What happens when a middle-aged dude tries to take down NCAA women’s skate skiers?
By Mark D. Miller
The two girls in the lead were powerfully built, pear shaped with thick legs and hips, not stereotypical college athletes by any means. Instead of chiseled facial lines and sinewy muscles, they had meaty arms, rounded cheeks and plump thighs, more suited to shot put throwing than skate ski racing. They thundered across the snow in powerful bursts, pushing and pulling hard on their ski poles. The third girl was just the opposite—she had classic Scandinavian
good looks, tall and fit with a tan face framed by dirty blonde hair flowing out of a Norwegian designed beanie. She glided smoothly, almost effortlessly across the snow at the same pace as the other two.
I could tell by their bibs that they were on the Nordic ski team from the local university which competes at the highest NCAA level. Somehow I was stuck behind them, skiing slightly faster than their training pace. I wanted to pass, but I have only been skate skiing for a few years and was still not positive of the protocol for passing. If a faster skier caught me, I always pulled to the side, into the set classic tracks to let them pass. But these girls were not moving over. They were taking up the whole skate skiing lane, chatting and occasionally glaring back at me.
They were probably on a mellow training day and I felt weird about trying to pass so I backed off. After all, I did not want any trouble. These were college racers and I was a middle aged man wearing black biking shorts with light blue long-johns underneath, leather work gloves, a loose running jacket and a trucker’s hat. Imagine me announcing, “excuse me ladies, mind if I get by?” They would surely make me pay, chasing me down and reigning me in the last four miles to the car. I would just have to enjoy a slower pace, I thought.
After another mile, though, I lost my patience (and good judgment). They were still cruising at a casual pace and I decided to move in again for a possible pass. As I got closer, all three moved into the classic tracks, leaving the skate lane wide open. On sheer instinct, I accelerated past them, my chest heaving with exertion, neck staining forward and arms churning. When I felt my pace had put me well in front of the girls, I relaxed. The slope dipped down and I glided at a good clip catching my breath. I was startled when one of the plump-thighed girls shot pass me in the set tracks, poling and kicking her skis forward furiously. Her brow was wrinkled with concentration and her lips were pursed in a rhythmic breathing. I looked behind me and the other two were only 20 to 30 feet back, eyeballing me and closing in. My worst fear was coming true: I had triggered their racer instinct and they were about to crush me. But I was no pushover, I thought, as I ducked my head and sprinted off.
What had started out for me as a mellow 10 mile in-and-out skate ski was about to turn into an full on, winner-take-all three-mile race to the parking lot. There was no backing down now. I had made my move and at this point, I was committed. Although I only had a few years of skate skiing experience, I had picked it up right away drawing on my hockey and alpine skiing background. But also, and maybe more important, I am overly competitive.
I reached deep and gave it all I had. I caught and passed thunder-thighs. My legs burned as I skated with reckless abandon pushing my body to its absolute limits. I had been reading up on technique and tried to concentrate on putting my ski down flat on the snow and getting an efficient glide. On the steeper downhill sections, I would tuck into a low stance with poles under my armpits before sprinting across the flats and gasping up a few moderate climbs. I tried to control my breathing but it was sporadic. Spittle flew sideways from my mouth and sweat began beading off my forehead, then dripping freely in a steady stream from my eyebrows and nose. My sunglasses began to fog up and I was looking out of slits before they completed blanketed over. I had to look over the top of them the rest of the way, daring not to slow down. The whole time, I never looked back. For three desperate miles I pushed my body to its limits, driving my heart to near maximum. As I pulled into the parking, I was left bent over with abdominal cramping, sweat beading off my head and drool hanging from my mouth.
The three girls pulled in about a minute or so later. I was still crumpled in a golden glow of victory. They neither looked sweaty nor winded and they no more than glanced in my direction. I had so much respect for them at that moment. They had great game faces. I could tell by the way they ignored me that I had their respect, too. We would always be bonded through this competition. I could only hope that we would meet out on the trail again one day; a silent understanding of competition would be acknowledged and, once more, I would compete at the highest women’s collegiate level.
Mark D. Miller writes and builds stone things in Bozeman, Mont.
Photo by David Williamson.