Saturday, February 8, 2014


Sir Isaac Newton is often credited with "inventing" gravity when an apple fell from a tree and struck him. Not much was understood about gravity at the time, especially in explaining why planets and moons moved the way they did. What Newton did invent was a new set of laws of universal gravitation. Basically any body with mass acted on any other body of mass. It explained why the Earth's moon could stay in a perpetual orbit.

It's only fitting that when heading out for a slug-fest against gravity, that I ski with a guy named Isaac. As an engineer, I studied a lot of Newtonian physics from high school all the way through grad school. I have this weird tendency to mentally put a "Sir" in front of Isaac's name when communicating with him.

New England has some pretty pristine skiing conditions right now. Finally, all Nordic centers are open with all or nearly all of their terrain groomed. One of my favorite places to ski is Northfield Mountain in western MA.  There was certainly a lot of interaction between the Earth's mass and my mass on Saturday.

Northfield has been open only a tiny amount so far this season. With Wednesday's big dump, they were able to open all their trails. I jump at the chance to ski there. It is a Hill Junkie approved place to ski. However, it has stayed cold since the snow dump. I was concerned about a soft, sandpaper snow, slow slog.

Starting out, the snow begrudgingly offered up any glide. After a cursory lap around the field, we went right for the mountain, 10th Mountain Trail that is. Isaac killed it. Half way up I was seeing cross-eyed as he disappeared. Even though it was still pretty cold, I couldn't find enough zippers to undo to keep my core body temp in check.

Isaac at the Reservoir

Bombing down Reservoir Rd at about 30mph, I thought my tearing eyes would freeze shut. Isaac hopped into the classic tracks to go even faster, only to realize they started to get squirrely on him. I thought for sure he was going  biff.

If 10th Mountain is the second hardest climb at Northfield, Toolleybush is the hardest climb. Heading up on this one, we learned the sides were very soft. I managed to punch a ski through and promptly face planted. Ha-ha, Sir Isaac thought that was pretty funny. Then we got into the heinously steep stuff. Isaac disappeared on me. In an anaerobic haze, I got too close to the edge again where the trail momentarily leveled and my speed was much higher. This time I literally face planted, even ejecting my water bottle. I had snow packed in behind my glasses. Sir Isaac wasn't there to be entertained by that one.

HJ at Summit

At the top by the reservoir, we took 10th Mountain down. Pretty sketchy at speed. For the few seconds I could see Isaac, I didn't see him scrubbing any speed. Me, death-wedge snow-plowing several sections.  Descending sucks. Climbs? Pure bliss.

Pretty much all trails at Northfield go up and down the mountain. Net vertical is 800ft, but you'll log more than 1000ft of climbing on the way up with undulations. Our third time up was a much tamer romp up Reservoir Rd. Nice steady grade, none of the 20-30% grade BS. Isaac commented that the first two climbs did some damage. I was very glad to hear that.

After bombing back down Reservoir Rd, Isaac asked if we were going up again. The Hill Junkie can't say no to such a question. Absolutely!  It didn't matter how bad I was hurting. This time we picked a circuitous route up the middle that included another steep black diamond trail called Hill and Dale. Yeah, that was pretty much the death nail. Of course, we couldn't just go down easy Reservoir Rd again. With noodly quads and glutes, we had to go back down the way we just came up. Had to suffer through another high-speed sketchy descent.

So non-skiing readers may wonder how climbing on skate skis in slow snow compares with climbing with road bike on pavement. If you put a small child in a sled and pull that behind your road bike on 10-20% grades, you might get an idea.

When all was said and done, we logged nearly 4700ft of climbing in only 22.4mi of skiing. I was Isaac'd by pace and Newton'd by gravity. Certainly my most solid workout of the season. With skiing this good, wonder if I'll get on a bike anytime soon?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Northfield had a great MTB race years ago too. Tried bringing it back but the previous promoter botched things up so bad they won't even entertain the idea.