In the past six weeks we have become cross-country ski obsessives. The obsessive part of it is no surprise as we tend towards the addictive, but the fact that skiing has become our target is both a shock, given the horror of previous attempts at it, and also fortuitous as we find ourselves based in a winter wonderland that is as flat as a witch's tit. If it wasn't skiing I might have to have another crack at skating, and that is an experience that should never be repeated in public.
To start with we had a lesson. If everyone who took up MTBing did the same we would be millionaires. And then we bought the shonkiest sets of prehistoric kit from Canada's most boring woman, who talked so much about herself when we met she gave herself a migraine, presumably through oxygen deficiency. We paid £75 each for skis, boots and poles that were left behind when Captain Scott left the Pole, having applied our principle that you can achieve more through practicing good technique and physical capabilities than you can by just buying Gucci kit. And we are notoriously tightwad bastards.
Then, like anything, it's just a matter of putting in the hours. Initially, it was a combination of my two greatest talents - falling over and swearing, and gave me pains in the most surprising places. But as we know, practice makes perfect, or in our case practice makes us as technically inept as ever but much, much faster. Now, when we crash, it's a flailing, windmilling, scrotum-splitting cluster fuck rather than a slow speed, giggle inducing stumble with resulting snow angel.
The xc ski version of the eternally tedious "what tyres...?" question is the "which wax...?" question. But in skiing's case it is really, really, game changingly important, rather than just being anally retentive. On each ski, under your foot, you apply a layer of kick wax. Without kick wax, when you drive one leg forward, the other one, which is on the ground, shoots out behind you, you go nowhere fast, apart from the hospital to have your groin muscles reattached. offensive Anglo Saxon then fills the air and kills all the delicate Canadians. Think an 18 certificate bambi on ice. So the leg that is on the snow has to grip the snow in some way, and this is the job of the kick wax. There is a bewildering array of wax available, they are graded by temperature in five degree increments and also for new or old snow. Now, I am a card carrying cynic, crafted by years of being ripped off by the cycling industry, and I am pretty damn sure that half the waxes are identical, but I am also aware of the times I have got it wrong and ended up,skiing on the spot while the Talking Head's 'Road to Nowhere' played in my head. The other joy of kick wax is that it will also stick like shit to a blanket on any trail debris - leaves and twigs stuck in the wax have the drag factor of a bent disc rotor and if you are in majestic full glide and hit a big enough bit of trail smeg it is like getting a stick in your spokes; stops your skis stone dead and sends you straight out the front door. Always fun.
When you get the wax right, your technique half decent, and you nail the clothing combo, cross country skiing allows you to fly along in some stunning places. Normally with an icicle of snot (snotcicle) hanging from your nose. Its reputation as a kick ass tough workout is well deserved and at no point is there any requirement to do anything gnarly. Even when you are just noodling along on your MTB, there is this niggling thought that you should really go and do something a bit 'Red Bull Rampage' even though you really want to stick to 'Cycling Miss Daisy'. The sun is reflected back off the snow, you can rock sunnies in February and the likelihood of getting hit by a icy monsoon is slim to none. Unlike running, our other true love, there is no pressure to ever do anything competitive. If you take up running, and build up to the point where you can run 10 km in training, the inner Seb Coe in all of us starts whispering "So how FAST can you run 10km?" and before you can say "seven minute miling" you are pinning on a number and queuing at a portaloo.
Times they are a-changing in the Horton house.