Making sense of the price of skiing
New race skis for $600? Ouch!
The ads say $599, but you can't fool me, I know what they want. $600 plus tax and shipping. Another $99 for bindings (that really means $100 plus tax); $399 for racing poles (i.e. $400, and add more tax); spare poles for $235 for when you eventually break the $400 ones; a wax iron for $135 or $400 if you opt for a digital one, and who in their right mind doesn't need a digital wax iron? Another wax iron for kick wax (see previous prices). And a wax bench for $399, less if you're willing to wreck your $600 skis.
Pure fluoro wax: $149, because, you know, you just ain't a real citizen ski racer without pure fluoro in the arsenal. Other glide waxes for high temps with high humidity and dirty snow to polar temps with zero humidity and new snow, and everything in between: $9 to $85 each for about 10 to 20 different waxes. Kick wax: $15 per little can, and you'll need at least three dozen little kick wax cans, plus binder and a gaggle of klister.
Even with all these differing kick waxes you're still not going to hit the conditions just right anyway, but you've got to buy the stuff if you're planning on supporting any and all reasonable excuses for your finish time after the race. Plus wax remover ($14) to remove the wax that didn't work.
Wax and prep tools carrying case: $125. Inside the case: brushes, at least $49 each (you know by now that means $50, plus tax) and you'll need at least four brushes plus a drill for the roto brushes and roto corks. Plus a separate set of brushes set aside for pure fluoro wax unless you want to ruin your $600 skis despite using a $400 wax bench.
And ski carriers and waist packs and insulated water bottles and energy food supplies and Fiberlene and Fibertex and scrapers and corks and rillers and face mask respirators, and, and . . .
Ooh, I almost forgot! Ski clothes, with plenty of under-layer options for warmer, medium, colder, very cold and polar temperatures. I'm not sure you even want to ask the wardrobe costs, but expect to spend at least another $499 ($500) if you're going to be minimally ready to be seen on the trails.
Which reminds me: You're going to need at least three different sets of race skis, preferably six pairs, for all the varying temperature and humidity combinations, plus a pair or two of rock skis, each with its own set of bindings. Got to have that quiver filled or you might as well stay home. (Add $199 for the quiver.)
Shall we discuss the cost of roller skis, bindings, gloves, helmets, boots and ferrules? You're looking a bit dizzy, so I'll move on.
The total price tag for all these necessary necessities nears the cost of a good, late model Subaru (of course with roof rack and rocket box) before you've even left your house. Leaving your house to actually use your stuff adds gas, hotel reservations, race and/or trail fees, and calls to your spouse to see if he/she hasn't left you for a more sane couch potato.
Pardon this transition, but I'm about to use my Big Ben voice now. Big Ben was the elderly neighbor from my childhood days who all summer long would sit on his rickety behind on his rickety rocking chair on his rickety porch shouting with a rickety old man voice, "Dag blame it! You kids get off my lawn! When I was a boy...!"
Well, when I was a boy, back in nineteen aught eighty-nine, when me and Huck were just startin' out on our cross-country skiin' adventures, a top-o-the-line ski package, including skis, bindings, poles and boots could be had for less than half of one week of my pitiful nine-teen-aught eighty-nine assistant public defender paycheck. And I still had enough left over for a Lee Borowski "Simple Secrets of Skating" video (with accompanying manual).
Buy a top-o-the-line ski package these days and you're out 1,400 bucks, and you still can't ski unless you're skiin' naked, by gum. (Big Ben always said "by gum." It had something to do with his dentures.)
And there weren't no need for a fancy-pants wax bench back then neither. Why, when I was a boy, we waxed our skis on an upside-down ironing board and was darn glad to have it. For wax we had our choice of anything we wanted, as long as it was green, blue or yeller. We scraped our skis with a windshield scraper, saving every last flake to make candles for later. And, by the way: Get off my lawn, dag blame it!
Wow. That felt good.
Of course you may say, "Well, it's not necessary to get the best of the best, and you don't need brand new, and you can hold on and use your aging stuff."
To all that puffery I fold my arms and say, "Ha!" You better be prepared to face humiliation if you go that frugal route.
A couple years ago, at a neighborly race upon the friendly trails of Arrowhead Golf Course in Wheaton, Illinois, one of the well-known "hot" skiers took a long, staggering look at my striding boots and hooted at a hundred decibels, "Man, are you still skiing on those old dogs?"
Five years earlier the "old dogs" were top-o-the-line with a top-o-the-line price tag and top-o-the-line advertising claims of wonderfulness. A vacuum cleaner repair shop in Batavia, Illinois, keeps these boots together for me. The owners speak Korean but soon learned to spit and swear out the words "#%!@# Kevlar" every time I asked them to stitch new thread through my boots.
But alas, top-o-the-line became "old dogs" quicker than an Illinois Governor gets convicted, and the laughing stock of the Wave 3-and-above set.
Still have 'em, though, and still ski in 'em. By gum.
Deep in the recesses of my basement, behind a loose board leading to the crawl space, secreted in back of a loose cinder block beside the fireplace ash pit, I store my Birch Scroll race results issues from 1990 through today. I've reviewed the finishing times for the winners and that of average citizen racers. Accounting for varying weather conditions, there really hasn't been much difference in overall finishing times since the advent of P-Tex bases and bindings that hooked boots under the toes instead of in front of the toes. Back then we built our own ski packages out of tree bark and twine for $1.99, including tax.
I have to put the Birch Scrolls back into hiding for my son to take to the Antique Road Show in the year 2040. Hopefully he'll get at least $10,000 for the set. By then that ought to be enough for half a race ski.
Dag blame it.
Bruce Steinberg is a father, husband, lawyer and novelist in St. Charles, Illinois.