Friday, 11 March 2011

All that sparkles isn't gold

Advice is free, often for a reason. It can often sound like it's professional and well founded, but in reality is dribbling from the mouth of someone with no clue. I had to accompany 16 school kids on a winter trip and it involvd some cross country skiing. I am pretty lousy at skiing having grown up in Australia. I mean, if hell froze over, it would still be too warm for skiis in Queensland. If you can't picture that, then imagine that this is the opposite to what I know:

Since I know nothing about skiing either, I sought the advice from those around me regarding which equipment I needed. I was told:
  1. cross country skis will do fine
  2. use second hand shoes, save your money
  3. you'll be ok, it's only 8km to the cabin
Now normally I would have the opportunity to test things out for myself, but, my son was ill so I didn't have a chance. This was my second mistake. The first was getting advice from people who really couldn't care less about wether I enjoyed the trip or not.

We began our trip at 10.00am and it was blowing a gale. The temperature was -6 celcius on the mountain however the wind-chill made it feel much colder. It began fine and I thought I was doing quite well. I had good ski poles too, which was a plus. That was, until they began collapsing on their own. I didn't have a screw driver to tighten the clamp so I trudged along without using the poles much as they couldn't support me at all. Luckily, one of the students had a canned drink so I used the ring pull to tighten the screws. Once this was fixed, I had to contend with the soft snow.

I am a fairly big guy. I weigh about 100kg and with my pack on that went up to 116 kg. The skiis I had require a track consisting of compressed snow, without which they are very unstable and difficult to use even for a seasoned skiier. I am not a seasoned skiier. It sucked. Badly. Falling is bad enough, but doing it with a pack in loose snow is worse still. My foot would roll, the ski would sink and I'd go over. this happened quite a few times. The fact was, I received bad advice because what I really needed was mountain skiis. They are wider and allow my foot to be closer to ground and are therefore much more stable. If I was to buy them, I would also need to buy a pair of shoes as the bindings are different to cross country skiis and shoes.

I was about half way, thanking God that I hadn't twisted an ankle or knee. I realised my shoes started to feel quite loose. On close inspection, my shoes had begun to crack. Snow was melting and running into my shoes. The leather of course stretched and I ended up with clown shoes for ski boots. there was no stability at all. I received these vintage ski shoes from my father-in-law who had the best of intentions, but unfortunately had not treated the leather shoes in 30 years. They were brand new but had seen 30 winter / summer cycles which had damaged the leather and the sealant's integrity.

Thank goodness for friends with snow scooters.

My friend drove me the last 2km to the cabin as my shoes and skiis were unusable.

I am active and enjoy physical pursuits. It's humbling when this kind of thing happens. I have not had much luck because the first time I tried skiing, the guide used the wrong wax and I ended up plowing the track with stalactites on the bottom of my skiis. This forced me to walk 7km as the skiis would not slide along the snow at all. I am not sure if this is natures way of telling me to stick to the temperate and desert climates that I am used to, or just to hold off until spring. I am no quitter but I tell you, I am no fan of raging in the frozen wastes when bad advice and poor equipment collide on the same timeline. One of the reasons I started this blog was to try give some information and advice that I have learned (often the hard way), that I know works. Of course my advice is free too, so you take your chances. The difference is though, I care enough about this information to post it on a blog instead of just mentioning it in passing.

Here is my advice to those just starting out in winter sports.
  1. Take your time and figure out what you need carefully. If the sport or activity is something you are sure you want to continue, spend money on it. Buy what you need and make sure it's decent quality. Your enjoyment, and most likely a small degree of sanity will hinge on the ability of your equipment to perform.
  2. Test your gear before you go.
  3. Be realistic about your skills. If you are unskilled or out of practice, have an escape plan and people who can help.
  4. Be careful who you get advice from. Bad advice can get you killed. If the advice is bad, remember that the return trip is always harder, therefore turn around early and make the journey home while you have the energy.
  5. Take plenty of food. It's amazing how a hot drink from a thermos and a couple of biscuits can lift your energy levels and spirits.
This list is not exhaustive, but it's what I will be following in the future. Stay safe.

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