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Ski Advice & Tips

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Below is some practical information on skiing in Sackville, provided by TOC Member and long-time skier Ross Thomas.

Skiing/Hiking with Children

Disclosures: I confess to having dragged my children perhaps all too frequently into the forest, and to having made more mistakes than I care to enumerate, yet despite this, they all still continue to head to the woods.

What follows are some of my hard learned lessons

1.Try to make it fun. This means going slower than you might wish, returning home sooner than planned, doing the same thing over and over for longer than you can tolerate, or getting off the trail and bushwhacking. Most kids do better in front of adults, and personally any whining seems more tolerable coming from that direction. Once kids are 3 or 4 years old, bringing friends is a huge boon- the degree of whining is inversely proportional to the number of peers on your expedition- some combination of distraction and being too embarrassed to complain in front of peers.

2. Warmth. Try to ensure kids extremities start out warm and stay that way. Warm, dry socks and mitts and boots, perhaps on really cold days preheated before donning. Socks with wool and mitts with nylon outers (gloves usually lead to cold fingers), and spares of both. If you stop for a snack, store mitts next to your skin so you avoid cold hands into cold mitts= misery. If you plan to stop at a warming hut to get warm, be sure someone goes ahead and gets a fire going at least 30-60 minutes before arrival so the hut can warm up.

If hands or feet do get cold, putting your warm mitts or socks on your child is better than putting them in cold mitts from a backpack. Or sticking their bare hands onto your bare skin can also work but is more unpleasant. And handwarmers are a good thing to throw in your pack.

And since adults will be moving more slowly, giving up their warm mitts, and exposing their skin to freezing and/or wet hands and feet, why not dress a little warmer yourselves?

3. Snacks. ALWAYS carry ready to eat snack food (my kids are past 30 and I still always make sure I am carrying food for the inevitable “Dad, do you have anything to eat?”), and water.  Stopping for some vittles to me is an integral aspect of outdoor excursions. It is a chance to look and listen, to play with friends, do a little local exploring, and forces kids into the uncomfortable realization that maybe adults are OK after all, and maybe this skiing/hiking torture is actually a good thing.

4. Safety. The more remote you are or the colder it is, the more planning you need to do around “what if”. Locally it is mostly carrying band aids and being prepared to turn around and head home if things aren’t going well.

 As kids get older and are wandering on their own, be wary of someone getting lost (guilty, of course). Assume children have no sense of direction. Keeping them in view, having an adult at the front and another at the back of your group, and frequently doing “attendance checks all lessen the risk of separation.

5.Other tips. Once children can stay upright on their skis, it is quite easy to tow them. You can make a simple tow line with a length of boot lace and a 15 cm dowel or stick, or using kids ski poles- strap around basket- child holding other basket and holding other strap or affixing it to your pack or belt. This can be a fun break when monotony or fatigue sets in, or to catch up to faster siblings or friends. However kids aren’t working very hard when being towed and will get cold quickly.

You can also assist kids up hills, or push them along flats, using the handle of one of your ski poles placed gently in the small of their backs.

And believe it or not, one day, while you are scooting along the trails, one of those kids will whiz by you, and your initial chagrin will slowly broaden into a beaming smile.

Skiing in Sackville

On Grip and Glide: the two essentials of Classic Cross-Country Skiing.

Grip occurs when the middle section of the ski is pressed into the snow and sticks to the snow crystals, allowing the skier to push against this area of friction to achieve forward propulsion. This “kick zone” is in the centre of the ski base, from the heel to 10 to 20 cm in front of the toe. This zone may be comprised of a raised pattern (wax less or step skis), specially attached or inserted skins (skin skis), or a hard rubber inlay material with many tiny exposed [KB1] fibres ([KB2] Zero or Multi skis). The zone may also simply be the area of the ski base where grip wax is applied (the wax pocket).

Wax less skis will work in most snow conditions, require little preparation or maintenance, but are slower and noisier than other options. They are very versatile, no fuss, and are certainly what most people would buy to start skiing.

Skin skis will work well in most snow conditions, require some care of the skin section, and have better glide than wax less skis.

Zero skis work best at or above freezing and with older snow. They have been mostly supplanted by the more versatile skin skis, but are faster and allow the user to also skate ski if so desired.

The kick zone of Zero skis can be refreshed, to improve grip, by sanding it gently with number 100 sandpaper. If being used on colder snow a number 60 to 80 sandpaper is a bit better.
(I have read of folk using regular grip wax for colder conditions on the special roughened base. I’m not sure if the wax would have to be removed for zero skis to work on wet snow again or whether the wee hairs would poke through enough to get grip.)
The original Zero skis were called Hairies, and were created by simply sanding in a rotary fashion the kick zone of a regular waxable ski to create protruding fibres which then act like a “micro step” ski.

Waxable skis are best at or below freezing temperatures. The best temperature range is minus two to minus ten or twelve, when there is still a bit of water in the snow to create great glide, yet an applied coat of wax can provide great grip. When it is below freezing, these are usually the most efficient skis and have superior glide to waxless and skin skis.

On Kick Waxing In my opinion too many people have been put off waxable skis by pundits who make waxing sound far more complicated than it needs to be! It takes less than two minutes to put two coats of kick wax on a pair of skis. Simply check the temperature, asses whether you have old or new snow, pick your wax, apply, and ski!

Choosing a wax: The choice of wax depends on both the snow temperature and the snow condition:

Warmer temperatures: snow crystals are wetter and more malleable, resulting in less friction and more glide, so a warmer (i.e. softer) wax works best.
Colder temperatures: the snow crystals are harder and have less moisture, there is less glide and more friction, and a colder (harder) wax should be used
Fresh snow: Fresh snow crystals are sharper and grip better so one should use a colder (harder) wax than indicated by the air temperature alone.
Older or transformed snow: the snow crystals have been rounded by thawing and re-freezing. This snow is less abrasive, with more glide and less friction, so a warmer and softer grip wax can be used than is suggested by the temperature alone.

Swix Kick wax containers or tubes usually have a recommended temperature range of use that applies either to fresh snow (new, pointy crystals) or transformed snow (older rounded crystals). For example Swix Blue Extra is indicated for use at -1⁰ to -7⁰ C for fresh snow, and -3⁰ to -10 for transformed snow. (Toko waxes have two guages – for air temp and snow temp).

Extending the kick pocket:   Another other variable that influences grip, is the length of the kick wax zone or kick pocket. Kick wax, being designed to grip snow, will cause resistance to glide. The longer you make the kick pocket the better the grip, but the worse the glide. This effect is due to the inherent camber of cross country skis as follows:  When you are gliding on a ski, the kick zone is actually slightly above the snow due to the upward curve, or camber, of the centre part of the ski. When you stop gliding and start to push ahead, the kick zone is pushed down into the snow by putting all one’s weight on that ski. The kick zone comes into maximum contact with the snow, providing grip. Skiing with a bit of a bouncy stride accentuates this kick zone contact, and hence can improve grip.

How to apply wax: Grip wax is best applied in a thin layer, corked smooth, then applied in a second layer in the same fashion.

It is easier to put a warm, soft wax over a harder wax, so if you aren’t sure which type of wax to use, start with a harder wax. If you are slipping backward, put a softer wax over it, or extend the kick zone. Another trick to improve grip is to put a short section of a warmer wax over a colder wax just under the binding section of the ski.

Klister: As temperature approaches zero the increased water in the snow makes the grip zone tend to slip, yet causes a slowing of the glide along the whole length of the ski due to suction. The grip can be improved with klister, which is very messy and sticky.  It is easiest to apply when warmed in a cup of hot water. It is easy to spread with the supplied spatula – a little goes a long way and is less messy. The skis should then be left outside to cool before use.  Consider wrapping the kick zones in a plastic bag in your car, unless you enjoy klister on everything and everywhere. If you have an extra pair of skis, keeping one for klister only is a common practice. Klister is also excellent for cold, transformed (thawed and refrozen) snow where it gives the best grip of any wax option. Once the klister has been cooled you can also cover it with a layer temperature appropriate kick wax. The snow crystals are still able to dig into the klister and your car, clothes etc. are shielded from its evil effects!

Glide wax:  Glide occurs mostly on the front and back thirds of the ski base. Many people put glide wax on these areas, ironing it in (“hot waxing”) or using sprays, roll-ons and pastes. There is a school of thought that says the newer black-based skis don’t improve much with hot waxing for most skiers. Certainly the TOC’s philosopher laureate, Clarence Leblanc, is of this school. This is perhaps why he was exiled to Shediac!

All ski types mentioned above will benefit from glide waxing.

When the ski bases start to develop grey or white (oxidized) areas with a roughened surface, these areas can be smoothed with one of those flat green abrasive dish scrubbies (the 3-M brand is said to be best). This gets rid of little hairs which can add friction and to slow you down.

The Glide Scale

Many skiers fear too much glide, and with this in mind there is a scale!

“Although shrouded in mystery, I think the glide scale grew out of the “Elizabethan Barometer” (EB), and according to an e-mail Ross sent on 2020/03/17, the EB was graded for the speed-averse skiers as follows:
(1) Really good (=have to pole down hills, good track, good grip, lousy glide);
(2) Fair;
(3) Bad (fair grip, good glide, fair track); and
(4) Scary/She won’t ski (beautiful glide, a bit of grip if you’re lucky, luge like conditions).” -Kip Jackson

Another scale is also based on the time to descend the Birches, with 120-165 seconds = 3-4/4,165-210 seconds = 2-3/4, 210-255 seconds = 1-2/4 and over 255 seconds = 0-1/4, a scale demanded by the faithless physics crowd.

How to go more slowly and lessen glide.

1. Use slower skis: Waxless skis are slower. Shorter skis are also slower and easier to turn with.

2. Ski on flatter terrain, even if you have to do the same sections repeatedly to satisfy your ski needs. Here are some flatter areas of the trail system: a) The first part of the Red trail across the Access Road to the top of the first hill to Doncaster Pond, and the Lollipop loop. a) If you start from the Quarry entrance farther along Walker Road the hills are gentler and easier to manage. LeRond , Coombs Road, Cypass and the trail from the end of Cypass to to the View (aka Bog Road) are flatter. The Wood road from the ATV trail to the Sunny Spot on Blue and back is also quite a flat section.

3. Don’t be shy to remove skis and walk down hills, (keeping well away from the ski track)

4. Once you start down a hill you can slow progress a bit by dragging your poles, or by planting the poles in front of you, as long as you get started before too much speed is gained. 

5. The best way to slow down is to snow plow with one leg out of the track and one in (I presume Neil Young was thinking of skiing when he wrote “A wheel in the ditch and a wheel in the track”). You can also snow plow with both skis if the track has been groomed flat. Snow plowing gives you a broader base and better balance in a speedy situation. It is best to practice on gradual, wide hills to get the hang of it. And you can always side step down hills.

When to Ski:

Whenever possible ski at the time of day when conditions are best. As noted above, if the temperature is minus eight to minus three and there is an abundance of soft snow, you should neither cook, nor clean and if possible avoid work; you should ski!
On bitter winter days, ski in the afternoon and on warmer days in the morning. As Mick Jagger sings, “You can’ always ski when you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you ski when you need”.
If it is above freezing use wax less, skins or  Zero skis, or ski somewhere flat where grip is less critical.
If there is only 2-3 cm of snow, the golf course or big field at Beech Hill Park can be surprisingly good, especially early in the season. If that 2-3 cm comes as wet snow with some freezing rain and ice pellets, sometimes roads like the Access Road, or rail trail are coated enough to ski. But take your rock skis.

Stilt Skiing and how to avoid it

Stilt skiing happens when the temperature is right around zero degrees. It is especially likely to happen in fresh snow as the temperature starts to warm up to zero or the sun comes out. Snow initially adheres to the ski base (icing up), and then starts to form bigger and bigger snow balls under foot which create misery. Sometimes you can mitigate this if you bang your ski onto the snow and try to glide forward forcefully to dislodge the snowball. Often the only solution is to remove skis and scrape with a ski scraper, credit card or the opposite ski. Rubbing off the snowball without removing the more stubborn ice underneath will result in frustratingly rapid recurrence of the snow ball. Once it goes above one degree, or below one degree, stilt skiing is less likely to occur.

Waxless skis tend to be a bit less likely to ice up than zero skis, and pre-treating the ski bases, tip to tail with some kind of anti icing product can help a lot. Many folks use silicone-based boot waterproofing spray on the kick zone of wax less or waxable skis to prevent snow from sticking.