Friday, February 18, 2022

Good for nothing weather


 Wow! It's porn outside!

 Rain drummed on the roof. I heard the ice on the steep part shift as it moved closer to the edge. The temperature was 50 degrees (F), as it had been all night and for much of the previous day. The splashes in the driveway burst up almost on top of each other. What had been an almost unbroken layer of ice and compacted snow had turned to mud, except where it hadn't. As the temperature falls today, the remaining ice will set back up for the weekend. Within an hour, the sun had started to come out, but the air was still warm, and water flowed steadily from the roof.

This is Presidents' Day Weekend, the opening weekend of Massachusetts school vacation week. This is traditionally the biggest moneymaking period for New England ski areas if they didn't have a big Christmas week. Cross-country ski areas can't count on a big Christmas week the way downhill areas that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars -- or millions -- on snowmaking can. Our overhead is much lower, but we're at the mercy of the weather. In the past couple of decades, that weather has been increasingly merciless.

It all freezes up again this afternoon, but the damage is done. The trail system has been cut in too many places. The sections with usable snow are cut off by either bare ground or plates of ice that the tiller on the grooming machine can't reconstitute.

The fat bikers always pipe up about now to try to tell us that they are the answer. I will wearily dismantle that claim again as necessary. For instance: we might rent 30 or 40 sets of skis on a busy day. There is no way we could keep a fleet of 30 or 40 fat bikes. And our ski rental fleet is much larger than 30-40 sets. We have more than twice that many. The estimate of 30-40 pairs is a bit conservative. On a really crazy day we'll clear the rack and re-rent stuff wet to latecomers who are remarkably willing to put on boots that literally just came off of some stranger's sweaty feet.

The trail system can absorb far more skiers than bikers, as well. Skiers are much better equipped to slither past each other in a congested area, compared to rigid bicycles with 31-inch handlebars. So even if we flung the gates open wide and invited the bulbous crowd to cavort, it could look like the stampede scene from some movie about a cattle drive of longhorns.

Then there's cost: fat bikers who own their own will have shelled out somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 to $2,000 for their mounts, assuming that about half of them picked up a used one from some other rider who realized that it was more of an encumbrance than an asset and cut their losses. You can pay a lot more. In contrast, a new ski touring outfit costs about $400.You'll pay $400 just for studded tires for your fat bike. Used stuff is almost as hard to find as new stuff with the ongoing pandemic disruptions, but if you do find something it could be quite cheap. And skis just lean quietly in a corner when you're not getting to use them. They take up little more room than a furled umbrella.

Snowshoeing remains an option, but the popular perception of snowshoeing is weird. A snowshoe is just a boat to float you on the snow. The size is calculated to keep you from slogging in your bare boots, anywhere from knee deep to waist deep. The addition of traction devices to the bottom is more recent, to make traversing hard frozen sections safer and more convenient. But once "snowshoeing" became a discrete activity performed for its own sake, rather than as part of the general category of winter hiking, people started using them on shallow snow and firm frozen trails that most of us with experience in winter hiking would see as just good footing without the encumbrance of snowshoes. Lots of rock and ice, and irregular ground, takes a toll on snowshoes. They're designed to be supported by a fairly uniform resistance from the snow beneath them.

In the "anything for a buck" mentality of winter rental, upper management will still say, "well, you can snowshoe," but anyone experienced already knows better. You will be better served to use Microspikes or a similar device. We don't rent those. Maybe we should.

Just on the basis of canceled reservations, we've lost hundreds of dollars. That may not seem like much in a world that considers an operation with 500 employees to be a "small business." but in the realm of really small businesses like ours, it's somebody's paycheck for a week. Along with that go retail sales we might have made from the group when they visited the shop to get their rentals or drop them off, and losses to other businesses in town if most of the prospective visitors decide not to come here at all. And we lose the walk-ins and same-day last minute reservation calls we typically get on a Saturday or Sunday morning. There aren't enough fat bikers in the world to equal that head count.

Indoor trainers laugh indulgently. They may not even look out a window from November to March. The super cool computerized systems feed them the virtual experience at whatever level they can afford to simulate. But indoor training depends on fantasy life. If you're like me, and have no fantasy life anymore, indoor training is just torment. All that ever propelled me through periods of indoor training were bright daydreams of the myriad ways I was going to use that fitness on pleasurable challenges.

I do look forward to commuting season. Driving sucks. But it's hard to maintain a lot of trainer enthusiasm just based on that. I can nip out for a few base mile rides when actual commuting season seems imminent, and be good to go. Maybe I'll get on the rollers a couple or three times for old times' sake before that.