I went cross-country skiing with my family last week. I hadn’t skied in more than a decade, and I never had skate-skied before. It looked like fun, so I rented skis and took a one-hour introductory lesson. Then I headed out on the trails.
I was looking forward to gliding through the snow like I knew from classic Nordic skiing, yet I was very surprised how much fun skate-skiing is. The gently rolling trail followed a creek along the edge of the hills. Even though the water was flowing toward me, I felt like I was going downhill! When I turned around, I really was going downhill, which was even more fun.
Skate-skiing really was exhilarating – it felt like being on a bike that planes perfectly, with none of the push-back you sometimes get when you try to pedal harder. On skate skis, you don’t push off, but just step forward with your feet at an outward angle, and then your legs just go. Every second step, you use your poles to balance and get a little extra propulsion. As I skated through the sparse forest, speed built quickly. I was breathing hard and enjoying the “taste of the effort”, but it seemed effortless. And I covered a lot of ground quickly. I wasn’t the only one enjoying it: A woman and daughter came flying toward me, their arms waving from side to side beautifully in sync with their strides. Their smiles were as big as mine.
It was fun to be out in the mountains, too. I’ve cycled through these places in summer, but it was very different now. The quality of light, reflected by the snow from all sides, was so much more luminous. We have very little snow pack in the Cascades this winter, sadly, as you can see on the hills; definitely too light for February. However, there was still enough snow on the trails to ski.
The next three days were pure bliss. Every morning, I rose before sunrise, and headed out on the trails. I explored new trails every day, including one on the last day that had a wonderful flow of ups and downs. On the downhills, I learned to step around corners, rather than snowplow and lose speed. Approaching the limits of my skills and capabilities was exhilarating, and it was good to know that if things got out of hand, I could just sit down and stop on my behind (which I did do once.)
The snowplowing for tighter turns was fun, too, since you adjust your arc by weighing the outer or inner skis. The skis are aligned in a triangle. Weighing the outer ski pulls you into the turn, weighing the inner ski widens your arc. It reminded me a lot of riding on gravel or mud, where you play with the traction of your bike’s tires. But here, it’s easier because you don’t face a sudden loss of traction – you are always sliding and working with it.
I expected to be sore from so much skiing, like I used to be after classic cross-country skiing. However, it seems that skating uses similar muscles as cycling, and only my hands got a little tired from gripping the poles.
If you live in a place where snow prevents you from cycling, now I envy you! I now dream of having a groomed trail behind my house, so I could ski for an hour or two every morning…