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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)


Looking very confident on skis, though looks can be very deceiving.

CANADA - Kitchener (Wk.4 of 16 weeks)
Week 37 of World Tour

Cross-Country Skiing

When I was about 20, I went downhill skiing with a couple of my friends on Mount Hotham, one of the best skiing resorts in Victoria (Australia) and about a 4 hour drive north of Melbourne. We hired our skis and shared the rental of a chalet, and all we were going to do for the weekend was ski. The others had been skiing before, and were quite competent. But for me it was only my second experience, so I was still at the snow plowing stage, where I’d keep my knees together, point both tips of my skis inwards and angle them slightly against the snow so I could brake as I inched my way down the steep slopes.

After a very encouraging first descent, where I skied for hundreds of metres from the top of the slope to the base of the mountain without falling, I was then ready to increase my speed and try it once again. So I caught the ski lift to the top and abandoned my snow-plow technique for the streamlined speed technique (which I had no training in whatsoever). And 50 metres later disaster struck. As I started downhill, at a much quicker and more exciting pace, I realized that I had no idea of how to turn, slow down or stop. So I kept picking up speed until I came to a sharp bend, and being unable to turn, I crashed into a huge mound of fresh snow, landing as if on a soft pile of pillows.

But to take you through it in more detail, the tips of my skis speared into the side of the mound, jamming themselves firmly into the snow causing me to somersault and land flat on my back. Joe, who was following close behind, could only see a couple of legs sticking skyward as my body had disappeared into the snow.

“Are you alright?” he asked, with understandable concern.

“I think so”, I said laughing, “but I’ve got a great big pain up my arse.”

And soon I found out why. The force of the impact had snapped one of my skis which then flipped up and tore my pants, cutting one of my butt cheeks in the process. Yet all I was concerned about at the time was what the ski hire shop would do when they saw the broken ski.

So when I was asked if I’d like to go cross-country skiing, I thought it would be a good idea. I’d never gone skiing again after that scary incident nearly 30 years earlier, so I thought that skiing on level ground would be a safe way to get back into it. After all, how much could it hurt?

Well it did hurt, but in a very different way.

Five of us went to Laurel Creek Conservation Area, and again I was the beginner. The Canadians live with snow for 4-5 months of the year, so it’s not unusual that most of them can ski. At least our visit was going to be a short one, maybe only a couple of hours.

The first thing I noticed was that only the tips of my boots were hinged to the skis. This allowed me to walk while wearing my skis, while still keeping them in constant contact with the snow. And the skis were must sleeker than usual, so there was less friction against the snow, and walking would be easier.

Finding a walking technique took a little effort, but soon I found one which suited me, and I kept up with it for the next hour and a half.

I was told that following in the existing ski tracks was the best way to go because it took less effort. And I soon worked out how to best use my ski poles, which are used to help you move forward, much like boat oars do. While I was walking on level ground, I jabbed them into the snow by my side, gradually quickening my pace as I got confident with my balance. But it became very challenging when going up or downhill, even for very small slopes of one or two feet. Eventually I worked out that going uphill became possible when I jabbed my ski poles into the snow behind me, thus pushing myself up. And going downhill was much safer when I jabbed the ski poles into the snow ahead of me, using them like brakes.


Trying to get up after losing my balance (my second fall).

But again, as I became more confident I began to forget about the rules and techniques, resulting in 3 falls. The first was just a simple slip. The second was due to becoming off-balance. But the third was going down a much steeper gradient where I couldn’t stop. Fortunately I fell before reaching the bottom, braking my fall with my face. I lay there for a while thinking about how comfortable it was, but soon I had to get up and catch up with the others.

But that’s not where the ‘hurt’ came into it. The hurt was noticed on the next day and lasted for 3-4 days afterwards. It was my arms and my legs. And especially my hands and wrists. I never realized that so many muscles were being used when cross-country skiing, especially my grip on those blasted ski poles. I always imagined it to be like going for a leisurely stroll.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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