El Nino goes on Spring Break

El Nino, that little dude who hangs out in the Pacific Ocean and messes with North America’s winter weather, has been doing a fine job of delivering us a mild winter with an unusual lack of snowstorms. We had one good storm in November, but since then I doubt we’ve had a single snowfall of more than four inches.

Then, just when we think we’re going to scoot right into spring unscathed, this happens.

These branches are supposed to go upward rather than sideways like this.

These branches are supposed to go upward rather than sideways like this.

As a cross-country skiing enthusiast, I don’t mind a little snow, if it’s a nice, powdery, slick kind that’s easy to shovel and fun to ski on. This storm was none of that.

Another tree shrub tackled by heavy snow.

Another tree shrub tackled by heavy snow.

This was a heavy, wet snow – the snow that makes one want spring. For those who live in warm places, like California or South Africa, where winter means brings a light jacket, it may be news to you that all snow is not created equal.

Heavy snow falls when the temperature is near the freezing point. It takes twice as long to shovel your driveway, but in my area that’s no big deal because it takes most of the day for a snowplow to come through. Snowplows are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they clear the streets so you have a chance to drive out of your neighborhood. But you can’t do that until you shovel again to clear the snow bank the snowplow has created at the end of your driveway. Snowplow banks are the hardest snow of all to shovel.

There's some shrubbery under there somewhere.

There’s some shrubbery under there somewhere.

I haven’t skied all year, and this storm will do nothing to change that. This sticky snow is good for building snowmen and making snowballs, but not for gliding over. What’s more, it will be melted by the weekend because that’s what happens to snow when the days get noticeably longer.

But it did close the schools, so at least the teachers are probably enjoying it.

Well, it is kind of pretty.

Well, it is kind of pretty.



You can compete for a gold medal as soon as family time is over

I made some predictions in a recent post. Prediction #1: My son and I would attempt to catch some Olympic cross-country skiing on TV. Prediction #2: Those races might inspire us to hit the trails together. Prediction #3: This would cause me to transfer the burden of my unfulfilled dreams of Olympic glory onto his shoulders, in an attempt to live vicariously through him, as fathers of my ilk are wont to do.

Skiing with Calvin

And after he won his gold medals, he’d be invited to the white house to meet the President and First Lady.

Skipping primetime coverage of the elegant and glamorous sports, we were able to catch some fleeting moments of our favorite gritty, ugly sports during the afternoon, better-than-dead-air, filler broadcasts. We enjoyed truncated depictions of random cross-country races. We even caught a biathlon event. We may have been the only two Americans who enjoyed it. I understand; biathlon is too slow for this country. Had it been developed here, it would be done on downhill skis, and with a machine gun. And I’d kind of like to watch that too (but not in person).

My prediction #1: CORRECT

Having ferreted out our favorite Olympic sports and taken inspiration from them, we went to the park to emulate the Olympians. We didn’t attempt biathlon practice, not because it wouldn’t have been fun for us and exciting for the other park patrons; rather, neither of us wanted to go chasing after the Nerf bullets.

My prediction #2: CORRECT

Boys playing in the park

Nothing livens up a Saturday afternoon in the park like seeing the boys at their biathlon practice. (Image: Bain News Service)

Though my son seems to like skiing, it takes more practice, and can become more frustrating than sports like, oh, say, sledding. Knowing this, I chose a park with a sledding hill and snuck a plastic sled into the trunk, just in case.

For a five-year-old, skiing means concentration, hard work, and falling down, especially when your dad needs to replace the short skis and poles you got when you were three. For a dad, skiing with a five-year-old means a lot of standing around, issuing encouragement, and getting cold. Together, we got through those frustrations.

Then, the great moment happened. The boy found his groove. It takes him time to get going because we don’t practice enough. But when he gets going, he has fun, and I get excited for him.

“You’re going so fast!” I told him. “I wish Mommy were here to see this!”

“Me too,” he replied. “It’s too bad she won’t go outside in winter.”

Too bad indeed, she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

At that point, things went off plan. I was supposed to envision him skiing across the finish line in the 2030 Olympics. I didn’t. Instead, I had visions of him skiing with me as an eight-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 16-year old, getting bigger and stronger, making me struggle to keep up. Along the way, his little brother joined us, then his other, soon-to-be little brother.

Mommy wouldn’t come out of the house. Even dreams have limits.

We went all the way around a big loop, the four of us, growing up the whole way. My old Olympic dream faded, replaced by a better one.

Then, we came to the sled hill. It was just me and my five-year-old again. We got our sled and put some icing on that cake.

My prediction #3: WRONG. So wonderfully WRONG.

Winter dreams

These are the first winter Olympics that my eldest son will be old enough to understand. I hope we can have some fun watching them together. I predict that his favorite sport will be bobsled because the Germans traditionally succeed in it. He’s a big fan of Germany right now.

First time on skis

My son’s first time on skis – two years ago. He was representing the country of Spiderman that day.

Having owned a pair of cross country skis since childhood, I’ve always preferred the winter Olympics. They inspired my youth like no other sporting event. I loved baseball and basketball, but was a mediocre player. As a skier, I had no peers for comparison; for all I knew, I was pretty good.

I was 12 during the Lake Placid Olympics. They were happening just a few hours away from where I lived. Most Americans remember Lake Placid (if they remember it) for the Miracle on Ice. I remember it as the time when “skating” became a controversial new technique in Nordic skiing. (It’s called Nordic skiing because that makes it sound Norwegian, and nothing is cooler to a cross country skier than pretending to be Norwegian.)

There was a corn field behind my house. Every day I would put on my skis and my wristwatch and do laps around that field. The winter Olympics and the growing season don’t conflict, so I didn’t have to slalom through any stalks. Every day I would mark my time. The next day I would try to beat it.

Corn fields aren’t the most professional of courses, but it didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that I was routinely followed by a German Shepherd who made his own sport of stepping on the back of my skis as I went. What mattered was that I got faster. For a few minutes every day, I could dream of becoming the first American to win gold in any Nordic event.

Ski brigade

Hard as it is to believe, these guys didn’t win any gold medals either. (Image: Detroit Publishing Co.)

It was a forlorn dream. By the time I caught my breath I realized that. I had no friends who skied. My school didn’t even have a football team. The idea of a ski team would have sent the community into fits of hysteria. This corn field was the best training ground I would ever have. Being in the same state as Lake Placid was as close to the Olympics as I would ever get. I always knew that, but I still raced myself, because sometimes just having a dream is enough.

I hope my son and I can catch some of the Nordic skiing on TV this year. It’s kind of hard to do, between the non-stop figure skating and the novelty of a few hours of curling – a sport that allows us to scratch our heads and say, “Really, Canada? You thought this would be a good sequel to hockey? WTF?”

Maybe after we watch, I’ll take him outside with his skis. Maybe he’ll be inspired to dream a little dream. If not, that’s okay. I’ll dream one for him. I’ll dream I’m skiing alongside the first American ever to win Olympic gold in a cross country race.