March 11, 1996
This winter has been a very good one for backcountry skiers in Colorado. The snowpack in the north and central Rocky Mountains has been well above normal in most locations and the snow has fallen on several occasions rather than all in one dump. The fine conditions have lured numerous outdoor enthusiasts into the backcountry.
Being an avid backcountry enthusiast myself, I found myself itching to get out for a tour a few weeks ago. To my dismay, however, I discovered that one of my skis was starting to delaminate. This seemed a rather severe and depressing setback at first and I began to weigh the options of more mundane weekend activities. Fortunately, before I gave up, I noticed my now ancient-looking pair of old wooden skis in the corner. Memories of breaking trail as a child and learning how to carve a telemark turn swirled about in my head. I decided to give them a try.
At the trailhead, the old woods seemed skinny and frail. The low-cut boots had no support whatsoever. The bindings were very basic and the skis themselves were extremely light. I wondered how I ever managed to ski on them without breaking a leg or one of the skis themselves. I tried to comfort myself with the fact that despite their frail look and feel this pair of skis had outlasted my more modern pair by many miles and many, many years.
As I began to ski my anxiety melted away. The old familiar stride came back to me. With each kick-and-glide, I felt more comfortable. The skis began to feel good and right just like they felt many years ago. The feel of wood skis on snow is different than modern skis. The wood seems to hold better in the transition between each glide without impeding the glide itself. Modern skis have to be rewaxed frequently. Wax remains on wood longer because in seeps into the pores of the wood. Also, the flex of a wood ski is different than a foam-core ski. It’s not necessarily any better or worse — it’s just different. Eventually, I came to the realization that my old wood skis were every bit as good if not better than my newer plastic skis — at least on relatively flat terrain.
The real test, however, was yet to come. I skied until I found a nice powder glade with some steepness to it so I could try some turns. I was very tentative at first, still uneasy about how the light boots and bindings would work for carving turns. I know I had been accustomed to my more modern ski/binding/boot combination with its stiff positive response to my every nudge. The idea dawned on me that I had been using the newer setup as a crutch for poor technique.
Perhaps it was the perfect conditions and the light powder snow which is so forgiving to carve turns in. You don’t really need the best equipment or even good equipment to ski in such conditions. Perhaps it was the fact that I just felt lucky to be skiing at all that day. Whatever the reason, I found myself carving uninterrupted sets of linked telemark turns and just loving it. The technique could not be the least bit off; it had to be right or the turn wouldn’t work. But when it was right it felt just right. I ended up taking many runs down that same slope until I had tracked it all up. Then I found another slope and did it again, absolutely giddy in the realization that I could actually ski on these things and enjoy it — immensely. At the end of the day, I glided happily back to the trailhead delighted with my rediscovered treasure — my old pair of wood skis!