Wallflowers: the shark will be jumped

If I thought I was done with my ‘jumping the shark’ theme when New York magazine featured a shopping guide, I was wrong.

This time we have the Y-chromosome version, courtesy of GQ magazine, featuring a retro-photo. I guess Bill Koch is the GQ photo editor’s archetypal Nordic skier.

Photo of Bill Koch skiing cross-country classic technique in 1979s
Bill Koch skiing cross-country. photo: John Kelly / Getty Images

The author of the article moved back to his home state of Michigan during the pandemic and resumed skiing cross-country after a long hiatus. His article has some familiar but interestingly stated elements like this:

I forgot how quiet it is… [as a teenager] skiing drained my batteries and kept my overactive brain quiet for an hour after school every day. Skiing is sublime.

Bill Bradley, “Cross-Country Skiing Is the Ideal Pandemic Workout” GQ magazine, Jan. 27 2021

Of course given the title he uses ‘the toughest sport’ references including VO2max, caloric expenditure, etc. And the article ends with a bit of a clothing gear guide, but nothing on hardware- because ski shops have been sold out for months already, so if you didn’t buy your setup by Thanksgiving, you’re out of luck. At least that’s implied, but I think if you know the gear and are flexible about selection you can still forage multiple shops to mix and match.

I have a bone to pick though, with a quote from Matt Liebsch, owner of Pioneer Midwest in Minnesota: “You’re going to fall over no matter what. You don’t need to spend money on a lesson from a coach to tell you ‘stand up, you fell over'”. No disrespect to Liebsch, but that statement (unintentionally I’m sure) reinforces the perception of cross-country skiing as a form of recreation with a high barrier to entry. Every adult has spent the majority of their life knowing how to walk and run. Isn’t there a better way to explain that their newbie experience on skinny skis will include feelings of helplessness or embarrassment over the inability to stay upright?

It may not be snobbery per se, but there is a quality of ‘you don’t get it unless you get it’ that comes between the people who do XC and those who don’t. At the core is a question of whether true appreciation of the sport is something that just happens or if it can be acquired.

It seems evident that sustaining this particular sport as a healthy form of outdoor recreation will require a high success rate of getting newbies over that threshold of uncertainty and self-consciousness, so that they get to a place where they can begin to fall in love with it. To do that, those who know better may have to reach back and figure out some new tricks for teaching and training. But that’s a topic for another kind of post entirely.

To continue with this segment of ‘wallflowers jump the shark’: Finland’s experiment with ‘ski sharing’, which is exactly what it sounds like, and something you can only do in a city that has snow-covered bike paths, a civic-minded citizenry, and has just been anointed this year’s Europe ‘Green Capital’.

A ski sharing pick-up point in the city of Lahti Finland
A ski sharing pick-up point in the city of Lahti Finland (City Skis)

The city of Lahti has rolled out the ‘City Skis’ program to promote zero-carbon ways of moving about the city center, and designated additional trails for skiing within the city center to support the initiative. I have to wonder how such an initiative would have fared during binding-system wars of the 1980s-1990s.

We wanted to kick off our year as Europe’s Green Capital in a good-humoured way by gliding through the market square on skis

Anna Huttunen, project manager of sustainable mobility for the city of Lahti

For two different articles about Lahti City Skis, see The Independent and Forbes magazine.

And finally, the WSJ is at it again, with another salute to the wealthy-healthy Boomer. The title says it all: “She’s 72 and Logging 1,200 Miles on Skate Skis” (requires login). Speaking of people who ‘just get it’, credit to Ms Avins, who took up XC at 61. She was a lucky journalist who retired from that biz just in time. Sure beats driving an Uber all winter.

Best line in the article: “I find it meditative to go out skate skiing alone,” [Mimi Avians] says. “Why ruin a good trail with music?” OK Boomer, way to tell those young whippersnappers to get those buds out of their ears.

Thanks for reading.