While some Canadian kids learn to ski shortly after they learn to walk, skiing wasn’t part of my growing up. However, when I was a teen, my brother married into a skiing family. Neither my parents nor I were keen on the idea of downhill but, by the time I reached university, in the name of getting exercise during the cold winter months, both they and I got cross-country ski equipment. The gear came from O.W. Sports in Waterloo, which is closing now in 2017 after a 50-year run, their sales dwindling as winters grow shorter and snowfalls shrink.
But back then, running a sporting goods store in Southern Ontario focusing on winter was a good business proposition. I still have those skis – all wood, antique-looking now, the kind of thing hipsters pronounce “authentic.” My brother and his wife had what was then the proper cross-country attire: heavy socks and ski knickers with matching jacket. My mother (above, in brown) and I were less committed: we wore snowsuits or snow pants (insulated, water-resistant pants with suspenders) and a jacket. Not ideal when your temperature fluctuates so much, being in the cold but heating up from the workout, but the kept you dry when you fell in the snow. That happened to me, a lot.
The closest I got to being a half-decent cross-country skier was in my late 20s when, for two years, I dated a man who was accomplished at the sport. With his patient encouragement, and uncomplaining ministrations – cross-country skis of that era needed finicky application of the right kind of wax the right way, depending on snow conditions and outdoor temperature – we would head out on hours-long trips on trails.
Once, the skis even came in handy as transportation. I worked then in London, Ontario, which was hit overnight by a massive snowstorm. Come morning, no roads or sidewalks had yet been cleared. I pulled out my skis and swish-swished to the office.
Soon after that, though, the skiing man was no longer in my life and I moved on to other things. I did keep the ski equipment thinking, maybe someday, I’ll get back to it.
Fast forward (mumble mumble) years, to when I’m living in Toronto. I’d ditched the boots by then – they had been ruined by careless storage in a damp basement – but still had the skis. A friend extended an invitation in February to join her for her birthday celebration at a resort north of Toronto, which has groomed cross-country ski trails.
So my partner, once a frequent cross-country skier, suggested I get back on the sticks. New boots and bindings, some new modern high-tech layered clothing, and off we went. It’s not quite like riding a bicycle: I was nervous, and slow, but the trail was short and easy. However, it felt good. We went out a second time before returning to Toronto. And the skis now sit propped in a storage corner, awaiting a time when we meet up with snow, again.
Cover photo: Kelley Teahen