Méribel Mottaret, January 2016
It wasn’t a day for going out on the slopes. Wind, heavy snowfall, mist – more the conditions for reading a book than being outdoors. Then the wind dropped, the snowflakes became smaller and visibility increased. So we decided to dig out our cross-country skis.
For those who know little about this sport, it belongs to a different world from alpine skiing. The skis are light and long, have no steel edges and were developed in Norway to torture other nations. The bindings fasten to the toe of the flexible boot and the heel is free which means the skier, unless of Norwegian extraction, has little control.
We learned this type of skiing when we lived in Norway years ago and while never experts, became competent. However, like a little-used language, such skills wane with time. We have our own kit in France but we had not used it for years. No problem, we thought. We set out for a nearby cross-country area. The radio had reported the trails were groomed and there is nothing like a well-prepared track. It holds the ski in a straight line and makes the required stride-and-glide motion easy.
There was some old wax on the bases of the skis from the last time we used them. Waxes are specific to temperature and we had no idea what the conditions were at the last outing. Ski-waxing is a black art – in our case, more a dirty grey one – and many hours can be spent getting it right.
‘Let’s just go with what’s on there,’ Tony said. It was the easy option.
Fifteen minutes later, we were still trying to get our boots to attach to the bindings, partially seized up with lack of use. I succeeded but then had to remove my skis to help Tony who was struggling. When kneeling beside him pushing his foot down failed, I tried standing on the toe of his boot. This finally worked and he was shod. Putting my own skis back on was more difficult the second time and while I was trying, our Dutch neighbours walked by. We’d see them on cross-country skis a couple of days earlier and had smiled to ourselves – not mocked, just smiled – at their wobbles, lack of speed and minimal expertise. After all, hills and the Dutch are not normally associated. It was now their turn as they grinned and walked on by.
Finally, we were ready. We had a small hill to go up and that was no problem. We had plenty of grip – the wax was great. However, once on the flat we realised we had both grown. The snow was building up under our skis to a depth of around 3cm. Platform shoes were once a fashion statement. Skis are not fashion items. Clearly we had the wrong wax – one for warmer conditions – and could barely plod let alone glide. To make things worse, the perfect tracks we’d been hoping for had filled up with new snow and were little more than indentations. Skis off and scraper out. We removed as much of the grey sticky stuff as possible and gave the skis a rub with a special cork block.
Suffice to say putting the skis back on was no easier the second time. Our Dutch friends waved cheerily to us. They saw us only when we were stationary. Our efforts gained us a marginal increase in speed but not enough so we had to go round the same wretched procedure again. The air was turning blue. At the third time of trying we made progress. I had some glide – more than Tony, which did not help matters. Our outing lasted two hours; we skied for around thirty minutes.
All was not bad, however. There were some positives:
- We didn’t fall over
- We used plenty of energy – mostly nervous – and got some exercise
- We gave all our best swear words an outing
- We thought better of our Dutch friends
- Our skiing could only improve
Although maybe we’d have been more sensible if we’d simply read a book.