January 2019 - CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
Cross Country Skiing - Great for Winter Fun and Fitness!
By Richard Carlson
Cross country skiing is set to become your new winter season passion! Hey, skiing is skiing, the curly end goes to the front and you slide around on snow. It’s sport and fresh air fitness – and it’s a connection with the natural world in winter. If you’re a competent alpine skier you can easily make the switch. All the turning and stopping techniques of going downhill on skis readily translates into XC. Even beginner alpine skiers fare better with cross country ski technique than never-ever skiers.
First off, Nordic skiing is a lot of different types of skiing. There’s skiing on groomed trails at a ski center – light touring or classic skiing and skate skiing fit in here. Get off the groomed trails and it’s backcountry skiing, lots of choices here: heavier systems bindings, light metal edge skis, lighter Telemark-style boots, bindings and skis. If you still want the benefit of an alpine-style setup consider alpine touring. AT is generally a lightweight metal edge ski with a rigid boot, a unique binding that allows free heel touring uphill, and a locked heel for downhill running. If you’ve seen skiers skiing uphill at an alpine ski area – they’re probably using climbing skins on AT gear.
No Crowds – Sure there can be some crowded XC ski trails but it’s never like the alpine ski venues with their mega football-field-sized parking lots, lines for tickets, food or lifts. Even a crowded parking lot at a cross country ski center doesn’t translate into busy ski trails. Typically, 80% of the skiers ski 20% of the trails. Spread out and you’ll have miles of skiing to yourself. But, to really distance yourself from the crowds, get into the backcountry. There are so many choices in the Adirondacks, Catskills and surrounding areas that you’ll be torn between destinations on a good ski day.
JUST DO IT
Top Fitness Activity – Nordic racers are the fittest athletes in the world! It’s a full body exercise using legs, arms, shoulders and stomach muscles. Exercise physiologists have measured elite cross country ski racers with a VO2 max (a standard measure of oxygen utilization) at 96, elite cyclists might be high 80s, Olympic swimmers a mere 70. It’s no wonder that gym machines like elliptical trainers and ski machines mimic the actions of cross country skiing. The large Scandinavian ski races – and the America Birkebeiner in Wisconsin – regularly have finishers in the 80-plus age groups skiing up to 50 miles!
Relatively Inexpensive – Sure you need to purchase skis, boots and poles, and maybe multiple sets for light touring and backcountry skiing if you’re into both, but it’s still cheaper than an alpine skiing setup. Groomed cross country ski trails may set you back $10-$20 for a day of skiing, with season passes around $100-$150.
New No-Wax Skis – Most manufacturers have added a “skin ski” to their lineup of classic ski models. This revolution in skis is worth a look for no-wax fitness or recreational skiing – just step in and go! Instead of a “fishscale” pattern (noisy, slow) that replaced the sometimes tricky wax skis, the kick-zone grip is now provided by mohair (silk-like) strips. They offer bombproof grip and they’re really fast! The only drawback may be some possible icing in wet or near freezing conditions, so keep some glide product handy to add to the skin section of the ski – and you’ll be all set.
The Adventure – Not only is there a seemingly endless supply of Adirondack and Catskill backcountry trails and ski routes, but advances in electronic navigation have made some bushwhack skiing routes very attractive. With smart phones and tablets, map applications and satellite imagery (check out the hardwoods vs. the thicker pine forests), skiers can traverse frozen ponds and swamps in winter that would be impossible in the warm months.
Social and Family Friendly – Shared ski adventures with friends and family are the best winter fun! The entire family can cross country ski – even toddlers can be pulled in pulk sleds (usually available to rent at ski area). Many ski centers will have organized clubs or activities for children and seniors with weekly ski or snowshoe events.
Ski Centers – The best place to begin cross country skiing is on groomed trails at ski centers. They will have a warming lodge, rental equipment, ski lessons, food service, and even overnight lodging. Many areas also sell XC ski equipment, so you can try different types of gear right on the snow, and decide on what’s best for the skiing you plan on doing. Lessons are invaluable in making a switch, and ski centers will usually have a discounted first-timer package with rental, trail fee and a lesson. Ski centers are often the best sources for information on nearby backcountry ski routes, snow and trail conditions.
Snowmaking – ORDA has been making snow for years at Gore and Whiteface, and for races at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. Now, Mt. Van Hoevenberg and the Gore Nordic Center (North Creek Ski Bowl) both have snowmaking on Nordic ski trails. The Gore trails are also lighted for night skiing and have been a hotbed for high school, college and citizen races.
Weather, Ski and Snow Reports – With this era of climate change, snow and ski conditions can change rapidly. Start with snocountry.com and also the I LOVE NY Snow Phone: 800-CALL-NYS (800-225-5697, option 3). For the absolute latest ski reports, visit the ski center’s website or call them directly. Facebook has become a great resource for ski reports, just “Like” your favorite ski center for updated posts right in your newsfeed. Weather reports and forecasts are almost everywhere online; try Weather Underground for location-specific, hourly forecasts – great info for ski waxing.
Backcountry Skiing – Aside from equipment, ski technique, route finding and map reading, being prepared with a well-equipped daypack is lifesaving. Always carry a headlight, extra clothes, matches, the map for the area you’re in, extra socks, ski and binding repair tools, food and water (you may have to keep it insulated from freezing). Someone in your group should have a first aid kit. Cell phones can help in an emergency, if you have service – keep them warm to preserve battery life. A good number to add to your phone is the NYS DEC Ranger Dispatch in Ray Brook: 518-891-0235. Any higher angle tours (steep slopes) can be avalanche prone and skiers have died – yes, even in the Adirondacks. Don’t stumble onto an unfamiliar slope or trail unprepared or above your ability and knowledge.
Clothing – You probably already have some ski clothing, but ditch the heavy jackets and insulated pants. Lightweight synthetic clothing is best – non-cotton long underwear, fleece and windproof shells, and shell pants are good choices. Don’t forget a hat, quality lightweight gloves and sunglasses.
Snowshoeing – This is also a great way to get out in winter, and enjoy the benefits of trails and fitness, without any of the technique and equipment requirements of skiing. XC ski centers are the best place to get started snowshoeing with rentals, helpful hints and dedicated snowshoe trails.
For the best backcountry knowledge, equipment rentals and local maps, visit the full-service ski centers with ski shops – Garnet Hill Lodge in North River, Lapland Lake in Northville, and Cascade in Lake Placid – plus, High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid. For backcountry, also consider these shops: The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, High Adventure in Latham, Sports Page and Inside Edge in Queensbury, Alpine Sport Shop in Saratoga Springs, and Mountainman Outdoors in Saratoga Springs and Old Forge. Other quality ski centers include Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake, Osceola Tug Hill in Camden, and Pineridge in East Poestenkill.
Want to find a great backcountry ski adventure? Check out these classic books for trail descriptions and maps: Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks (ADK) by Tony Goodwin, and of course, the Discover the Adirondacks (Wild River Press) book series for year-round use by Bill Ingersoll. Bill has also authored Snowshoe Routes: Adirondacks & Catskills (Mountaineers). Rich Macha also has excellent backcountry skiing contributions to this magazine – see past issues on adksports.com. Visit your local bookstore, outfitter or adk.org, hiketheadirondacks.com or mountaineersbooks.com.
Strap on your skis or snowshoes and discover the Empire State’s winter playground!
Richard Carlson (email@example.com) of North River is president of Cross Country Ski Areas of New York and Upper Hudson Trails Alliance.