Wax On; Wax Off

In the past week, my mid-sized burg has received upwards of a foot and a half of snow. In other words, I’ve already had my Christmas.

Snow, to me, is a gift. I love that junk–slippery, light, heavy, cold, transmuting, crystalline; it satisfies my Myers-Briggsian ENFP need for change, as it takes the entire world around me, covers it with Abominable Snowman vomit, and makes everything seem different and new and worthy of attention.

Plus, snow means skiing. And, hypothetically, I love skiing.

Since we didn’t leave the house so much during my youth in Montana (but, man, did we watch us some Family Feud!), I only took up cross-country skiing when I was 29. In my mind, then, that was last year, even though a closer look at the calendar might reveal it to have been 11 years ago.

When I started skiing, I lived in Southern Minnesota, where the strongest adjective that can be applied to a hill is “undulating.” As well, I didn’t know anyone else who skiied, so I pretty much winged it when it came to buying equipment and technique. Suffice it to say, I went “novice” with both. I learned to slide a little on short, wide, waxless skis. Shuffling along, I zip-a-dee-doo-dahed and looked at deer and squirrels at the local nature center. They looked back at me. It was all very “Disney on Ice,” except no one came along and took a rifle and blew Bambi’s mom’s head off while I shooshed by.

A decade later, my equipment and ability were still stuck at novice. I had met and married Ye Olde Groom, a Norwegiany type who had been on skis from age 4 (admittedly difficult during the summer months, but, amazingly, he still managed to swim, eat corn on the cob, attend the State Fair, and learn to cross-pollinate corn, all with a pair of Rossignols strapped on). He’d even competed as an individual in cross-country skiing at the State tournament during high school. Having held a life-long anti-jock policy (killer premiums), I had to take a great leap of confidence to allow such an experienced athlete into my life, much less to allow him to lay eyes on me attempting to ski. The first time he watched me barrel down an icy hill, he was typically kind, applauding the fact that I had stayed on my feet, smiling joyfully, the whole way down.

I confessed that my face, pulled back by the G-force of the wind during my uncontrolled plunge, had been frozen into kind of a death grimace.

Nevertheless, I benefitted from the tips he gave me. But then, a few months later, we started running the Kid Gig, and that meant tag-team parenting, which, in turn, meant I was back to skiing alone, my technique petrified. Two winters ago, when we finally took the financial plunge to buy me some new, waxable skis, it was my will that became petrified. While my hope had been that better equipment could help me take that leap into becoming a better skiier, the actual result was that better skis highlighted completely my inability to ski. Those old, waxless skis? They’d obligingly hidden my lack of know-how. However, genuinely slick skis caused me to cry, panic, and then crumble out there on the trails. They went really fast, and I didn’t want to go really fast. I had rather cottoned-to skiing like an 80-year-old priest, it turned out.

So now I’m all about rationalizing my way into situations where I need to use my old, comfort skis. The newer, excellent skis sit largely unused there, in the corner; they’ve taken up crocheting. I may get a lovely scarf out of my neglect. Instead, I either make a case for the temperatures being too cold or, um, too warm for me to deal with waxing my hot-shot skis. Barring that, I have decided to cultivate an enthusiasm for back-country and river skiing, pursuits that require wider, hack-em-up skis and virtually no understanding of how to use the poles or hit a rhythm. I don’t even mind the spots with frozen waterfalls, where I have to take off my skis and huck them to the top and then scramble up after them. I’m never a better skiier than when I’m holding my skis and tossing them away from my body.

Oh yes, I’m a rhapsodic river skiier. Today, I twittered out for my first river ski of the season. Sure, it’s been cold, but the season is still in its infancy, and the subzero temperatures have just settled in, so as I departed, I tossed a quick, mostly-facetious, “Hope I don’t break through” to Groom.

Forty minutes later, after zig-zagging past and over myriad patches of open water and burbling holes, I had, indeed, broken through at least five times. The first time a five-foot slate of ice crumpled below me, causing my being to drop a foot, I squealed like Angelina Jolie spotting an Asian orphan. I didn’t get wet, though, and since I know the creek I was on isn’t particularly deep, I kept going. And breaking through.

After a bit, one of my skis was caked in two inches of ice and would no longer glide. I was snowshoeing on skis on a semi-frozen creek. But, hark!, there was a birdie. Tweet, tweet, little birdie. Look at Jocelyn here, being a skiier!

Crash. Down I went again. On about the sixth whomp through into the still-running creek, my one ski had become a leaden popsicle, weighing me down. I did a weird little wet-in-a-frozen-creek version of the hokey pokey and finally managed to extract that iced-up paw from the waters below.

Since the whole point of my venture had been exercise and relaxation, and since I was feeling decidedly weighed down and anxious, I did the logical thing: I took off my skis and climbed up the side of the little canyon to the road.

It was an agreeable toddle back down the road to my car. During my walk, I considered the ambivalence that marks my relationship with skiing. I have a bit of a complex about it, what with living in an intensely-accomplished outdoorsy community. I would like to be good. I would like to hang with the big guns. I would like to be able to stop screaming in my head when I have the sticks strapped to my feet.

Odds are, that isn’t going to happen. What does satisfy me is knowing that I’m doing it and that there is a certain grace in trying. I don’t come from a tradition of “getting out there.” Yet I’m getting out there. In the larger context of my life, the fact that I even own skis is a marvel. The fact that I willingly take them onto thin-ice-over-running-water somewhat cavalierly is nothing short of miraculous.

As is the feeling that my kids will grow up free of my athletic demons. Although I will fail them in other ways, and they will grow up to discover they lack other skills they wish they had, I can at least snarl at them in the middle of a future argument, “Listen. You know how to ski. I gave you that. So hesh up, Little Miss ‘Why Can’t I Play the Bassoon When All the Other Kids Can’!” (that’s generally how I talk to the kids, incidentally)

For right now, when they are young, and my feelings toward them are uncluttered with too much annoyance, I can simply call it a miracle: thanks to a community program called KidSki, my kids will always find skiing natural.

Tomorrow is the first meeting of Kidski for this year. It will be Girl’s third year and Niblet’s first. Already, they’ve been in the yard this week, tootling around merrily on their skis. Niblet spends most of the time on his back, skis to the sky, eating snow. Girl, however, whips around the house in gleeful loops.

This is Girl, two years ago, when she was five.

Here is her Kidski class, the same year.

Groom built a “digger sled,” which can be pulled while he skis. We took Girl out on the river with it one day, a couple seasons ago. She refused to set even one boot in it–because she insisted on skiing instead. Of course, she got all frustrated and had an enormous meltdown out there, and we had to threaten to leave her there in the snowy woodlands to grow up a feral child, raised by wolves, speaking like Jodie Foster in Nell, before she stopped her fit and allowed us to take the skis off her feet. But, hell, she wanted to ski that badly. I would have been in the sled in a trice, were I her. I was in the sled, in fact, as we waited for her to wind down, the crazy little snitter.

Girl skis across a plain of caved-in creek ice. It’s always good to send out a child as a “test balloon” first, when the strength of ice is in question.

I could have used her today, as I broke through repeatedly. In her absence, though, I plowed on, gave up, and hoofed it back to the car, mentalling marveling at her easy confidence, her free-wheeling joy, on skis.

I don’t get it. But I sure do admire it.





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29 responses to “Wax On; Wax Off”

  1. Maddy Avatar

    Lovely – bet you all slept like tops! Bit of a more pricey deal round this neck of the woods but none the less exciting. Good for you [all] and love the photos.

    This is my calling card or link“Whittereronautism”until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

  2. Star Avatar

    Go with your strength I always say. I went skiing twice in my life and have a wealth of amusing stories from both times. On the second trip I was taking a lesson on the slope and the instructors both said I was a “natural” Being athletically challenged all my life I was thrilled. I enjoyed skiing, but didn’t have the time to pursue it.

  3. Silverstar Avatar

    I’m really not a ski bunny, but am a fierce tobagganer.(no skill required in parking your butt on a piece of plastic and projecting yourself down a hill)
    Its great that your still trying it despite the glitches. 🙂

  4. Diana Avatar

    See? Anyone who pops off to ski their way along a river is not a novice skiier, no matter what they claim.

    This year, for Christmas, we all got skis, with the plan in mind to do just what you and the young ‘uns are doing.

    Of course, we’ve not yet put the skis on. They are all standing in the corner making us look and feel like the cool people you are.

  5. Franki Avatar

    See, this is why you are obviously so much smarter than me (I?). I still cannot hold to an anti-jock policy, even after all those migraine inducing conversations.

    Frankily Yours

  6. oreneta Avatar

    Great post, the wet little hokey pokey line hit it right on the mark…lovely and funny too.

  7. furiousBall Avatar

    I really want to get my kids on the slopes here (Poconos) at some point when moolah and time allows. We got a tiny bit of snow this past week. I now have snow envy. I’m googling snow enhancement now…

  8. Spider Girl Avatar
    Spider Girl

    I WANT to love snow.

    I mean, when it snows I could actually ski on my street, its so steep. People were literally snow-boarding right by my door last Saturday when the skies dumped two feet of the white stuff on my head.

    But I’ve decided to ONLY like snow if it stays out of my driveway. On the plus side, now I have biceps of steel from all that shovelling.

  9. lime Avatar

    i have wanted to try cross country skiing for a long time. my only skiiing experiences have been the downhill variety and i do remember one particularly spectacular ‘wide world of sports’ style wipeout that caused a couple guys floating overhead in the ski lift to call down, ‘TEN! we give that fall a TEN!!!!’

    lovely to see you’ve enable the natural grace in your kids. i look at the confidence my oldest exudes in every facet of her life and i marvel at it. i certainly did not have it at her age, even now….

    bravo, mom.

  10. Hammer Avatar

    I’m a terrible skier but having fun in the snow takes very little skill.

    Great story!

  11. Claire Avatar

    I married a ski jock too, he having grown up an hour from the Sierra slopes. I’ve tried but have never gotten past the middling-ok skiing level. Naturally my children take after hubby and are all accomplished skiers/snowboarders.
    Your kids are lucky to have that experience at such a young age.

  12. August Avatar

    Good for you, Joc, for going out there. I’d much rather be on my back eating snow with Niblet.

  13. Steve Avatar

    Test balloon, of course! That’s why we had kids!

    Maia was thrilled to see Niblet at Kidski yesterday!

  14. Jazz Avatar

    Lordy how I hate winter. I don’t downhill ski – never saw the point of standing on two sticks and hurling myself down a mountain.

    I did cross country at one point, but I’d much rather put on my snowshoes than a pair of skis. Much less cumbersome.

  15. Tammie Jean Avatar
    Tammie Jean

    Hi Jocelyn! I’ve seen you around many of the blogs I frequent, so I thought I’d drop by and say hello.
    As someone who started skiing after 30, I’ll whole-heartedly agree there is supreme merit in just “getting out there”.
    Also, I love that you use the little one as a “test balloon”!!!

  16. Wizened Wizard Avatar
    Wizened Wizard

    Well I am impressed. What’s the Garrison Keillor line? “To jump into an ice-cold lake is not my fondest wish, for even though I am a Finn, that does not mean I am a fish.”

    I’m a slow plodder on waxless x-countries, but don’t get in my way on downhill skis. (Although that might be all in my past at this point). All of our touring is out our back door, on woods roads or trails, across beaver ponds. Very quiet and pretty. Looks like you have similar terrain.

    How great that your kids are growing up with this love.

  17. August Avatar

    Thanks for the loving thoughts on my blog. Your free spirit shines brightly over this grey Berlin horizon. How’s that for being schmaltzy.

  18. cathy Avatar

    I always get myself a glass of wine and a snack before settling down to read your posts. Pure entertainment should be properly appreciated and so should having a go at things. I am scared of water and learned to swim and to put my head under the water because I don’t want to pass my fear on to my kids. Just think what we would be missing out on if we didn’t have to set a good example for them.

  19. Wayfarer Scientista Avatar
    Wayfarer Scientista

    I love snow! I love skiing! Yay for you for trying to learn! I know it can be intimidating. And hey – that sled you guys have…used that way it’s called a pulk and it looks awesome. Enjoy your snow!

  20. A Bishops wife Avatar
    A Bishops wife

    Looks like a great time. I have never been skiing.

  21. Glamourpuss Avatar

    I am more than happy to be your skiing partner – I have never skied in my life, so next to me, you would appear effortless and expert.


  22. BlogWhore Avatar

    greetings from your midwestern neighbor…. this is a shit-ton of snow, huh?

  23. oreneta Avatar

    Tag, your it…I’ve got a meme for you, it looks like it might be a fun one though. Hope you don’t mind.

  24. Shari Avatar

    At least you are out there, trying again and again. I used to love to ice skate, though I am not much of a winter-lover.

    Glad that the kids will enjoy skiing. I am scared to death of it. I am better off cross-country skiing.

    Thanks for sharing Girl’s skiing ventures.

  25. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    “Free-wheeling joy..” Love it.

    I have never cross-country skiied, but I had quite a reputation as a hot dogger when I downhill skiied in my 20’s. As I careened down some pretty high hills, everyone thought I was fearless but what I really was was hopeless. I had no idea how to stop, and gravity is so reliable.

    I love the way snow softens everything.

  26. actonbell Avatar

    Abominable Snowman vomit, LOL!
    I think you’re very brave to be falling through ice. I’ve only been on one skiing trip in my life. It took me two days to get down the bunny hill and enjoy it, and I don’t think I’d be better at XC skiing.

    You are admirable for getting out there! BBRRRRR. My heart is in the tropics.

  27. Dan Avatar


    It’s snowing here right now. And we’re supposed to get a huge Noreaster Saturday night into Sunday. Laura and I want to get snowshoes. Perhaps we’ll finally give it a try. 🙂

  28. HeatherAnn Fragglehead Avatar
    HeatherAnn Fragglehead

    I’m more than just a little convinced that Girl, at the age of two in that photo, has already surpassed my skiing skills.

    I can’t believe it! A foot-and-a-half of snow.

  29. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    It’s just so great you have these kids out enjoying the snow instead of in playing video games like so many kids I know!
    We spent our whole childhood outside!
    The waxless skis are okay in a pinch when you haven’t the time OR PATIENCE to put on Klister at 0C!

    Hope you have a great ski season! My husband’s been out about 15 times so far…we’ve had a ton of snow in 3 different snowstorms.

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