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LETTING THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG BY STACY MEANWELL

As I CAT skied on a sandy beach in Costa Rica, a beachcomber gaped at me and said, "Itís not snowing, you know." I gazed back at him and with a straight face, responded, "Itís supposed to tonight." He stared at the sky.

Finally, skiers have skis for training and recreation anywhere when the ground isnít covered with snow. CAT skis or Classic All Terrain skis, invented by Dale Niggeman, go beyond the confines of roller skis. While "Classic" refers to the striding technique used, as opposed to the skate or freestyle method, "All Terrain" is exactly what it says. Just about any terrain on which you can walk, you can probably CAT ski, too. CAT skis can go where no ski has gone before.

Admittedly, CAT skis do look peculiar. Available in three sizes, the approximately four-foot-long ski has a small wheel at the front that enables the skier to maneuver past obstaclesólong grass and tree roots. On top of the ski, a platform mounted with a regular classic cross country ski binding slides. A bungee cord system attached to the skiís back end wraps around the sliding platform. You kick forward with bungee resistance to glide. For a Quicktime demo, take a look at www.catskier.com.

You can use the CATs for a personal suffer-fest or for an enjoyable workout. Because you use the exact same muscles as skiing with the addition of more resistance, CAT skiing is a wonderful cross-training sport. In fact, itís sometimes a bit harder than skiing. While you can coast on skis, CATs allow no such thing. Whether you are going uphill, downhill or on a flat, you donít move unless you are working against the bungees. You will definitely feel your core, glutes and triceps. In other words, you get a double bonusóyour strength workout is included in your aerobic workout when you CAT ski.

I am an elite-skier-wannabe-probably-never-will-be. I like to train as if I were in the top 50 women in the American Birkebeiner. One of my favorite CAT workouts is doing intervals. Because of the resistance the bungee gives, I can achieve a higher heart rate while CAT skiing than while roller skiing, cross country skiing, biking or canoeing. Therefore, interval sessions are highly efficient, not to mention bordering on pain.

With a work schedule of 70 hours per week and spending precious free time with his family, Greg Greene, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is lucky to get in four workouts a week. At Silver Star Nordic Camp in Canada, he spoke about the merits of CAT skiing, enthusiastically calling it his "45-minute-a-day plan to stay in the elite wave of the Birkie." He also noted the safety and convenience of training in the dark as well as the consistency of being able to get the CATs out during frequent snowless months, which have extend into January in his neck of the woods.

For skiers who live in the Banana Belt, the training consistency offered by CAT skis is a boon. Itís hard to get warm while roller skiing in December, but staying toasty is definitely not an issue with CATs. Also, planting a pole tip in frozen asphalt is next to impossible when you roller ski, you can easily get a firm pole plant in grass or gravel.

In 2002 during classes with Yuriy Gusev, head coach of the Russian Style Ski School, elite-wave skier Joellen Torresani of Middleton, Wisconsin, and I were introduced to Dale Niggemanís first prototype of the "AT ski." We enjoyed the challenge of skiing on hilly terrain at Madisonís Elver Park and have since welcomed the updated, lighter, more stable CAT model, which handles obstacles more readily. As mothers, Joellen and I both know the value of an efficient workout. When weíre in a pinch and have just 45 minutes for a workout, we know we can still get in a high intensity quality workout with CATs.

So, why should you bother CAT skiing when you can roller ski? Let me make it clear that I do have roller skisóa variety of classic and skate roller skis. My toy box is full, and I like it that way. But because CAT skis are all-terrain, you can head off the pavement, on trails through the woods and across grassy parksóanywhere you want to go. But above all, I love CAT-ing around with my dog, Birkie. While I canít take my dog with when I roller ski on paved roads, I can CAT ski where dogs are allowed. I like to get out on the trails for the peace and quiet and see how happy my dog is while we share a workout.

Donít think that you can just strap your CAT skis on and find your rhythm if youíve never done it before. It is awkward at first. Begin by skiing without poles. Recall the difference between classic verses skate skiing: In classic skiing, there should only be one ski on the ground at a time whereas there may be a slight overlap with skating. This forces complete weight transfer. Itís important to plant the middle of your foot across from the ball of your other your foot on flat or slight uphill terrain. If you keep your hips forward, this will give you the correct flex in your knees and ankles for momentum. The last critical element is dynamic pushing. A long slow kick will get you nowhere. With a little confidence and persistence, youíll be CAT skiing dynamically in no time, and you will notice an increase in your stamina and ski strength.

While itís great to get away on vacation, we hate to give up any of our hard earned fitness. But with CAT skis, you can work and play, too. CAT skis are vacation friendly. Greene took his CATs to New York City: Imagine the stares and comments he received as he skied right down Fifth Avenue to Central Park. With perfect conditions and a breathtaking view of New Yorkís skyline, he skied the cinder horse trail, impressing a group of runners training for the New York Marathon. Perhaps a CAT running and ski group will start in the Big Apple!

For our family vacations to Costa Rica and Hawaii, I packed along my CATs. Neither airport security had ever seen CATs on their x-ray screens before, so I explained that I planned to use them to ski on the beach. They looked at me like I was nuts.

Having never skied on a beach before, I didnít know what to expect. One afternoon during a particularly grueling interval session on Tamarindo Beach, three brothers slumped in a comfortable spot in the sand watched me ski back and forth. They witnessed that gasping, bent over pole position that comes with the end of each interval. The "CAT" calls consisted of "Ńndale, Šndale, Šndale!" "Bravo" and "Uno Mas!" It gave me the will to push on to an all time new maximum heart rate.

Hawaii brought thumbs up from surfers. More than one asked me if I was training for the Hawaiian Iron Man. The activities program manager at our resort wanted to carry CATs for guest rentals. Not only the beach proved good terrain, but I CAT skied to petroglyphs on a ground lava trail. Your imagination is the ticket to great CAT tracks.

I did, however, learn a few things about CATs at the beach. Head for wet sand: Itís far better than dry sand for skiing. Do not let your boot submerge in water, or the result will be large painful blisters. Before you step on the beach, put on your two pairs of socks and boots; sand in your boots and sweat donít mix. After skiing, be sure to rinse the salt water off your skis or the metal will rust. I simply showered with mine.

At forty-something, Iím fitter than ever before, thanks in part to CATs. Like most of you, Iím always in pursuit of a good, efficient workout. The scoop? I think I just let the CAT out of the bag.

TEN REASONS TO TRY

  • You can get off the noisy, busy, pot-holed streets and head over to your favorite quiet trail or park. No one will honk his or her horn at you.
  • Itís far less stressful to your shoulders to pole into grass, gravel or sand than it is to pole into hard asphalt.
  • You can easily tighten the bungees without tools to add more resistance instead of changing roller ski wheels.
  • You can use spray CAT wax or your own kick wax to make skis grip better in slippery conditions, like wet grass.
  • You can close your eyes on an even trail and feel the rhythm of your stride, something I would never consider doing while roller skiing on pavement.
  • You can leave your helmet in your car.
  • If only I had CAT skied yesterday instead of roller skiing, I would not be sitting on a pound of road rash as a result of crashing on a curvy downhill.
  • You can put your CAT skis on at your driveway and ski in your neighborhood. While some like that approach, itís not one I favor simply because I prefer to pole into soft surfaces.
  • Feedback is immediate. If you plant your foot too soon, the CAT ski will make a slapping noise. If you donít transfer your weight completely, the ski cannot shoot forward easily.
  • The cardiovascular and strength benefit is unsurpassed.






© Cross Country Skier: November 2005, Vol. 25 Issue 1


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