The Oracle

Off-beat sports: winter edition

The Oracle

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by: Erica Lee

It seems as if snowboarding and skiing have been a part of life for ages, but there is in fact another winter sport that originated even earlier: snowtubing. Although the origin of the sport is unknown, rumors state that it was invented in the 1820s in the Alpine mountains as a fun and easy recreational sport for both the young and the old.

For snow tubing, all one needs are two things: a rubber tube and a snowy hill. To take part in this activity, place the tube at the top of a hill and with a little push, the athlete will effortlessly slide down the hill. Snow tubing does not have to be a one-person ride, some tubes have seats for two or three people.

However, even though snow tubing seems like a simple activity,  there are many safety repercussions that must be considered. Because the tube is cylindrical and made out of rubber, there is very little friction between the snow and the tube. While this allows the tube to slide down the hill at fast speeds, it is very hard to control and injuries can result from crashing into obstacles such as trees and rocks. With sleds, athletes can easily  alter the speed or direction of their ride, but with snow tubing, adjusting the speed or direction may cause the tube to spin, which causes the riders to travel off course or flip over. Due to the inability to effectively control the tube, accidents are common.

Even though Palo Alto lacks snow, there are many nearby places where one can enjoy the activity. In Tahoe, ski resorts such as the Sierra rent out tubes for two hours and even provide rides to the top of the hill.  Though the Sierra is generally flooded with snowboarders and skiiers, visitors are also encouraged to explore  the other recreational activities that they provide. Another  place to go snowtubing is Yosemite National Park, where the rates are $15 for two hours.

Snow tubing is a great way to frolic with friends and spend the holidays…as long as one avoids the pesky trees.

Ice Blocking

by: Misheel Enkhbat

Ice blocking is a fun recreational activity that anyone can participate in. The sport originated in Iceland where, as legend goes, the Icelandic people used blocks of ice as a mode of transportation to visit neighboring villages. Now, ice blocking is the national sport of Iceland and because the sport does not require snow, it is popular in the West Coast.

As a sport, ice blocking is exactly what it sounds like; it requires a block of ice and a hill. Although there are many ways to interpret and perform the sport, there are a few universal guidelines.

The first step to the sport is locating a steep hill at a nearby park. It is important to find a hill that is grassy so the ice can effectively slide on it. However, it’s vital to look out for holes, as it can be quite disgruntling to have a perfectly smooth ride be interrupted by a pit.
The next step is the most important, but also the hardest to accomplish. In order to say that one has properly ice blocked, one must obtain a large chunk of ice. There are many ways that one could obtain the block of ice, but the easiest would be to do some research and find a local grocery store that sells it.

Once one has accomplished the task of locating a block of ice, the third step is to become properly clothed. One must take into account that fact that one will be sitting on a block of ice to slide down a hill. If one is not properly prepared, it will not be long before the athlete is uncomfortably sitting on the cold ice block. Because of this, it is important to wear warm, preferably water-proof, clothing such as snow pants, gloves and a jacket. Furthermore, it is recommended to bring an old jacket to place on top of the ice. These are all essential items to avoiding those embarrassing “I wet my pants” marks afterwards.

After completing all of the preliminary steps, one can finally  slide down the hill. Make sure to get rid of any pre-sliding jitters beforehand, since it can be intimidating to slide down a steep hill on a block of ice for the first time.

Because there are many public parks in Palo Alto, it is relatively easy to find a safe place to ice block alongside friends. So, find a hill and give ice blocking a try, it is unique  and may easily become a person’s favorite winter time sport.

Shovel Racing

by: Jean Wang

Ever looked at that unused snow shovel in your shed and thought it must have some higher purpose? Well, now there is a perfect solution—shovel racing.

Shovel racing is an intensive sport in which competitors race down snowy slopes while sitting on a snow shovel. It began in the 1970s when ski lift operators used it as a method of going down the mountain after the lifts had closed. However,  over the years, it has evolved to include modified shovels, ranging from shovels resembling sandwiches or popular cartoon characters such as Bart Simpson, to deathly speed machines equipped with hydraulic brakes and roll cages. At the peak of its popularity, shovel racing was even featured in the 1997 inaugural Winter X Games held by the Entertainment Sports Programming Network, only to be promptly canceled after several competitors were seriously injured.

For the past 30 years, the most elite of these racers have attended the annual World Shovel Racing Championship at the Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico, where competitors race down courses at terrifying speeds of over 75 mph. In 2005, however, the resort canceled the championship citing liability concerns, especially over the modified shovels. Yet, only a few years later in 2010, the competition was once again resumed, to the delight of shovel racing enthusiastic all over the US. However, the revival came with one major caveat: only traditional metal grain shovels, with no modifications except paint jobs and waxing, could be used.

For those interested in racing, the basics are quite simple. Racers sit on a shovel with the handle between their legs while facing forward, lean back as close to the ground as possible while keeping their feet forward, and push off. Steering, while extremely difficult, can be managed by lowering a hand into the snow to correct the shovel’s course. The rest is left up to gravity and luck.
Ultimately, shovel racing provides a bizarre alternative for speed devils and racers alike.

Sled Dog Racing

by: Lydia Zhang

Sled dog racing is a sport done in the Arctic regions, in which teams of sleddogs, led by mushers, race sleds through a timed course. While riding on the runners of the sled, the musher directs the team of dogs using vocal commands and is responsible for the care and training of the dogs.

Though sled dog racing has been exhibited at two Winter Olympics, it is not an official Olympic sport.  There are, however, many sled dog races that take place throughout the world.  The races can be categorized as “sprint” races (4 to 25 miles long), mid-distance races (28-200 miles long) and long-distance races (200 or more miles long).  Each race is either a timed start, in which teams do not start at the same time, or a mass start, in which all of the teams start simultaneously.

The most famous of sled dog team races is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  The trail extends from Anchorage to Nome, and it usually takes 10 to 17 days to complete the 1,150-mile-long path.  Called the “Last Great Race on Earth,” the Iditarod has helped dog sled racing regain recreational popularity and is considered the most popular sporting event in Alaska.  The Iditarod is a timed race, with each team leaving in two-minute intervals from the first checkpoint.  There are a total of 26 checkpoints on the northern route and 27 checkpoints on the southern route of the trail, where the teams can rest and receive extra supplies.

In order to train sled dogs, mushers will start when the dogs are just puppies.  The puppies train by socializing with other sled dogs and pulling small objects in a harness.  After six months, the puppy will be placed with a team of older dogs and learn to work as part of a team.  When the dogs become yearlings, they will usually begin serious training to build up stamina and strength, until they are experienced enough to be placed in a position on a team of dogs that best fits them.  In the end, the dogs placed onto a team will work exceptionally well due to their constant and prolonged training together.

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Off-beat sports: winter edition