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Swap shopping for ski season

Hordes of cross-country ski shoppers swarm around the Dewey Mountain lodge Saturday in search of deals on used equipment. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — It’s cross-country ski season, and you know what that means. It’s time to go shopping.

It’s easy to get cooped up inside when the winter cold settles in, so having a hobby like cross-country skiing to get out and enjoy the crisp winter air is a great thing.

But there’s a lot of things you need to do before you even hit the trail.

I’m not just talking about making sure you’ve got a good hat and a second pair of socks. There is a veritable smorgasbord of equipment you can buy, and a complex algorithm which governs your purchases, demanding the highest accuracy in each acquisition.

The line outside the Dewey Mountain ski swap stretches into the parking lot last Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Why do it?

What would make someone roll out of bed at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to go wait in line in the frigid cold? Certainly not some lousy worm, as people are always suggesting I wake up early for. I WILL rise early for a crack at unbeatable deals on second-hand skis, though.

I want the chance to have a winter full of fun on the trails.

As Dewey Mountain Manager Jason Smith puts it, “I think when it gets dark at 4 p.m. in December you’ve got to find ways to get outside.”

Why ski, though? Well, you can run, you can hike, but nothing is quite like cross-country skiing.

Griffin Kelly waxes his skis on the trail at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“Skiing, to me, is a little quicker way to move through the forest than snowshoeing is,” Smith said. “It’s rhythmic. It’s great exercise.

“It’s got highs and lows. It’s hard. It’s easy. It’s up. It’s down. I think its a unique thing.”

Smith said he gets so into the summer modes of transportation — bikes, canoes and hiking boots — that he forgets just how satisfying skiing is.

“Every year, the first time you put your skis on for the season … you start to glide and you’re like ‘Oh yeah! I forgot how much I like skiing. … Just those first few glides.”

Aaron Cerbone tries out a pair of skis he bought at the Dewey Mountain ski swap. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Pushing, shoving and ski shopping

The Dewey Mountain Ski Swap starts at 9 a.m. but if you don’t get there by 8:45, good luck, bud.

I’ve never been Black Friday shopping but I bet this is what it feels like. Fifty of us skiers — or soon-to-be-skiers — lined up impatiently outside the lodge, chit-chatting about our plans for a winter full of excitement and adventure, while stealing glances at the still-locked front door.

I laid out plans with Enterprise writer Griffin Kelly. Plans for skiing later that day, sure, but mostly plans for what to do when that door swings open to accept a rushing wave of deal-seeking skiers.

After several chilly minutes we heard a click. The chit-chat stopped and all heads swung to the door. The door handle was creeping out into the open hands of the first in line who wasted no time in helping open it the rest of the way.

Aaron Cerbone tries to stay on the path as he cross-country skis for the first time this year. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

We moved forward fast and with purpose. Griffin ran over to the boots table to find a pair that fit, that’s the key if you are looking to assemble a whole new set. I made a beeline for the skis.

Last year at the Dewey ski swap I made a huge mistake, and I was looking to remedy that. I, fool that I am, purchased a pair of NNN skis but got a pair of NNN BACKCOUNTRY boots.

How could I have been so ignorant? How could I possibly think that a pair of boots and skis which both say NNN would fit together?

I think the ski companies have taken the same path as the technology companies. If you sell a bunch of different types of boots and a bunch of different types of skis but make none of them compatible, you can sell the same products to the same people over and over and over.

And I was a sucker. Anyone got a bridge for sale?

Griffin Kelly prefers to ski from the comfort of his rump. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Anyways, I learned of my folly the first time I took my shiny new purchase out on the trail last year. I was gearing up to hit the John Brown’s Farm trail with Enterprise Editor Peter Crowley and couldn’t get the dang boot in the dang binding. After 15 minutes of fruitless effort and tipping over into the snow Pete realized my error. The NNN backcountry boot’s bar was too thick to click into the NNN ski binding.

Later that day I went out and bought a pair of NNN boots, allowing me to ski happily all winter long. The NNN backcountry boots sat unused in my attic.

I spotted a pair of NNN backcountry skis on the rack, but as I pushed through the swarm of shopping skiers, terror swept through my body. A man was standing in front of these skis, staring right at them. He wanted MY skis!

I briefly considered doing the Black Friday thing and snatching the skis from the rack before he could steal my chance at a happy winter in the backcountry, but that would have really ruined the atmosphere of this neighborly ski swap. Besides, there were plenty of weapons laying around for him to pound me into the floor with, and I surmised he was capable of it.

Oh joy! He reached out and touched a pair of SNS skis next to my coveted prize. They were mine for the taking! He hesitated for a second on the SNS’s and with a quick “‘scuse me” I swooped in and carried my loot to safety.

The main room in the ski lodge is not large, maybe 40 feet by 70 feet, but it took me a couple minutes to get across the room to Griffin. I’ve had easier times navigating college house parties than traversing the mobbed pit of skiers clogging up the ski swap.

Griffin successfully assembled a setup, but I stuck around the ski swap, waiting to talk with Jason Smith. While I waited a pair of backcountry three-pin skis caught my eye.

When I first moved to the Adirondacks in 2017, I bought a pair of three-pin skis at a garage sale for $1. I have horrible news for anyone else looking to get a deal like that: You get what you pay for. And in my case, in a season and a half I had gotten more than my money’s worth out of those skis. The binding broke as I was skiing on the trails outside my house with a friend and I slid the rest of the way back on one ski.

Now I wanted to replace it. And this was a wonderful pair just sitting there, missed by other shoppers. So I impulse-purchased a pair of skis.

Both these pairs of backcountry skis require wax, and I was about to get a crash course on the subject.

Wax on, wax on

The hard part was done, and I just had to buy wax. Or so I thought.

I walked into Blue Line Sports and picked up a couple canisters of wax, turning them around thoughtfully, trying to decipher their arcane symbology. The employees were locked in a heated discussion over the use of the word “hick.” It seemed they disagreed on whether the word was a slur or not, and what the true definition of the word is.

I turned down the first request for assistance, but took them up on the second. Quickly, I learned how truly lost I had been.

Not only had I not known there are two types of wax — kick wax and glide wax — I didn’t know how to apply them either. There are different waxes for different temperatures, for new and old snow, for different types of skiers, for different types of skiing, for when the economy is down or for when Mercury is in retrograde.

I would have to measure my “kick zone,” apply wax multiple times a trip and make sure I use a cork applicator to apply enough heat so the wax sticks.

It was all very overwhelming and I began to wonder if I had just purchased myself a huge chore. How often was I supposed to do this all again? EVERY TIME? This seemed like more trouble than it was worth.

But then Matt Rothamel, my newfound ski mentor, said something that changed my mind.

“Waxing is fun,” he said.

I had heard this before. Just half an hour earlier Andy Walkow at the ski swap told me the same thing.

It’s not a chore. It’s a hobby. Nothing like clearing your mind and waxing your skis, right? It’s not a task to be dreaded, but one to be cherished. It’s an art. It’s a craft.

It’s a craft I have not yet mastered, though. I waxed up Griffin’s skis before we hit the trails later, and I must have screwed something up, because he struggled against gravity the whole way up the mountain. We reapplied the wax several times as we worked our way farther in, which I later learned is what I should have done in the first place.

I hate to say it, but I disagree with Jason Smith. It was not the first few glides of the season that reminded me how much I missed cross-country skiing, it was the last few.

Griffin Kelly falls on cross-country skis one more time as night falls on Dewey Mountain. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)