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Skating OSCR


This guy clearly prefers classic. He's skiing the wrong direction, but don't tell Bruce.



Approximately 1 billion years ago, when I first started cross country skiing, there was only one way to ski: classic. Only it wasn't known as classic because that's all there was. You inserted your floppy Fabiano boots into your three-pin bindings, pushed down the wire bail and off you went. I was new to cross country skiing and Seeley Lake, as were the people I was skiing with, and our skiing obsession took up most of our focus in the winter. Seeley was strictly a logging town in those long-lost days and snowmobiling along with ice fishing were the only recognized forms of winter recreation, which meant we were definitely community outliers as we flailed around on the logging roads and floundered through the woods.


Our technique was improving through trial and error when in the early 80's someone came up with the bright idea of having a marathon ski race and OSCR was born. In order to be even somewhat competitive in OSCR we were forced to add to our arsenals of Epoke's and Truckers and Europa 99's with lighter, dedicated track skis, and upgrade our fashion selections to include wool knickers with knee socks. We had a rudimentary cross country trail system by that point, but it was never groomed, so if we wanted to train we were left with no option but to set our own ski track, either on the ski trails or a logging road. So, that's what we did. Only, to be honest, it was more like recreational skiing than training, and there was absolutely no science behind it. Adding to the lack of science was no small quantity of mind-altering substances consumed during these "training sessions". Keep in mind, though, that the OSCR aid stations were fully stocked with schnapps and bourbon, as well as hot chocolate, so our training strategies were firmly in keeping with the traditions of the times.


About the second or third OSCR, there was talk of a new technique called "skating", which sounded intriguing, but apparently controversial, and lo and behold along about the fourth OSCR some of the lead racers started trashing the classic track doing something they called "marathon skating". I wasn't convinced it was a good idea until the following year's OSCR when I got into a dog fight with Vince Meng, a dentist from Missoula. We were neck and neck with both of us skiing pure classic until we'd come to a long, gradual downhill or a flat, at which point Vince would angle his left ski out of the track and start pushing with that ski plus double poling, while gliding on his right ski. At that time, the race ran from Two Creeks Ranch in Ovando over the back roads to Seeley Lake. There were a lot of those extended, gently sloped, uphills and downhills. He'd slowly pull away from me until we reached the next climb where I would work my ass off to reel him back in. About the time I'd get back on his wheel here would come another slight downhill and he'd start inching away all over again. I couldn't keep that up forever and he started slowly pulling away, in the end putting a couple of minutes on me.


I was just smart enough to be converted, but right about that time, things changed all over again when racers started full-on skating with both skis, forget about the classic track. That meant in addition to pulling Jim Jaimes' homemade track setter to set a track, we had to drag a bed spring to satisfy the hotshots who were purely skating the race. That worked great for the first year, but the next year, I think it was like 1987 (I'm counting on Lynn to correct the record), when the grooming was done on Friday, only to have it snow 6" over night. This was the first time the race course had been set over Rice Ridge, which meant those poor bastards who were pure skaters were both climbing and breaking 6" of trail, alllll the way to the top. The smart guys worked together and skated in each other's tracks as much as possible, but there was a guy from Whitefish who had become accustomed to winning a lot of races, and there was no way he wasn't going to be the lead dog all the way to the finish. The predictable result of that misguided effort was by the time he reached the top, he was toast, and as each skier reached the summit they were treated to the sight of him hunched miserably over the warming fire, back to the trail, with a hot drink cupped in his hands.


I wasn't confident enough in my skating abilities to count on skating the entire race and had hedged my bet by putting kick wax under my foot. There was still no distinction between skating and classic skis which meant the flex and camber would still be fine for skiing classic. Talk about pure luck. Another skier and I were the first classic skiers and we took turns breaking trail for one another. We were passing a lot of struggling, dejected skate skiers as we steadily climbed to the top. Wade Cebulski was running the summit aid station and when we pulled in he confided, "you know, you're the first two I've seen who didn't look like they were about to puke." I didn't come close to winning that day, but I wasn't having fantasies of death freeing me from my agony, either.


There was no denying that skating was taking over and by the early 90's OSCR had turned into a pure skate event. Which is kind of too bad, because the first races attracted a lot of casual skiers who just wanted to test themselves by skiing 50 kilometers on whatever equipment they had in the garage. Of course, that meant a substantial number of skiers were taking 6-7 hours to complete the course, but it also made it an event more in keeping with the time honored Norwegian concept of "citizens race". In any case, it reached the point where at the race start Lynn would say, "if you take over five hours to finish, I can't guarantee there'll be any one at the finish line to greet you."


Skating long ago took over as the preferred technique in citizens races, but classic is growing again in popularity. I think I'll take a dive into that in my next post.


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