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Wintertime Challenges and Enjoying Travelling over snow in Time Tested old Fashioned ways

Tom Lounsbury

Thu, 16 Feb 2023 12:45:09 EST


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     Wintertime challenges and enjoying travelling over snow in time-tested old-fashioned ways.

    By Tom Lounsbury

Winters, here in my Thumb area at least, sure aren't like they used to be. Last winter, I only had to snowplow my driveway once, and it really didn't need it. I had hated seeing my snow blade-equipped ATV sitting idle, and I do enjoy plowing snow with it. Of course, it was during the middle of the recent November deer season that weather reports had me mounting the snow blade on the ATV earlier than normal and fall suddenly turned into winter, at least for a few weeks or so. By mid-December, weather at times, became even a bit balmy, and the snow melted and stayed gone, even for most of January. You know things are different when truckloads of snow had to be brought down to Frankenmuth from northern Michigan for an impending "Zehnder's Snowfest". However, winter recently returned with gusto, and Frankenmuth finally got some snow and cold temperatures in the nick of time.

I also had a great time plowing snow, and it looks like I'm going to have to do it again, which works for me! I enjoy an honest to goodness winter, and I'm a bit tired of the drizzly, windy and gloomy weather. I sure hope February features more sunshine than December and January.

Primitive humans had to learn how to deal with winter challenges, especially discovering how to travel across deep snow. In North America, Native Americans created the webbed snowshoes and in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, wooden skis became the norm. Snowshoes remained the primary mode of winter travel in the American wilderness, but Scandinavian immigrants would introduce skis during the 19th Century.
I've had a long association with snowshoes, but I must admit I'm not much of a skier. I tried downhill skiing once, but quickly discovered I was an accident waiting to happen. This occurred right after I was out of high school and I went with friends to "Bear Mountain" in Grayling (my main reason for going was to visit the Bear Museum owned by the legendary bowhunter Fred Bear).

I soon found myself in stiff boots attached to rental skis and on a lift going up the hill. Needless to say I should have started at the beginner hill, but one of my friends called it the "kiddy hill" and I didn't want to be seen on it. The options at the top were the "Big Bear" run, which I knew would probably be suicide on my part, and the intermediate hill which caught my eye, and I figured I could handle it.

When we reached the top, I hopped off the lift seat with the person next to me, but got smacked in the face with the arm of the other person launching off, and I began sliding downhill in reverse. Fortunately I fell down in the nick of time or my first skiing experience would have been going down "Big Bear" backwards.

The intermediate hill proved to be quite nice and something I could handle as it reminded me of sledding, except I was standing up and discovered it was very exhilarating. It seemed I had a natural sense for balance on skis and my fear of falling quickly dissipated. Then came the curve you couldn't see around and I was hugging the inside of it. As I rounded the bend I encountered a lady doing a very slow "snow-plow" with her ski-tips close together, and I was fast gaining on her.

When I suddenly caught up to her, I had trees on my left and a skier on my right and I did all I knew what to do right then, which was to simply sit down. I found out right away sitting down on the back of your skis doesn't do a thing and my skis slipped between the lady's skis which in turn caused her to lose her balance and she fell backwards and landed in my lap with a shrill shriek. With our combined weight resting on our skis, our speed picked up for a real thrilling ride down the remainder of the hill. The lady's shrieks immediately turned into infectious, hysterical laughter and I naturally joined in. I do believe we were quite a sight sailing down that hill, and it was a real pleasure meeting a total stranger with, fortunately, a wonderful sense of humor.

I realized right then it was time to go visit the Fred Bear Museum and I never tried skiing again, that is, until a few years ago. I've always wanted to try cross-country skis but never took the plunge, probably due to still being punchy about my first and only downhill (quite literally) experience. But then I spotted some Swiss Army surplus skis in a catalog and at a deal. I automatically ordered a set with great wintertime outdoors plans in mind.
I was real excited when the long box arrived and the ski set came with poles and even sealskin slipovers for travelling uphill. The foot attachment worked with hunting boots (which was one of the facts that attracted me besides price) and could be locked for downhill work or unlocked to create a hinge effect for cross-country work.

The instructions for the skis were in a foreign language, French I believe, but I didn't need any translation to see how everything worked, well, maybe anyway. It was a bit complicated, but I was as excited as a kid who had just opened up a special package on Christmas morning, and it was winter, and I had just plowed the snow in my driveway, which I knew would provide the perfect conditions for trying it all out. I quickly donned the skis, left the foot attachments in the locked, downhill mode and readied myself for takeoff from the front of my garage.

The fact is, my driveway runs uphill from the road all the way to the garage, and even entails a bit of an S-turn near the entrance, which also has my mailbox. Upon launching, maybe a tad too vigorously, I quickly realized a freshly snow-plowed driveway (the snow was the real cold and dry powdery stuff, obviously the perfect "powder" I've heard about for skiing) offered a real slick surface for skis and I hit top speed immediately. I could see I still had that natural knack for staying upright and it was exhilarating to say the least, and obviously I hadn't learned a lesson from my first downhill experience many years before. I still had no idea at all as to how the brakes work on skis, and I wasn't slowing down a bit. My original intent had been to scoot down a short ways just to see how everything worked.

I somehow negotiated the S-turn and even managed to miss colliding with my mailbox which is set on sturdy wooden 4x4's. It was when the mailbox whisked by that I knew I might be in trouble, and then I skimmed right across the road and briefly experienced the thrill of ski-jumping as I sailed right over the roadside ditch on the other side. Somehow, I managed to stay upright during all this (the fear of falling while at a high rate of speed is quite inspirational) and the snow in the flat and level field on the other side of the road was deep and fluffy which quickly slowed me down. Fortunately for me there was no traffic on my road right then, and there could have been the county snowplow which was real busy that day due to a recent snowstorm.

Well folks, I took those military surplus skis off and they have been gathering dust on top of a cupboard in my garage ever since. Admittedly, when it comes to wintertime travel the old-fashioned way, I'm an avid snowshoe fan and no doubt there is an obvious reason why. They work admirably for me, are simple to come to a stop with (all you have to do is stop moving) and there is no temptation to slip into a fast downhill mode.

However, I recently came into possession of a secondhand set of cross-country skis in really good shape, and without any instructions in a foreign language. Putting them on looks simple enough, but I still must get the special boots which will work with them. Yep, folks, I know better, but those skis are sure tempting me. Maybe it has something to do with what I've heard as being a midlife crisis, whatever that means.

I don't see any crisis afloat here, well, maybe not much anyway, if I figure out where the brakes are on skis.


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