Monday was clear and sunny and not as cold as expected. The weekend snowfall covered the golf course with a white blanket. When I put on my cross-country skis for the first time this season, I smiled. The pleasures of winter and skiing were finally here.
Working to find my ski legs and my pace, I went around the loop. The air was so crisp and the ski so blue, I was filled with joy. Nothing like the feeling of sliding on the snow.
I still remember my first Nordic experience. In 1977, I moved from Virginia to New Hampshire with minimal skiing experience on downhill mountains that hadn’t been the most positive. When my fellow teachers invited me to cross-country ski with them, I decided to give it a try. I rented equipment and joined them for a long tour of the backcountry.
It was the time before the slopes and the groomed lessons. We skied on snowmobile trails and old wooded paths.
The snow was thick and we took turns “smashing the trail”. I had no idea what I was doing or how to handle long skis, but I was young and determined not to be left behind. I fell several times, not knowing how to get up. Friendly hands lifted me up again and again.
Somewhere along the way, despite my beginner’s difficulties, I fell in love with cross-country skiing. I bought some nice wooden skis that I still have. Nothing could match them for their grace and speed on fresh snow. The noise they made as they slid made me happy.
That first New England winter, I spent hours with friends or alone exploring the winter woods. I didn’t have a lot of skills or techniques yet, but learned to sit up when I couldn’t stop. Fortunately, I survived this winter!
Since then, I have been practicing cross-country skiing. It gives me joy. Floating on the snow and through the woods is so peaceful and invigorating. There is nothing like it.
Years later, I now teach people how to cross-country ski. I try to share these feelings and experiences with them and hope they will have them too.
Monday was my first day back at work as a Jackson Ski Touring instructor. I still feel a little rusty after almost nine months without skis, but I remember my first skiing experience. Thinking of everything I wish I had known at this point, I start with the basics – how to put on the equipment, how to stand while moving, and how to stand up when you fall.
Monday’s schedule was full. Each course slot was filled with people who wanted to learn Nordic skiing. Most had no experience on cross-country skis, some had little time on downhill equipment. Many had reached their maturity with Nordic skiing on their “bucket list”.
Students came from everywhere. A few were from Massachusetts, a young German couple were studying law at Harvard, and a couple were from Florida. They were vacationing in the area with their friends and family and decided to give skinny skiing a try.
The lessons started with introductions and past experiences. I shared mine, they shared theirs. Then we moved on to how to put on skis and poles and body position. Two crucial things to stay upright on these slippery skis are to bend your knees and watch. I have often reminded them to keep their heads up and their legs bent.
We worked on the flats, getting used to sliding on skis and transferring weight from ski to ski, without using poles. If anyone fell, we would discuss how to get up. I showed them the techniques that I have learned over the years. When the students were ready, we added sticks and explained how to use them effectively.
Skiers quickly started kicking and sliding on the snow. I saw smiles. It was time for a few runs. Starting small, we made our way to “Goldilocks” near the condos. With a stable “bus driver” position, everyone managed to descend the slope without falling. Success!
Climbing techniques came next as we were talking about how to use the ridges under their waxless skis to climb small hills. I told them that when I approach a hill I speed up, look up and use these poles behind me to push up to the top. The snow was perfect for climbing that day.
For hills and more difficult conditions, I went over the rafters and skirting techniques for going up a hill. I wish I had known them when I first went cross-country skiing.
The last and most important thing we worked on was how to stop going downhill. While my ‘sit down’ method has saved me in the past, I wanted them to have a smarter, safer way to control speed and stop when needed. After several rounds of ‘fries and pizza’ (skis parallel to the wedges) on a slight descent, we tried these skills on the hills. Most of the students took the hit and managed to control their speed on the slopes.
After arming the students with these new skills, I sent them out on the trails to try them out. Looking at their smiling faces, I knew they were about to experience the joys of cross country skiing.
At the end of the day, I went out for a quick walk around the golf course, over the covered bridge and through the tunnel to the other side of the golf course. The sun was setting so I turned around there, wishing I had more daylight to ski the Ellis. I’m saving this for another great day of skiing.
Back at the lodge, I find the German couple. They were so excited to have skied the Ellis and back. The joy of Nordic skiing had found them. They wanted to keep their rental gear for two more days and explore more trails. Once they were equipped with materials and maps, they set off to plan their activities for the next day. I love it when I see cross country converts!
While the snow is there and the skiing is pretty good, get out those skinny skis. Visit one of our six excellent local Nordic Centers or try out backcountry trails near you. Discover the pleasure of sliding on the snow. I’ll be right behind you.
Sally McMurdo is currently a cross-country ski instructor with the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For nearly four decades, she explored the groomed and ungroomed trails of New England on all manner of skis.