(Photo notes: This was from high school state championships when my parents hosted the Steamboat Springs High School team for a tuning party in our garage. I would absolutely not recommend tuning barefoot; metal filings in your foot aren’t fun!)
Ski racers spend hours and hours and hours and hours taking care of their skis. This is called tuning. We sharpen the edges, but that’s the easy part. The part that takes forever is waxing and brushing. I spent a significant portion of my racing career picking wax, melting it onto my skis, letting it cool, scraping it back off, and brushing my skis until they gleamed.
A lot of people are fairly confused by this whole process. Sharpening the edges is fairly intuitive; the snow is hard and a sharp edge holds better. But waxing and scraping and brushing? The trick is not to compare ski wax to car wax, which protects the paint and should be left on. Ski wax is more like conditioner for your hair. Without wax, ski bases get dry and the material of the base can start to fray and add friction. However, if you never rinsed your hair after you conditioned it, it would get sticky and gloopy and awful. The same is true for skis.
Ski wax is also special because there are different waxes formulated for different temperatures of snow. Cold wax is typically harder because cold snow crystals can strip a soft wax of a ski in a single run. Warm wax is softer and helps repel the water in the snow so the skis aren’t fighting adhesion. Some waxes had fluorocarbons in them, which made the ski really fast but also dried out the base like crazy.
Waxing is the easiest part of the whole process; it involves using an iron to melt the wax onto the ski base and get it all smooth. Then you have to leave the ski to cool. The longer you leave a ski, the more the wax soaks in and the better it is. Once the wax is cool, you can start to scrape it off. Scraping removes the visible wax. The better job you do scraping, the easier brushing is.
Brushing is the long process. When I traveled, I had three brushes; a brass brush, a horsehair brush, and a soft nylon brush. The brass pulled the most wax out of the ski, the horsehair pulled out a little more, and the nylon brush polished it. When I was in high school, I had a callous on my palm from how I held the brush. Done properly, brushing can take up to an hour for both skis.
I certainly had my moments of getting annoyed with brushing, especially on nights mid-series. It was hard to race all day, get off the hill and stretch, get dinner, do homework, and still be motivated to brush. Plus there’s all the other gear to take care off; wet mittens and bandanas to lay out to dry, boot liners to pull out of the shells…the list goes on. There were definitely days all these things didn’t happen.
But in general, I loved brushing and taking care of all my gear. It made me feel like the real deal. It made me feel capable. It made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And dry boots and mittens are a beautiful thing!
I don’t ski race anymore, but I still have plenty of gear to take care of. There are hiking boots to be rinsed off, a lot of the same gear for free skiing, bike chains to lube, and swimsuits to hang up to dry. I love taking care of my stuff. It serves me longer that way, but it also just feels good to do it.
This doesn’t stop with sports stuff though. I love washing dishes and wiping down counters and I’ve even gotten to the point where I appreciate sweeping the kitchen floor. I love the warm water and the smell of the soap, and I love seeing the kitchen all clean. But this is another form of taking care of my stuff. Is it easier to wash dishes right after I’ve used them and before everything has dried on to them? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that I truly enjoy cleaning my kitchen.
Again, I will put in the caveat that this is mostly true. My dirty dinner dishes are currently sitting in the sink waiting for me.
Laundry falls into this category too, as does putting things away. It’s really satisfying to have a place for everything and to have a neat space. The other thing that falls into this category, for me, is getting ready for the next day. This semester, one of my goals has been to have more relaxed mornings. To this end, I’ve been packing my lunch the night before, which generally involves spooning left-overs into a smaller container. I’ve also started packing my gym bag the night before. (I would like to point out that my gym bag is a fabric bag printed with the spines of the seven Harry Potter books. Mom got it for me for Christmas and I LOVE IT.) This is doubly-great; not only do I not have to scramble to do it in the morning, but I don’t forget socks anymore! (There was also one memorable time I forgot a shirt. I went swimming that day.)
There was a side-benefit to this that I didn’t anticipate. I stop working on school stuff at 8 pm in order to start doing dishes, packing lunch, packing my gym bag, and picking up anything that wandered out. (Seeing that I spend about four conscious hours in my house, I don’t know how this happens. But it does. Every single day. I blame mail.) This means that I’m not thinking about school and being stressed for the hour before I go to bed. And it means that I’m not sitting and staring at a screen, which I appreciate. I like the gentle movement of walking around my house and the calm that I get from putting my life physically in order.
I tried this out one other place in my life; I start my teaching day by getting my classroom totally ready for the day. The first thing I do is put my lunch in the fridge and turn on the heater in the office. Then I take care of writing the objective, agenda, and warm up on the whiteboard. After the whiteboard, I take a moment to sort papers and make tea. Only at this point do I take out my laptop. I love it because I start with something that’s guaranteed to be productive before I deal with not getting sucked into any of the distractions that come with the internet.
Just like brushing my skis, taking care of my things and my spaces make me feel good about being in them and with them. It makes me feel capable and productive and like I’m doing a good job with this whole adulting thing. Sometimes, at least!
Your homework: What do you enjoy taking care of? Why?