‘No wax, no love’
Ski clinics begin to prepare for easy movement on snow
By JEFF BRADY
The snow will fly here eventually, and local cross country ski enthusiast John Briner is hoping to see more Skagway people outside this winter to enjoy the sport.
And with some instruction, they can learn some simple drills that will not only improve how they ski, but make the sport easier for them.
At the beginning of November, Briner began conducting weekly ski clinics at the Skagway Recreation Center. On Tuesdays, he is working with kids in the after school program, and on Wednesday evenings he is working with adults who are new to the sport or who just want learn how to be better skiers. The adult program begins at 7 p.m. in the multi-purpose room at the SRC.
For the next six weeks, or until the snow arrives, the clinics will be held indoors, and then the classes will move outside to the adjacent soccer field for working on technique. Briner said people can catch them all, or drop in on classes when they can.
“You don’t need to come to every single one,” Briner said. “It’s about getting people skiing.”
The children’s program is set up more as an activity program, and he is working with parent Shanna Thomas and the rec. center staff. After doing some drills in the snow on the soccer field, then the kids and adults will be ready for skiing around town, out in Dyea, and up at Log Cabin. He’ll also work with those who want to take their skills to the backcountry.
Right now, he is hoping for a good snow year down here on the coast, because it saves people a trip up the pass. Three years ago conditions were ideal just up the railroad tracks and in Dyea, but it hasn’t been as good the last two winters.
“You never know how long it will last,” he said of snow conditions in Skagway and Dyea. When it’s ideal, “You can’t wait, you have to go.”
Of course, there is world class skiing in Whitehorse at the Mount McIntyre facility. Briner says Skagway skiers in their Carhartts don’t have to be intimidated by the lycra-clad Yukoners.
“They have some of the best beginner ski trails I have ever seen,” said Briner, adding that the staff is friendly and helpful. The mountain is already open for the season. To learn more, go to www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca . Log Cabin will be the focus after the new year, with Saturday trips planned beginning in February for adults and kids. For those who like fun races, Briner said he would like to organize groups to go to the Yukon for the Marsh Lake and Mt. Lorne races. And everyone’s goal is to be ready for the Buckwheat Ski Classic at the end of March.
“It’s fun to enjoy a nicely prepared course with lots of people,” he said of those races. “It’s not just about the racing.”
Briner had three people at his first adult class. Since all had skied before, he asked them where they wanted to be with their skiing. It ranged from simply getting better and more comfortable on skis, to improving the kick and glide, to working the body in shape for a paddling race next summer.
Briner, who spent many years as an instructor in the Colorado ski town of Telluride, told how it took him a long time to get where he “saw the light.”
It came not long after he was working really hard, huffing and puffing his way along a ski trail, and not getting anywhere fast. Two men, who were quite a bit older and in not as good a shape as Briner, then passed him, carrying on a relaxed conversation while they glided by.
John Briner explains how wax works on skis. Jeff Brady
“How do they do that,” he said to himself, and it sent him in a direction to learn more about how skis work, and how to get to that glide point. Once he reached that point, it became a much more enjoyable sport.
In classic cross country skiing, the technique window is narrow, but attainable by anyone, he said. During the first class he had participants look at how skis are constructed, and debunked some myths.
One is that waxless skis don’t need wax.
“No wax, no love,” he said, showing how waxing the tips and tails of skis improves glide, and how using a stickier wax in the middle improves grip. He said all skis should be waxed every three or four times you ski. For those who don’t know how to wax, the Mountain Shop is set up to do it for you, he said.
Another myth is that “if you can walk, you can ski.”
A lot of skiers are walkers, he said, but their weight stays in the middle of the ski – the sticky part – and in turn slows them down. “That’s not skiing,” he said.
To glide, skis need to skim along a microscopic layer of water that is just above the snow, he illustrated. And to get up there, you have to learn how to control your movement, using your legs as propulsion, with the aid of poles. The middle of the skis aren’t supposed to touch the snow, except when shifting weight.
Briner then had each student get up and practice falling forward and catching himself by sticking one leg out.
“That’s the first move,” he said, and then he had the student roll up on the foot, and fall forward again so the other leg would respond.
It took a while, but with practice, one could “fall forward” and stay balanced, while moving to the next leg, and always looking ahead. This is the essence of the diagonal stride, “the heart and soul” of cross country technique.
When those two old guys blew by him years ago, they were leaning forward, and gliding in a rhythmic cadence. He said everyone can get to where they are moving like that. And even if they miss a lesson or two or three, he can get them back on track.
“Anybody can come at any time,” Briner said. “We’ll get them going.”
Intramural Hang Time
From top: Kara Whitehead leads the fast break for her team; Madison Cox gets a shot off behind a solid pick by her teammates; Zoe Wassman, Hailey Jensen, Colton Belisle, and Alex Ackerman raise their arms high for the rebound; and Gavin Murphy drives hard to the hoop.
Photos by Andrew Cremata