As a retired guy I do two things: ski and bicycle (or three things, if annoying my wife, aka “Ski Widow,” with all my skiing and bicycling is considered a thing).
I like to think that bicycling makes me a better skier, so with almost 5,000 miles of pedaling logged for the year and feeling “strong like a bull,” I traveled north to New Hampshire in late November to begin my ski season.
One advantage of retirement is that I can ski weekdays and the Monday crowd at Loon Mountain in the White Mountain National Forest was sparse, meaning no lines at the express gondola. After 17 runs and 29,607 vertical feet my He-Man bike-sculptured legs were shot. The lesson learned was bicycling and skiing do not use all the same muscles and the best way to get in shape for skiing is to ski.
Mixing It Up with Cross-Country Skiing
My Granite State friend Roger Lohr is founder and editor of XCSkiResorts.com. Roger often suggests that I (and everyone) take in the beauty of cross-country skiing. With my legs demanding a break from the alpine S-turns, I agreed to join him for a day of Nordic fun.
Roger chose the Waterville Valley Adventure Center, located near the Waterville Valley downhill ski resort and their knowledgeable staff set me up with skis, poles, boots and a trail pass. As with alpine skiing there can be a lot of minutia involved in selecting proper equipment. Roger was able to talk the talk about length, width, binding type and the base surface. I took what they suggested and smiled politely.
Roger brought his own skis which have thin mohair strips on the base allowing the ski to glide forward effortlessly and grip into the snow to allow the leg muscles to propel the ski forward and keep it from slipping backwards.
My rental skis had a plastic ratchet surface of angled teeth allowing movement in one direction and . . . whoa, enough with the minutia! Cross-country skiing is supposed to be simple and fun, so out the door we went.
Cross-country trails, like downhill trails, are marked and rated by level of difficulty. Thankfully Roger took it easy on me. Trails can be groomed with indented tracks that guide the skis (classic skiing) or left smooth for skate skiing. Often there is room for both. The early season snow was not conducive to making tracks so our choice was skate skiing.
Now I’m not a total rookie in the world of Nordic snow sliding. Over the years I’ve logged about five or six days on the skinny skis . . . and speaking of logging ski days, last season I put 75 alpine days on my chart – yes, I love being a retired guy. I mentioned to Roger that subbing a Nordic day for an alpine day was going to cut into my total ski day count for the season. He got all red in the face and exclaimed, “Cross-country skiing is skiing. You can count it.”
Sorry, Roger. It’s not the same.
Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners
So I got off on the wrong foot with Roger, but he over looked my counting system to give me some valuable advice:
- Keys to success: bend knees, align toe-knee-nose so weight stays on the ski (feel the heel) and don’t lean backwards.
- Uphill techniques include side-step, forward side-step, straight climb (short quick steps, keeping the poles behind your feet when planting), and the herringbone (making a v-shaped pattern with the skis).
- Downhill techniques include keeping the arms forward and weight down on each ski.
- The glide works best when putting weight down on the forward ski.
The bottom line is that cross-country skiing is like walking — awkward walking — and every time I try it I’m pretty darn awkward at first. But the learning curve is much faster than with downhill skiing and after about 15 minutes the process became natural and enjoyable. It was a nice break for the leg muscles, while giving me a good cardiac workout. And there is something wonderful about being outside breathing crisp cool air.
Yup Roger, I’m a fan and even set up a log for my Nordic days.
Olympian On the Trail
Near the end of our day we crossed paths with a skier sporting clothing with a US Ski Team logo. I asked if he would mind pausing his workout to take a photo of Roger and me. He agreed and as he worked the cell phone Roger recognized that he was Kris Freeman who was in the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games and was a long-time powerhouse on the World Cup circuit.
When we returned to the Adventure Center I noticed a poster on the wall of Freeman with his shirt off revealing an impressive set of abs. I definitely need to work cross-country skiing into my fitness regimen.
Martin Griff is an East Coast ski bum. A journalist by education and profession, he shares his thoughts, impressions, experiences and those things that puzzle him with Braveskimom.com throughout the ski season.
© 2019, braveskimom. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.