Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nordic Walking

Why has Nordic walking taken the hillsides of Switzerland by storm? 

Nordic walking, for the uninitiated, is a form of brisk walking assisted – or encumbered – by a pair of poles of the sort normally used for Nordic skiing.  (This is what gives Nordic walking its name, though it is worth noting the sport is comparatively less popular in sporty, easygoing Scandinavia – and the slight frown of patriotic disappointment this arouses here in Helvetica: why is it not called Alpine Walking?)

Nordic Walking of course owes some of its popularity to sheer novelty: Switzerland has long believed in the Calvinistic merit of what Barthes called “the morally uplifting walk” through the mountainside, so it took a clever entrepreneur to discover a new twist on bipedalism, which has been with us unchanged for eons. 

And yet the appeal is more firmly rooted than this.  Nordic walking succeeds through craftily grafting a few key elements of Swissness onto what is an outwardly simple activity.  Walking is made Swiss through adding high-tech paraphernalia, adding an element of complexity and a set of regulations, and most of all through simply making it more work.  (This is work, of course, in the physiological sense: Nordic walking brings a higher metabolic cost than ‘regular’ walking, though the implication of the Swiss love of productiveeconomic work is also germane.)  Being perfectionists, the Swiss have also become enamoured of a new way of walking that requires perfecting technique.  Re-learning to walk at the age of 40 is precisely the sort of challenge that appeals deeply to the Swiss.

Ultimately, Nordic Walking emerges as a pastime virtually custom-designed for the Swiss – one resting on the bedrock of traditional Swiss vigor and adorned with the potential for high investments of cash (in complicated gear) and time (in perfect technique).  

The more apt question, then, is why its arrival took so long. 

No comments:

Post a Comment