We arrived in the western Maine mountains for a winter sports vacation just after the big dump. Sunday River had 90 trails open and we got to most of them. We also did some cross country around the pond and up at Mt. Blue State Park. They had enough snow to groom and it was excellent. The trails are narrow and have some sharp turns, so not for beginners. There is a gorgeous warming yurt. The fire was blazing even though we were the only ones there. They have benches for changing, board games for the kiddies and skates for use on the skating pond.
The last day I broke out my telemark skis, put on the skins and skinned up Mt Abram. It was fun, in a zen kind of way, and I thought about how often I had mocked those going up hill from the comfort of the chairlift. Earn your turns!
Driving from Sunday River down to Acadia I reflected on the Super Bowl and all the Olympic games we had been watching and began to wonder: what makes us strap skinny sticks to our feet and hurl ourselves down a mountain in the freezing cold? Or worse, strap even skinnier sticks to our feet and propel ourselves up mountains? Which lead me to wondering: why are there sports at all?
In the hunter-gatherer times, some sports, such as running, were necessary for survival. Hunters ran after dinner and gatherers ran away from predators. Once the agrarian phase came about there was not as much need for hunters, but they needed a constructive outlet for their skills so sporting contests came about.
Olympic Winter Sports
The Olympics were invented in Greece in 776 BC. They consisted of one short race and the prize was an olive wreath. It is rumored that Sparta wanted to wear green, but Athens claimed they had worn green for years. Corinth objected to the logo on the race bibs. The Olympic committee resolved the matter by declaring that everyone would compete naked. It is also thought the first sports bet was placed at these ancient games.
The Romans banned them (the Olympics not the Greeks) probably because no one was betting on their gladiators and chariot races. The games were revived in 1896 when Pierre de Coubertin formed the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The stated mission of the IOC is to promote clean sports and human rights. A reasonable question is why did they allow China to host the 2022 winter games, in Beijing where it hardly ever snows, given their abysmal human rights record. The answer is that the only other competitor, Kazakhstan, has an even worse human rights record than China. As far as clean games, Russia got caught doping while on probation for doping, but was somehow excused because the skater was only 15 years old.
The other mission of the IOC is to lure countries into building new stadiums and venues that will most likely never be used again. They do this by promising large amounts of money to the host country. Actual amounts received are unverifiable due to the IOC’s lack of transparency and creative accounting methods. This is a subject beyond the scope of this article but if you want to read more, check this link: https://www.playthegame.org/news/comments/2020/1002_a-leaked-list-discloses-how-much-cash-the-ioc-paid-for-the-2016-olympics-in-rio-de-janeiro/
With increasing leisure time, those who were not athletic, but needed something to stave off boredom, started training animals to perform various activities so they could bet on them. Betting in England was usually confined to horse races and was the purview of the rich, since no one else had any money. Betting in the US was at first confined to baseball, which of course lead to cheating and drug use.
Scotland was a hotbed of genius at one time, in both medicine and philosophy. But the Scots did not stop there. In the 16th century two Scotsmen were taking their stone wheel for repairs and decided to see who could slide it the farthest along the frozen lake. This quickly proved tiring, so they decided to try for accuracy instead of distance and curling was born.
Many other countries invent sports, but not all catch on worldwide like golf. Finland for example has wife carrying where the goal is to carry your wife or other suitable woman over an obstacle course. There are no provisions for a woman to carry a man, which seems rather sexist. An even more bizarre Finnish activity is called hobby horsing, where people ride a hobby horse around a ring, thus sparing real horses any pain.
Then there is ferret legging, not necessarily a winter sport, but it needs mention in any article on weird sports. The sport is said to have begun in the UK, possibly even Scotland. It involves shoving a live ferret down your pants and letting it chew on whatever it finds down there. The winner is whoever can keep the ferret down the longest. The current record of over 5 hours is held by 72 year old Reg Mellor. The definitive and extremely amusing article on this sport is “King of the Ferret Leggers” by Donald Katz which can be found in Outside Magazine. The rules do not exclude participation on basis of gender, but there is no record of a woman entering. There is a stringent anti-doping policy for both the contestant and the ferret which explains why it is not popular in Russia. It also has not caught on that well elsewhere, even though it is probably the only sport in which the animal suffers less than the human.
Acadia National Park
We arrived in Bar Harbor just after a snowfall and skied the carriage trails in Acadia National Park in subfreezing temps on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday we hiked up Gorham Mountain, a short 3 mile hike with spectacular views of the ocean and Sand Beach. Bar Harbor was deserted. Most stores were closed, except Cadillac Mountain Sports and the bookstore, which were all we needed. None of the restaurants were open either. We finally wandered into Peekytoe Provisions, a fish market with a few table and had one of the best meals of our lives. On Friday, the snow was gone and we departed for home.