Monthly Archives: January 2018

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.