XC Skiing for the First Time

One of my goals this year was to try a new snow sport (last year it was snowboarding, which was AMAZING but also super expensive :-|). So this year, cross country skiing seemed like a good choice.

It didn’t seem like something I would need to take a lesson to learn, so instead I watched a bunch of YouTube videos (this one I found particularly useful), asked friends for advice, and also asked a lot of questions at the ski shop where I rented my skis.

The guy at the rental shop said it best: “The best teacher is ‘Tony Knows,'” he said (or, that’s what I heard). Then I realized he was pointing to his toe, his knee, and his nose. Oh. Toe, knee, nose. “Just line up your toe with your knee, with your nose, and you’ll be fine.” He demonstrated the movement, where you kind of lean forward, keeping a sort of diagonal line from your nose down to your foot. Keep your weight forward, and don’t lean back. Seemed pretty straightforward. Matched what I’d seen on YouTube.

Intrepid friends!

On Sunday, Asa and I met up with a bunch of my intrepid friends, and we set off for Ray Benson Sno-Park, which had been recommended by several people as a beginner-friendly spot.

Admittedly, it was a little hard to get used to at first. The skis weren’t hard to balance on like skates, but they did feel a little difficult to control once you started sliding, or when you needed to turn. Very quickly, I found myself in the back of the pack, wobbling along unsteadily and feeling unsure of my footing.

As we moved along, I started to feel more confident and faster, and soon came to enjoy the thrill of the easy gliding through the snowy tracks. The sun was shining, I was shedding layers, and working up a sweat.

The first little downhill was terrifying, and I ended up kind of going down on my butt, squatting on the skis and tipping over at the end. The one after that was a little less scary, and I managed to stay standing until the very end, and then fell. Most of them were more like that: I could stay upright most of the way, but somehow managed to fall at the very end (usually due to my weight getting offset behind me).

It was an absolute blast, though. I loved how quiet skiing was, compared to the crunch of snowshoes. I loved the feeling of gliding, especially over the gentle slopes. The rhythm of the lunging movement, that short rest period between steps as momentum takes you forward.

Our goal was to get to the Brandenburg warming shelter a few miles in, and then return from there. I was getting pretty tired before we reached it, but we kept feeling like we were close, so we kept pushing on. Eventually we ran into some other skiers along the way who told us it was just behind the next hill.

The hill was by far the scariest part for me. It was quite sloped (enough for my friend with backcountry skis to clip her heels in and downhill ski the rest of the way to the cabin), and with a few trees sprinkled here and there. I coped by picking my way slowly down the hill, far behind everyone else, going diagonal to the slope as much as I could. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. 🙂

Inside the warming shelter

Finally, we made it to the cabin and settled in around the woodstove with a few other skiers to warm up and have a snack. As soon as I sat down, my body told me it was done. It did not want to go any further. My legs ached, my back ached, my arms and shoulders ached. But we still had another 3 miles back to the parking area, so I was just going to have to deal with it.

Feeling a little more refreshed after some rest, we decided to go back a different way, since the trail had now been broken and we might get some different views. The way back was actually quite a bit more forgiving in terms of terrain and trail than the way out had been. It was more forested and although there was a bit of uphill and downhill, it somehow didn’t seem as intense.

We can all learn a lesson from the dog: When the going gets tough, it’s time to play.

In the end, we finished the ~6 mile loop in about 5 hours (counting break time). It was pretty slow going, and I spent a good amount of time falling on my butt, but even so, I had such a blast. I can honestly say that XC skiing is now one of my favorite snow activities I’ve tried, and I cannot wait to go again and get better and more confident with it.

It was a little windy on the slope. 😛

So, the main takeaways from last week:

  1. Glad I didn’t spend money on a lesson. It was easy to learn through YouTube videos and friends’ advice.
  2. Toe, knee, nose. Always.
  3. Expect to fall a lot your first time (make sure you watch some videos about how to get up again!)
  4. Have fun with it! The other great piece of advice we got from the outfitter at the ski shop was to “just be a kid” with it. I’m pretty good at being a kid, so I think it worked out pretty well. 🙂

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