Maxed Out 

A piece of Canada's skiing heritage

Page 2 of 3

Jackrabbit, of course, invoked the memory, if not the image, of Herman "Jackrabbit" Johannsen, the legendary cross-country skier who single-handedly revived a sport so close to dying it took on cult-like status once it started to regain followers. At the time I was shopping for skis, Jackrabbit was celebrating his 104 th birthday, skiing every day at his home in Piedmont, Quebec, and calling everybody who rode chairlifts to go skiing "wimps and pansies".

Jackrabbit Johannsen got his nickname in the 1920s. He organized Hare and Hound races through the bush near St. Sauveur for the Montreal Ski Club. He was often the "hare" and was rarely caught. His speed and agility on skis earned him the name Jackrabbit. Jackrabbit the Mechanic, on the other hand, may have more appropriately been nicknamed Greased Pig on account of his abundant girth and his casual affiliation with personal hygiene.

But he knew how to sell. It took him about two seconds to know he was going to watch me walk out of the store with a pair of skis he’d been trying to sell all season long. They were just the right size, Canadian made and bore the name Splitkein, meaning in Norwegian: pulled groin muscle.

With a huff, he handed them to me, saying "Just the ticket, Sport."

Now, all cross-country skis have some camber to them. But these skis had CAMBER. Actually, I’m pretty sure Splitkein also makes leaf springs for 18-wheelers and these skis must have been a crossover production.

I tried to flex them. Visions of the 97 pound weakling in the Charles Atlas cartoons. "Kinda stiff aren’t they?"

"You’re a big, strong boy, ain’tcha Sport?"

I could feel shrinkage.

"Got anything that doesn’t need wax?" I asked.

"Waxless skis! I wouldn’t sell you waxless skis unless you squat to pee," Jackrabbit fired back.

More shrinkage.

I was sunk. I paid for the skis and left the store before Jackrabbit could shrink me further. I saw him thumbs-upping the french-fry cook kid as I got into my car and drove away.

Showing the skis to my future ex, I put on the silly boots and clipped into the three-pin bindings. With all my weight on the skis, you could still slip your fingers under the all-important kick section directly under my foot.

"Kinda stiff, aren’t they?" she said.

"I can fix that," I explained. Gently, taking care not to mar the gliding surface, I supported each end of the skis on a large cement block. Then, using equal care, I stored my entire record collection, all 400 kilos, right on the centre of the skis. Nine months later, I could finally flex them.

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