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I am not a Racer

Written by Patrick Scott, Fresh Air Experience Community Outreach Coordinator, February, 2019

One of the things we hear most frequently form our customers when they are looking for new skis and bikes is “I’m not a racer”. In many cases, they are probably quite right - they will never use the equipment they are buying in a race. For many, even if they do sign up for a race, it’s more an opportunity achieve personal goals, to keep focussed on healthy habits, rather than to measure their abilities against others. In other words, most people who buy sporting equipment are not doing it to compete. They are not racers.

Although I work with many racers at Fresh Air, I am not a racer. I imagine that there may be a year that I end up in a loppet, or attempting a Canadian Ski Marathon, but I have no burning desire to make this happen. I learned to ski as an adult, and will never have the ease of movement on skis that kids who grew up at Nakkertok of Chelsea Nordic have. But that doesn’t stop me from getting out there as often as I can. Skiing is my favourite thing. Any day that I am out on the snow, I feel like I have won at life. I worry that signing up for races would make me feel obliged to get out for a ski or a workout, spoiling that sense of sheer joy. So when I go to buy new skis, my attitude is, well, I’m not a racer. I should probably just stick with the pretty good stuff. I don’t need the great stuff. 

One of the great benefits of working at a place like Fresh Air is that I am amongst experts every day. We get the opportunity to meet designers, athletes, waxers, coaches, and any number of people who know an awful lot about skis. Some of these people love skiing as much as I do. And pretty universally, they rave about race skis. They can show me what I can expect a ski to feel like, give me an appreciation for the way ski accelerates, how a pole feels more balanced, or how a boot feels more supportive. Another benefit of working at Fresh Air is that you sometimes get access to discounts on nice equipment. So in my time here, I’ve slowly accumulated more and more nice ski equipment. 

As someone who prefers skate to classic, I’ve usually invested in skate equipment, to the point that I now own what could be considered a decent racer’s set up - nothing top of the line, but very good equipment.. Each time I’ve added something new, such as a pair of boots with a carbon heel counter, I’ve noticed a direct effect on my skiing, such as having an easier time balancing on my glide ski. I have never been disappointed by a piece of slightly more upmarket skate equipment. This has made sense to me based on the advice from the experts I work with - better skate equipment can benefit anyone, from beginners to racers. 

In store we do not always talk about classic skiing the same way as skate. Race skis, we say are harder to handle. “You can’t snow plow a classic race ski” so “what are you going to do if you need to get around a corner?”  “If your technique isn’t good, they can be super hard to kick..”

Despite my strong skate abilities, and what I’ve learned about the benefits of ‘race’ equipment in skate skiing, these phrases rattled in my head. I thought to myself, I’m not as good as people who grew up skiing, what if I can’t handle them? I’m not a racer, I should probably not worry about getting nice classic equipment. And so in budgeting out new equipment purchases, I’d spend a bit more on the skate stuff, and make do with more recreational classic stuff. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to buy a pair of Fischer Speedmax classic skis that more or less fit me, at a very good price. I had a bit of extra money kicking around, so why not. I work at a ski store, even if they’re tricky to handle, I can use them on the Parkways  and other less technical terrain. So I decided to pull the trigger. Only real risk was some broken bones, right?

I’ve had the skis for about a month now and they are nothing short of awesome. The closest analogy I can come up with is when I bought my first pair of really good headphones. In the months that followed, I went through my music collection. Music that I had known for years was made even better when the bass line popped little more, or there was that shade more definition in the vocals. These skis have had the same effect. Though I am an avid skate skier, my favourite trails in Gatineau Park have always been some of the more intimate yet technically demanding classic-only trails such as the 15 or 36. These skis have made these trails feel new again. I absolutely railed every corner on the 36.

If there’s a defining characteristic to the skis it is their stability. They are super stable when you are in the tracks. This allows you to go significantly faster, as the skis hold their line when you give a strong kick, or get forward on them to double pole. The javelin-cut shape allows them to stay in the tracks more easily through sharp corners on technical trails. When I’m out of the tracks and descending, the contact patches of the skis feel much closer to my feet than with any other classic ski I’ve ever owned, meaning that they feel easier to steer, especially at speed. I might not be able to snowplow, but wedge turns and other methods of slowing down are easier. The kick has generally been super easy too, though I did get skis that are a little soft for my weight, and run a shorter wax pocket. The sensation of having the ski really accelerate out of my kick is new compared with some of my older skis. 

To be sure no ski can do everything. My Speedmax are superb in groomed conditions, but are not the best when there is snow filling the tracks. So if I do ever sign up for the ski marathon, they might not be the best bet. They can also get going really fast in the classic tracks, so they are maybe not the best choice as a beginner ski. I can put some objective measures to how the ski has performed. For example, my average speeds are at least 20% faster than I was on my old classic skis. For sure, that makes me feel good about myself. However, it is not the most important thing, especially because I am not competing against anyone. What I am after is that amazing sensation of being connected to the snow and feeling the world slide away beneath my feet, and these skis have made that feeling better. 

My point with all this is not that everyone should rush out and buy a pair of top of the line skis, or that everyone needs a $6000 bicycle. My point is that this attitude “I am not a racer” while maybe factual, can also serve as a means to sell ourselves short. Like most people, I have limits in terms of how much time I can devote to my hobbies. So when I’m out there, I want to be making the most of that time. Convincing myself that I am not a racer prevented me from exploring a new way to experience a sport I love for a number of years. If we aren’t willing to push ourselves a little bit we can miss out on a lot.