The Back Page with Bruce Steinberg
If you read the Birkie web site’s champion page, you’ll see the following on the 1991 race: Even as snow fell heavily race morning, the start was moved from downtown Hayward to Rosie’s Field; Manfred Nagel won his second consecutive Birkie; the Women’s U.S. Ski Team won the top four Birkie spots. What is not included – and shamefully so, I submit with a wink – was the following: Bruce Steinberg, appearing at the race for his first time, last wave in the Kortelopet (then Wave 7), managed to finish, but was determined to never race again, and to never-ever skate-ski again. Actually, I withdraw my “wink.” Looking back now, I assert that what happened to me back then is important not because of what happened, but because of who rescued my attitude.
Lee saved many attitudes about skate skiing, and introduced generations to it from the 1980s into the 21st Century. After all, the masses on the race course are comprised nearly entirely of folks who just want to be out there, doing our best. My 1991 experience began with a crash on the first downhill, breaking another skier’s pole, bending my own. I was constantly yelled at, to get out of the way of even people I was passing, to narrow up, to get the hell off the course. I was despondent, wondering if I was a skiing pariah. Then my soon-to-be wife got me a VHS-tape titled “The Simple Secrets of Skating.” Lee Borowski’s 1987 video compliment to his 1986 book.
So here was Lee, middle-aged, standing in a one-piece white Lycra suit – how much courage did THAT take! – revealing the secrets of all I had done wrong. I had no idea I shouldn’t use the flying-herringbone for the whole race. My stance overly wide, it’s why I got yelled at for 22K.
The production values of this video were far from polished. Yet “The Simple Secrets” caused me to reach Birkie Wave 1 for a season, and hold on to Wave 2 for many more. Not a champion, no, but loving it; traveling to ski near and far – and loving that even more. All because of Lee’s “Simple Secrets” that would send Hollywood production types screaming.
That’s just the thing about “The Simple Secrets of Skating.” The video was the opposite of elitist, the antithesis of pretentious. Lee, a respected coach and accomplished skier, showed himself as an everyman. That all of us, no matter our talent level, could do this thing called skate skiing and, above all else, have fun.
I remember, too, how much I used to love Warren Miller’s Alpine skiing movies. Their production values were glorious, the talent level extreme. But these movies were loud, with segments making fun of the untalented tumbling off ski lifts, making claims that if we don’t do what the greats do, our lives were less complete. It missed Lee’s simple-secret points: fun and friendship. Lee Borowski and his “Simple Secrets of Skating” understood. They welcomed all of us to join in on the experience without judgment.
More gift videos would arrive over the years. Nothing, though, compared to the impact of “The Simple Secrets of Skating.” Lee decoded this then-new thing called skate skiing with plain talk, simple instructions that worked, and, most of all, with open arms.
Over many years, I’ve read Lee’s wonderful articles in this magazine. I’ve run into him on occasion, at races and on days leading up to races. He always presented himself with a handshake and a smile. Always with a warm hello and time to talk. And, thankfully, while wearing something other than that one-piece, white Lycra suit!
Happy 30th anniversary, Mr. Lee Borowski, on behalf of so many whose lives have been enhanced, all because of your “Simple Secrets.”