By Pete Wilson. Originally prepared for the Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA). Reprinted here with permission. All photos courtesy CCSAA.
In the past few months of quaran-time, we have all perused countless news stories, blog posts, and social media blurbs recommending ways to stay active and sane while staying safe. In some ways, we are almost overwhelmed with the options: from sourdough starters to starting house projects, from reading thick books to re-doing our hairdos, the internet has thought of everything. When it comes to planning for the coming months, however, the suggestions grow thin.
A March 2020 New York Times article considering the possibilities for winter recreation during this strange time made brief mention of cross country skiing, regarding it a “low-risk option.” Low risk, indeed—but this is only part of the story. Though cross country doesn’t always get the media coverage it deserves, it is worth the attention of anyone who is worried about getting cooped up as the weather grows chillier. In the winter of the pandemic, when outside activities are at the top of everyone’s priority lists, cross country trails will be among the safest, the most enjoyable, and the most accessible places to be.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it countless changes to our way of life in both the US and Canada: we wear masks, we stand six feet apart, we avoid crowds and we work from home—all aimed at reducing transmission of the disease. One of the most effective methods of staying healthy, though, is quite an old one: fresh air. Experts are adamant: the unrivaled ventilation of the outdoors is one of the best, not to mention simplest, tools we have to keep those virus-ridden water droplets out of our mouths, noses and eyes. Everything from board meetings to school classes are being held in lawns, parks and green spaces. Schools are even considering holding classes outside.
This move to the outdoors is not only a defense against the virus, it is an antidote to the severe cases of cabin fever that months of quarantine have certainly produced. And, COVID aside, perhaps this return to nature as the best remedy is good for our wellbeing generally—a way to keep our bodies strong, our minds sharp and uncluttered, and our spirits high during uncertainty and the trying challenges of the workday.
But what happens as autumn rolls around, as the trees lose their appealing greenery and the air begins to bite with the first frosty taste of winter? How do we maintain the outdoors as a safe zone for both work and play, for socially distanced meetings, strenuous exercise and genuine relaxation, when the cold turns your nose red?
What we need, it would seem, is a way to stay warm, have fun and hang with friends, all while being in the great outdoors—and perhaps wearing a cozy face covering. In other words, we need cross country skiing.
Some of cross country’s greatest assets this winter will be its versatility and its accessibility. It can also be one of the most natural socially-distant sports. Not unlike how your two legs let you move at any pace, from a slow stroll to a blood pumping hike to a flat out sprint, you can ski at any pace that suits your wants or needs. Say you and a colleague would get a weekly lunch to vent about work pre-COVID, and have since replaced it with a socially distanced walk; this winter, you could strap on a pair of skis and turn that walk or lunch time chat into a beautiful meandering ski across gentle terrain. With nothing but the quiet swoosh of skis and poles to distract you, a social ski is a wonderful way to catch up with a friend or coworker while staying safe and staying off zoom.
Maybe your biggest struggle this winter will be what to do with the kids—when you’re working from home and the kitchen is the classroom, daycare center and cubicle all in one, it can be hard for anyone to stay attentive or be their most productive. An hour of sliding up and down hills and pushing one another around on skis is a great way for kids to work out their wiggles, enjoy some socially distanced play with other kids, and learn to enjoy winter rather than just dread it.
A Winter Delight
Cross country skiing is also accessible: going for a leisurely ski, grabbing a workout or playing with the kids does not have to be a big ordeal or weekend-long hassle. Chances are, if you find yourself in a place with snowy winters, there is a Nordic ski center within driving distance—and if there’s not, the beauty of the sport is you can just make your own, by setting the first tracks on a powder-filled field or forest! Wherever you find a spot to ski, getting started is as easy as popping on a pair of boots and skis and getting moving. Though your technique will certainly improve with time, you’ll be having fun and traveling across the snow right away. And when sitting outside or strolling down the sidewalk are not exactly appealing options in the dead of winter, skiing will always be there to brighten your day, rather than make it more difficult.
Though times are tough, and the outlook is more hazy than rosy, people are adaptable. This winter, cross country skiing is poised to truly make an impact on people’s lives; it will serve as an alternative gym, a play space, a new social scene, an escape; the trails will provide a place to recharge, reconnect and renew ourselves and our bonds, apart from zoom calls and news updates; and we will all be the better for it.
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