Here's an attempt at humor in an article I wrote a couple years ago for White Mtn. Outdoors Magazine, a publication of the White Mountain Independent.
Special Section > White Mountain Outdoors > Page 4 > So you think you'd like to try cross-country skiing
So you think you'd like to try cross-country skiing
White Mountain Outdoors
As a kid growing up in Southern California I always wanted to try cross-country skiing. I had heard it was fun. I had also heard of snow, but had never actually seen any falling from the sky until I moved to the White Mountains. By this time I was almost 50 years old and was not as spry as I once had been.
I tried snowshoeing a few times, but it seemed very stodgy. I pictured myself flying along through the untracked snow, gliding easily up and down the hills.
I rented a pair of skis one snowy day and decided to try it out. I took an instruction book with me in my backpack. According to the author, the basics would not be too hard to master. Yeah, right. The first thing that happened was that I fell on my face. Since I was not traveling very fast it was not painful. This was a good thing. The bad thing was that I couldn’t seem to get up again! Should I use my poles? Should I unclip my boots from the skis? I was struggling so hard to get back up I didn’t even think about digging into my snow-covered backpack for the instruction book.
Later on, at home, I read that one should swing the skis and legs so they are on the same side. Then get up on one knee, then onto both knees, grasping the middle of the poles. Then slide one ski forward and use the poles to push up. Now, if this sounds complicated, imagine trying to remember these steps while you are wallowing around in deep, soft snow, with two very long boards attached to your feet!
With a lot of trial and error I finally got the hang of it, kind of. I bought a set of skis, boots, bindings and poles and continued the learning curve. The kick-and-glide stride started to feel natural to me.
After several winters’ practice, I was able to do turns (most of the time) and go down a hill and around a corner, as long as the conditions are not too icy. When it’s icy I stick to the flatter terrain. You can zip along pretty fast on hard, icy snow, but when you fall down it hurts! And steep icy hills are for experts, or people like me who don’t know any better.
Cross-country skis are long and narrow, and they don’t function quite the same way as downhill skis. This doesn’t matter to me anyway, as I have never downhill skied. I found that turns are tricky because you are supposed to lean in the opposite direction of the turn you are making, while at the same time placing more weight on that ski. So if you want to make a right turn, you must place more weight on your left ski and lean left, while bending your knees and waist. This takes a bit of getting used to—at first it just doesn’t seem to make sense. At the same time you are making this turn, leaning the wrong way, and trying hard to remember to also bend your knees and waist, you also have to be sort of stepping around the corner.
You can also do a snowplow turn. This means your skis are not parallel, but the tips are closer together. Now this can be a harrowing feeling while going down a slope, having those ski tips pointing at each other. When you are a beginner you may often get the feeling that those ski tips are going to cross over one another and then where will you be? Oh, it’s so much fun!
What did you say—you wanted to learn how to stop? What for? You’re having a great time, zipping down this little hill along a groomed trail. Who needs to stop? Rounding a blind corner, feeling proud to have executed a turn … But what’s that you see in front of you? A newly fallen tree directly across the path! Yikes! That is when you use your snowplow stop.
If this doesn’t work, or if you are afraid your ski tips will cross, then you just sit down on the skis and drag your poles, hands and backside along in the snow. At least, that’s what I do. It’s a new technique — I invented it! I’m sure it will become very important in Olympic skiing once it catches on.
In cross-country skiing, your boot heels are not attached to the ski. They are free to move up and down. The toes of the boots attach with a sort of hinge. The skis themselves are designed to go both up and down hills. (Whether or not you have the lungpower to make them go up the hills...well, we don’t need to discuss that right now, do we?)
Traditional cross-country skis need to be waxed, with a truly bewildering number of types of waxes, which are used according to snow conditions and temperature. At least, so I’m told. I’m still using non-wax skis. They’re much simpler and are advisable for the beginner. Then, later on, if you get really good at the sport (and move to Colorado, where it actually snows a lot) you will probably graduate to a more technical type of ski.
There are so many different types of cross-country skis I can’t keep track of them all. There are mountaineering skis and telemark skis and skating skis and touring skis and racing skis. There are contraptions that allow you to have your dog pull you along. This is called skijouring, and sounds really fun, until you remember how often your dog likes to run off and jump over big logs and chase rabbits.
You can ski just about anywhere there is open flat or rolling terrain. The snow needs to be about six inches deep or you will scrape and damage the bottoms of your skis. The rental places won’t take too kindly to that treatment, so be careful.
The Forest Service grooms some of the trails I have listed below. Groomed trails offer much easier skiing than unbroken snow. Sunrise Ski Resort offers groomed cross-country ski trails as well, but they do charge a small fee to use them. Many trail systems such as Pole Knoll, near Greer, have blue diamond markers on the trees to help you find your way.
If you have to break trail in new snow it is more difficult, but it’s also a good workout. And you can return to your car following these tracks. If you’ve gone uphill for an hour or so you’ll find the return trip will take only about 20 minutes. Many times, however, I will arrive at a ski area to find someone else has been there before me. Then I just ski along in the tracks they’ve made.
Snowmobile tracks are also easy paths to follow, and I often follow these tracks along the Railroad Grade Trail. Adding to your adventure, the snowmobilers could come roaring back along these tracks, necessitating quick moves on your part.
I enjoy skiing alone, but I sometimes go with the TRACKS outdoor group, which meets once a month in Pinetop-Lakeside. Beware, however, that there are a number of septuagenarian members of this club whose skiing skills will likely put yours to shame. However, they will probably be kind enough to give you a few pointers.
Information about this club is available at the Pinetop-Lakeside Parks and Recreation Department, (928) 368-6700, and membership is free. Additionally, guided cross-country skiing and lessons are sometimes available at Sunrise Ski Resort, (800) 772-7669.
Popular places to ski in the Springerville Ranger District:
• Pole Knoll Recreation Area off 260, a couple of miles or so west of the Greer turnoff.
• Squirrel Springs Recreation Area in Greer, off 373.
• Mt. Baldy foothills area near Hall Creek, past the locked gate on 273.
• Railroad Grade Trail off 260, by the “sledding hill.”
• Anywhere around Green’s Peak is great if there have been several snowstorms.
• Down south, in the Alpine Ranger District, the Williams Valley Recreation Area near Alpine is a wonderful place to ski. The Forest Service often grooms the trails there, if there is enough snow.
• Hannagan Meadow also has cross-country ski trails.
If you’re in the Lakeside or Black Mesa Ranger Districts, call the District Ranger for information on
Ski rentals are available at the gas station in Alpine, at the Sweat Shop in Eagar and at Sunrise General Store. Inexpensive ski packages can be purchased online from L.L. Bean, Sierra Trading Post, REI and many other companies.
It’s best to rent (or borrow) first to get a feel for the sport. And of course, carry water, snacks, extra layers of clothing, matches, fire starter, a lighter, a stocking cap and sunglasses.
It is best to not wear any cotton clothing—all of your clothes and socks should be synthetic fabrics, such as fleece and polypro or wool. I myself also prefer to wear a pair of seriously dorky-looking bright blue gaiters, which keep the snow from going inside my ski boots.
There is a point of no return unremarked at the time in most lives. Graham Greene The Comedians
A clean house is a sign of a misspent life.