Winter Adventures Cross-Country Skiing
By Candyce H. Stapen
The blue-white expanse of frozen lake seemed right out of a fairytale. Framed by rocky cliffs and towering pines laced with snow, Gunflint Lake in Minnesotaís north woods, adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, appeared magical.
The pristine setting convinced Alissa, my then 13-year-old daughter, to go cross-country skiing with me. A denizen of high-speed downhill runs, Alissa thought that plowing ahead on level ground with skis was a boring exercise for fuddy-duddies only. That is until she took her first glide.
On the slick surface we moved easily, admiring the changing vista of woods reflected in the mirrored waterways. We pointed out coves and frosted beaches to each other, skating over to examine deer tracks or admire a frozen waterfall. Unlike on downhill forays, we took our time, slowing up to savor the scenery, and taking advantage of the easy pace to talk.
On another trip Alissa and I glided along the west fork of the Carson River in Hope Valley, CA, following the trails of the Hope Valley Cross Country Center at Sorensenís Resort. The property is located about a 40-minute drive from the downhill slopes of Heavenly and the icy blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Charmed by the quick rush of the water, we paused long at the creek bank, finding beaver dams and following the tracks of weasels and minks.
Along with providing a rhythm conducive to actually noticing the winter woods, cross-country (Nordic) skiing is safer, easier to learn, and less expensive than its downhill (Alpine) cousin. Families and individuals have many choices for finding trails.
Many Alpine ski areas also offer good Nordic programs. Some dude ranches in winter turn their riding paths into groomed ski trails and year-round resorts in snowy locations often feature cross-country trails as another recreational option. Several charming New England towns such as Jackson, New Hampshire, feature romantic inns situated near trails that wind through the picture book pretty woods.
And for those who want to add more thrills to their adventure thereís dog-joring. In this version, you cross-country ski while a dog on a tether pulls you along. The Telemark Inn, Bethel, Maine, offers this option as do several ski areas.
How to assess a cross-country program?
Trails: Find out the number of kilometers groomed daily. That fact is more important than the number of kilometers available.
Signs: Getting lost in the woods can make you lose your enthusiasm. Trails should not only be marked with directional indicators, but signs should also indicate difficulty, and point out upcoming hazards such as bridges, ponds, roads, and steep slopes.
Staff: Choose a place that has a full-time cross-country staff. You want someone who understands the equipment to fit you for rentals, and someone who knows the trails to tell you about the daily conditions. You don't want to head for the woods after being outfitted by the part-time busboy whose only claim to fame is that he can make change.