropolisation became important to the funders of Neo Liberal political parties and they would go on to influence policy for several decades to favour growth, and often unsustainable growth, in ‘real estate’ values.

By the mid eighties, the Unions had been castrated in the key Neo Liberal economies of the UK and USA. So wage rises were arrested in industry, and the emerging modern consumer and business services industries were kept largely union-free there after. This meant that wages were paid to the ‘going market rate, and that is often taking advantage of the percieved bargaining position employers have vs prospective employees, especially with higher unemployment and underemployment as a result of Neo Liberal economics. So they needed to have metropolisation as a driving force, which could be influenced in public policy by centralisation of governmental departments and services. Also they wanted a tacit acceptance of higher immigration, be that legal or illegal in order to keep demand for property up, while also suppressing wages by importing poor, cash hungry workers.

As I blogged on before, another big change in the 1980s was access to credit and the amount of risk the entire credit banking system, and in turn central banks, could take. To extend material standard of living, or enter a better education than your parents, the western consumer borrowed and kept on borrowing, until the value of money leant and the handling of that credit, was more than the value-added-manufacturing industry nationally.

 

All Things, Good or Bad, Come to an End

The combined effects of Neo Liberalism are then to make the top third of society more wealthy and more powerful, and in particular to make the very top 1% mega rich and with the ability to buy out politicians, media houses and now troll the internet against consumer’s own generated media opinion. The lower third of society have stagnated and often become poorer in western countries, even relative to their predecessing generation. While the middle third were the battle ground for a long time for the Neo Libs in bribing them with often the highest relative tax reductions, allowing them to lever to three times income and beyond in a way which helped inflate property prices. The middle class and the house owning working class, became rather obsessed with getting on and moving up the property ladder, to tthe extent where many expected the capital gains on the way to be a major part of their pension when released in later life.

Now of course this latest period of recession and general western economic malaise for ordinary workers locked to one nation, was precipitated by the property scandal know as the Sub Prime Mis-selling fiasco.  Many see that the possibility for a wide bubble, because the level of debt to equity has developed over the last decade again because prices are not sustainable relative to longer term they would claim demand. Too many buyers are off the ladder, and rental prices are squeezing out workers who are not prepared to go into debt just to live in a metropolitan area without owning anything as a result.

Economy Not Working ? – Blame Immigrants and Any Other Scape Goats

After five years of the old cures not working and the republican congress and senate fighting Obama, then the stage was set for a shift out of the Neo Liberal period and into a new, Alt Right one, with immigrants, established minorities, and whom ever you want to call subversive or deviant being the blame for the ills of capitalism’s boundless power. THis is in effect what Hitler did to stir a nation on its economic knees to common, ethnically purified action. Brexit, Trump and some minor victories in Europe are the result, fuelled also by the migrant and refugee crises of the Middle East, Africa and South East / South Central Asia.

The trouble being here in part that immigration in the key Neo Lib’ economies was driving the economy because as above, it was keeping tabs on wage rises within national borders, while supplying the housing market with new renters and eventual first time buyers. Due to flattening growth in domestic populations, declining to as low as 1.4 babies per couple in some western countries, this means a declining population once the baby boomers die off. So it is immigrants who have been stoking the basement boiler of the housing market just by their turning up, and also because in many cases they tend to have larger families and stimulate consumer demand too.

The Paradise-Panama Paper Fly in the Ointment

These last weeks, the truth about the funders of the Alt Righ and Neo Liberalist Polticians has come out. In the same way as the unions were able to extract an unfairly large proportion of wealth from the economy relative to productivity gains, the super rich and global corporates are able to avoid taxation by exporting profits to tax havens. In western countries they are very often most heavily invested in rentier based enterprisesand the credit system which supports the housing bubble. Second to that they are involved in privatised public services and suppliers of materials to the public sector, in particular armaments and medical related products. Productive, value adding industry is now long down the list, and you just have to glance at the FTSE 100 to see that indigenous manufacturers operating in largely private free markets are largely absent. It is dominated by banks & financial institutions, pharma, munitions and rentier utilities.

Like Communism, Neo Liberalism is In Free Fall

Neo Liberalism like Marxist Leninism is based on a false set of utopian ideals, and both became highly authoritarian forms of government who chose in effect, which element in society they rewarded most. Free market ideology is fine and good until you enter into the equation slavery at the bottom end of the world’s supply chains, depletion of natural resources and destruction of the ecosystem, and most of all, political corruption, even though much of it in the USA and UK is legalised. All people are free to compete in the market, but some people are more free to compete than others.

NASty Malt Whisky? 

I read around some blogs tonight and was pleased to see that the Macallan 12 YO is relaunched now and reassuringly expensive. However many of these bloggers have also dismissed the No Age Statement whisky fiasco as a done argument, that there is value to be found in blending good whiskies and not being bound to an age. 

Such bloggers also either live by advertising or get samples to their heart’s content  from the industry and its’ outlets. Self  same bloggers, by google vox pops, hardly every review NAS’s any more oddly enough.

Gee Us a Wee Dram, mak’ it a Malt……

Me? The plebian punter, to whom paying three quid for a dram of Macallan 20 years ago was                         quite alright. Nothing fancier. Standard offerings are guid enough for me. Then why get upset about NASty Malts when I am a hum drum type of guy, a punter doon the pub?

Well at an age when I was thinking of buying more 15 and 18 yo’s and maybe a 25 at some point, I am confronted by three issues. Availability here in Norway, availability in duty free, hand baggage only flight tickets. 

Norway is infamous for high drink pricing, and restricitng availability of harder liqors via the state monopoly shops. Shut 3pm on a saturday to save us from our sins, open 10am monday to give the worse sinners their fix. However the differential between prices of good standard and some ok NAS malts is way down to only about ten or twenty quid max, when we are not in malt of the month territroty back home or Lidl. Duty free remains then a liter for the price of a 75 back home and sometimes better value still. However…..

NAS the Novelty Island

I remember the first NAS was actually an oaked Macallan I think, or the first major brand subversion. It was dry and characterless and just levering the brand over into cheaper seas if you ask me. It was saying Macallan can be done without sherry casks, the famous sherry finish is only one string to our bow. Then we had a spate of cask strength ten year olds,. which were fun and very good value if you had good water to dilute them with. Macallan’s was the better of many, I could take  it neat even. 

However over time we started to see more of this NASty stuff in duty free and on supermarket shelves, and in malt of the month for twenty quid to keep your throat from drying out of a winter friday night. It was fine, Jura did some nice examples, then Highland park did its vikings and so on. They were a bit hit or miss, and could vary bottle to bottle. Aye, but interesting. Now they are becoming the majority of stocks of malt in ‘Travel Retail’ it seems, and it is all beyond a joke.

Less is More, Younger can be Better!…..Apparently

The distillery industry’s marketing people at least say that a non age declared malt whisky frees the master blender to mix a wonderful blend of the best the distillery has to offer, without being tied to a minimum age. Well in fact they are tied to a minimum age. Three years old. I was once misinformed on a tour of the works, and it stuck, that MALT whisky from Scotland had to be 8 years old, maybe they meant they as a distillery did not pass off younger spirit as malt. However Malt is no different from the Lloyd George government’s minimum 3 years of ageing, an attempt at prohibition  and letting the angel have her greater share. Instead of the youngest whisky being 10 or 12 in the standard priced off the shelf bottle, it is now 3, remember that. 

So while we on the one hand are being told that a very old characterful cask could be blended into the NAS and thus enhance the creativity, we have to presume that any given NAS will have whisky which is only three years matured.  

Can we though not have a Beaujolais from our finer pagodaed wee factories of the Heelans? Why the panic from the punter? It will reach new markets, new consumers not aquainted with age-matured determing precieved quality? 

Economics, Economics and more Economics

Some say that  the NAS expansion was an issue with the popularity of Malt. It had become a victim of its’s own success and good product was harder to make for the price point it was ‘competitive’ at. Sherry barrels in particular had become an expensive item, and good oak had to be sourced from the USA.

 Some blenders started experiment and perhaps to reveal their wee secrets, back when age was still more or less mandatory on the label, by launching those ‘finishes’ in wine or bourbon casks.  I suspect that chardonnay, bourbon and maybe even cognac were being used for a long time before, in secret to give a wee extra note to the blender’s choice. Port and red wine I doubt were, they are a dead give away by colour and flavour. The Auchentoshan Burbon finish took things a wee bit too far, tasting like an aged Burbon more than its toffee magic mother spirit. 

The ‘finish’ barrel label became a kind of mantra for marketing mid priced Malts in the 90s and 00s. Some of them frankly were a little interesting, but not really that good, and probably needed more time being wedded in a neutral oak cask to develop subtlety and smoothness. But it was a quick fix to spread interest. 

Enter then NAS. Let us keep malt whisky at a price point, re-educate the consumer, reach new punters and sell them something which is mighty interesting and has a mighty fine interesting gross margin for us the seller. Time and time again we have seen then these NAS’s coming out and displacing their stale old age declared cousing,. and time and time again have they disappointed when compated to standard 12’s and good 15s. Highland Park vikings are interesting on the nose, but compared to their 12 (which can vary batch to batch imho a little too much) they lacked the full HP experience.Bowmore Black Rock was my latest excursion, enticing by colour and aroma, a little let down in the mooth. 

The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get NAStier…..

What we see with cool Gaelic branded premium malts is that they are AGE DECLARED. Aha, so you cannot con the conniseur, monsieur? However you can punt malt whisky out at a non inflationary price point by fluffing it out with 3 year old spirit, and in effect selling your soul to the devil?

The bloggers say ‘who cares?’…. if a NAS is good then the distiller is doing a great job? They then go on to do very few reviews of these allegedly creative and exciting tastes, and instead find those 200 quid plus age declared specials much more interesting. 

Clever Chemistry ?

In blending what used to be a 12 year old minimum age (as malt whisky was declared before in time) product down to a 3 year old base spirit then  you have to be able to do a few clever things to get near the quality of the 10 or 12 you used to make. And they do get near, Glen Livet and Glen Grant have new fighting brand reserves, silly cheap in Denmark last I was there, and they are not that bad at all, especially for drinking a la Canna or Eriskay waddin’or wake, by the tumbler. What the distiller can do is some clever things then>

This is because in fact of course ethanol on its own has little character, and water has none. What we are talking about in ‘character’ is probably less % per weight or volume as the caramel colour they have allowed in Malt whisky for all too long! Now if you are selling a basic entry level at 37% or 40% with a duty free variant at even 43%, you need  only add a very small portion of very characterful old barrell or very high quality first fill barrell product. This will convey a good nose, with interesting notes from matured congener organic chemicals. There will be some taste too, but there will be some  issue with body because the usual spectrum of rather hum drum esters and polyphenols from a 12 /16 year old maturing priocess will be lost to some extent.

At the distilling end you do the reverse, you can distill basically a very good smooth vodka with very little congeners such that your young, carrier “whisky” which is maybe 30% by volume of the entire product, or  even more, is neutral. I have had some good Finlandia specials, and Smirnoff black was rather creamy almost,. You could then make some special runs with more congeners of a paricular faction of the destillation, a cut, or you could permit only those which suit and benefit from a 3 year maturation to go in. 

Being even more cynical, this type of very clean ethanol production means you get a  higher efficiency from a pot still set up, that is more ethanol per batch, and can perhaps run the first distillation quicker at an optimal temperature to get that 40/60% first distillate before it goes to the second still (or third in a few Scot’s distilleries like Springbank). You may as well run it as some punters have already commented, in a column still , you know the type they use on grain and north sea oil!

Lastly you have to be in any case very precise and skillful in how you blend higher value, big character aged barell malt to the three year old presumed ‘ young, plain, vehicular spirit Further to this set of skills, you then have to be careful with the spring water you blend this down from the usual 60% to the excise man’s liking of 37 or 40% ABV. Spring water varies sometimes from some sources or fathering reserviours,  through the year so you need to be careful on when you chooise it in order that it conveys body in the product and does not interfere with the flavours. 

Ranting Old Cynical Me?

 The cynic in me talks here, and no doubt both insults the experience of master distillers while also perhaps inviting a little ‘you should mind your own business’. All I say is that innovation is not just at the marketing end of things, it will be considering effectivisation right through the production process. 

However in effect what is wrong with this NAS innovation and blending to an interesting product? The average punter gets to experience those high character barrels in an airport brand wrapped up in a fancy box and bottle, at a fraction of the price of the product those barrels would go into. A democratisation of quality for the masses!!  Well you could as well say the punter could buy of a minuiture of 18 year old for under a tenner, and then blend it themselves with a good smooth vodka and some freshly drawn burn water! 

There is an argument here though, because of those ‘luxury’ brands from the devil’s own grain blenders and mass branders. Many good ‘scotches’ are very smooth indeed, and yet are of course NAS by default. They will have as much 3 year old maize and wheat spirit in them as possible. Some like Bells Islander were quite smokey and nice with a drop of water. However as many in the industry will remember, whisky had become a fighting brand internationally for the entire industry, with the value of malt low and none of the major brand owners willing to market malt. It fought itself into a low margin, low quality position and was reliant on marketing to make up for content. I can tell you that all the big standard brands of blended are a lot better now than they were in the mid eighties, when paint stripper doing an impression of whisky was par for the course. 

Alternative Fixes Than NAS

Unlike the late seventies, early eighties, the Malt whisky industry is not on a spiral to low profitabily, but it is threatened as some say, by its own success. Good maturing barrels are hard to come by relative to demand.. Some distilleries needed complete refurbishment while others need to expand to keep up with demand.

On the plus side, the rise of malt has meant that dozens of distilleries have been allowed to sell their delicious malt while once they were tied to only supply the fiends of grain blending. On the down side we have NAS and even nastier often, ‘pure malt’, which are often confections like ‘Monkey Shoulder’, which have lowered the threshold to malt whisky, and devalued it by in large. 

The answer to me, a simple idiotice business school master graduate, would have been to say ‘ our 12 year old is bloody magic’ and on the one hand charge more for it, while on the other cut supply to the grain blenders ill trade, and to hell with ‘pure malts’. 

However that is beyond the ken of the big groups who own nearly all the quality disilleries now. They want to sell their blended brands, and they understand volume and price point competition is where the majority of profit growth should come from when they look at growing their malt brands. 

NAS – From Novely to No More Please!

 In its’ beginning I thought NAS was kind of a niche marketing effort to non whisky drinkers such that they could understand the complexities of the offering, in a less ‘stuffy’ way than the 10,12,15,18,25 trad’label way. A kind of novelty corner and doing no real harm.Now,  the Malt Bloggitelli have their heads in the sand by in large, from my google vox pops, and are living in cloud grand-a -bottle land where nothing is less than 25 years old, thinking this malaise is going to blow over and won’t profoundly change the quality and values of the industry. The shelves of supermarkets and duty free outlets are being taken over by NAS, while the speciality shops have to exact an every higher price for age declared good whiskies. The Campbells are coming! 

Well to me as a cynic,  it looks like NAS could be the new blended whisky race to the bottom. Okay it will try to cover over the difficulties with mass producing a high quality, matured product with a facsimilie aimed at growth markets and younger consumers. I was once a young consumer, and it was the allure of maturity, McTerroir and tradition which made me attached to my once hidden national drink, rather than dismissing it as kalyard. 3 year old whisky with a funky label is tatt, lamb ironically dressed as mutton. Why not age declare or state a youngest age in the small print if it is any older than three year festered vodka? 

Macallan Trail Blazing Back to Age Declared “Standard” Bottles? 

I remember  many the time ordering a Macallan and getting its fine golden promise in an unpretentious cut crystal tumbler, a scotch glass Frank Sinarta would have recognised. How it rolled over  the tongue and despite not being a wild gipsy girl with smokey allure from the camp fire, it was a wonderful dram. which spoke to the soul of a Scotsman. You could rely on it, and once in a while it was back in the 90s, around fifty pence or a quid more than general spirits, or even Glen Morangie. It  had a kind of ‘brightness’ to the whole experience, light of colour and taste and uplifting without being pretentious. You could swig it or sip it gently, or let it caress ice cubes to release a caramelly cooler experience.  Then it all went wrong and then it went NAS, Now they have relaunched a 12, at a fairly hefty price tag for what once was standard. Yet that is the way it maybe should be, supply and demand determines price if the quality is upheld. I hope this is a good purchase, I need to order it specially, which takes us back to sqaure one, good whisky goes with age and price is not an issue within reason.