We work in rhythm. Two passes down the ski with a scraper, two passes with the brass brush and then continued passes with the nylon brush until the white powder is removed. When I finish with one brush, I pass it to Isaiah. When he finishes, he passes back to me. There is something unusually synchronous about our motions. I have been coaching for more than twenty years; rarely do I find someone with whom I can wax tech without becoming frustrated. I am a perfectionist; I have hyper-focus and I struggle when trying to talk and tech at the same time. Isaiah and I seem to have little need for words and yet we seem to be communicating. I wonder if he feels the same way? I wonder if he trusts me? The fact that I wonder is a deep sign of respect for him.
We hit the snow. There are three pairs of skis. I take the skis labeled 5 and 6. Duncan is on 1 and 2 and Isaiah on 3 and 4. As we walk to the course, Isaiah just says, “Let’s take one full lap before we make any decisions.” I just nod my head.
And we ski; we ski as the sun rises; we ski the men’s sprint loop. It is just slightly longer than the women’s sprint loop. How do I allow myself to be so madly, deeply and passionately in love with such a sexist sport?
The course is wide, approximately 30 feet across. The corners are mostly swooping. After a flat that leads away from the stadium, there is a short downhill and then a quick up. The women’s course takes an early left and the men’s climbs a bit higher and then also takes a left. Arguably, this makes the men’s course easier. It affords a downhill rest after the climb. Both courses then take a right and climb for about 200 meters. I experience the first 30 meters of the hill as the most difficult on the course. They are too steep for me to double dance (what I call V2). A left turn allows the course to double back on itself and then the final downhill into the stadium has a fast but not highly technical righthand turn. At the bottom, there is ample time to sit in a tuck. To me, this section of the course, right after the turn and moments before I leave my tuck, is heaven. From the tuck position, one gazes directly into the sun rise. The huge TV screen is to the right and the stadium is to the left. The wind is cleansing and surprisingly clean.
After one full lap, we silently switch skis; I put 5 on my right foot and 6 on my left. We take another lap. About half way up the long climb, I switch. Six now goes on my right foot. Christi always says that it is immediately after the switch that you can really feel the difference. I always close my eyes for the first four strides. I feel 6 accelerate a bit faster than 5.
Down the fast downhill and into the sunrise; we switch pairs. I now take 1 and 2. We take another lap. Ski 2 accelerates faster and stays faster. A clear winner.
Into the sunrise once again. Isaiah now speaks for the first time since we began testing. He asks for our choice; I note that 2 is a clear winner. I say that on the other pair, 6 would have been my choice (but it was less discernable). Duncan agrees. We switch full pairs. We take another lap. My body is fully warm now; I feel like I can better float on the snow. Part of the pleasure of skiing is the transience of each moment. I know that 30 minutes from now, this course will be a very different place. The number of people skiing will more than triple as athletes from across the globe begin to warm up. With each additional person who skis the snow; the snow will also change. We call this ‘transforming’ for the very simple reason that if the snow is natural, with repeated mechanical disruption, the intricate patterns of the flakes begin to flatten, morph and, eventually the sharp edges are lost. Even natural snowflakes can take on a great many different shapes. The most quintessential are the dendrites: radiating dendrites, stellar dendrites, ferne-like stellar dendrites. Dendrites have exquisite hexagonal symmetry. They mirror the perfection of the hexagonal packing of water molecules when they are perfectly frozen. And natural snow flakes can be hexagonal, triangle, needles, bullets, arrowheads, columns, rozettes, stars and even cups. Much the way that urban environments have geometric rather than fractal patterns, Manmade snow lacks the hexagonal snowflake shapes of natural snow. Despite this, it still morphs and changes as hundreds of skiers push it down and churn it up.
The transience of the ski testing moments is what makes them both special and also so uncertain. We must make a decision about what top fluorocarbon to apply before the snow has fully transformed. After four full loops, we have narrowed our selection to ski 6 and 2. Isaiah asks me to take another full loop with this final pair so that they can get a girl’s perspective. I tell him that I will give him a woman’s perspective and I double dance out of the stadium. As I take the women’s course cutoff, I realize that I am the only female coach/technician on the trails right now. However, shortly after I cut right into the long uphill, I overtake a female skier. Her bib, unlike mine, is marked ‘Jury’. I realize that it is Sophia, the head of FISU (Universiade International Sports Federation). A consummate leader, I have seen Sophia repeatedly take charge in coach’s meetings where she is one of only four women in the room. She has a quiet and gentle way of convincing even the grouchiest coaches to behave in a sportsmanlike way. In fact, I will never forget the days when the Universiade was in Italy and the Ukrainian coaches repeatedly violated course closure rules. She simply calmly fined them 200 Euros per day and noted in the coaches meeting that youth skiing would be getting large donations that week!
As I ski by Sophia, say good morning and express my thanks to her, I do not realize that the next day is National Women’s day in Russia. I also did not know that later than night I would come to find out that Sophia also goes home each night after a long day at the venue to try to catch up with her own work as a professor! I simply continue my loop, select 6 as the fastest ski, and know that if I am one of only two women on the ski trail this early morning, I am honored to share it with her!