The skinny on Nordic skiing.
On a cold, blustery day in late January, Crosscut Mountain Sports Center hosted a somewhat rambunctious group of eight O/B staff members for a Nordic skiing clinic. Each of us arrived with a different combination of experience, skills, and gear—but the quality of both the facilities and our instruction left us all feeling equally excited about the sport.
Our morning started in the cozy log-cabin lodge, where we were fitted with boots, skis, and poles. Eric, one of our instructors, kicked things off by asking about our goals for the clinic, and answering a flurry of questions about gear and wax. From there, we skied (or rather, slipped, shuffled, and tumbled) down a small hill to a groomed arena where we began our first lesson of the day.
Though a majority of the group had some experience classic skiing, we all walked away with a better understanding of the fundamentals. Our second instructor, Heidi, opened the lesson with an exuberant explanation of correct body positioning. By isolating different key movements, novice skier Jamie said she was “able to focus on just the timing of my feet, then the swing of my arms, then the use of poles. In the end, I could bring them all together with confidence.”
Then we hit the trails. For most of us, this was the highlight. With plenty of encouragement and breaks to discuss technique or answer questions, we took on a section of varied terrain where we practiced kicks and glides, poling, uphills, downhills, and turning. Mike had several years of classic skiing under his belt, but he quickly learned that he’d been incorrectly pushing back, instead of down, on his skis. Chris, on the other hand, realized that he’d been doing just about everything wrong except for putting his hands through his pole straps.
Our coaches were adept at balancing instruction with humor. At the end of our lesson, Heidi noticed a powder stash, and we all took turns charging the small, wooded incline on our skinny skis. A few near-tumbles and out-of-control descents garnered chuckles from the group, but miraculously, nobody wiped out.
After a short break for snacks and coffee, we headed back out, perhaps a bit more confidently, for our second lesson. Eric started us off with another overview of the fundamentals. As a recreational skate skier, Eli quickly realized he’d been “making up for atrocious single-leg balancing skills with power.” To demonstrate the real power of proper technique, Eric had us leave our poles behind while pushing our skis laterally. When Eli leaned forward with his skis in a V-shape, he was amazed to find that he could easily glide forward with little to no effort.
Skate skiing requires balance and core strength to stay upright, so naturally we all found ourselves out of breath or flailing with skis up in the air. Adam and Ian both said they were surprised and humbled by how challenging skating really is. Especially after a game of “pass the chicken,” which had everyone laughing as we struggled to stay upright while basically playing rugby on skis.
Our instructors clearly knew how to tag-team a group with varied experience and pace of learning. Heidi was great at interacting with everyone while keeping the lesson moving, and Eric naturally focused on providing one-on-one support to those who needed it. Melissa was a self-proclaimed “mess on skate skis,” but Eric was patient and attentive, turning “what could have been a ‘skiing isn’t for me’ moment into a ‘this isn’t all that bad, I definitely need more practice’ moment.”
One of the biggest collective takeaways was that our preconceived notions of Nordic skiing were mostly way off. The adrenaline junkies in the group were surprised to find the rolling hills exciting, and the more nervous members of our entourage were given the individual support they needed to practice with confidence. I always considered classic skiing to be the boring older sister of skate skiing, but I ended up loving the intuitive movement and ability to go at my own pace. Inversely, skate skiing never appealed to Mike, but he’s now thinking about getting a setup.
Overall, our short lessons were packed with information. The pace of learning was perfect for adults who might get bored with repetitive exercises (even if we really need it). Heidi and Eric referred to this as “layering” the techniques: teaching a skill, practicing it, then incorporating another to build the progression in a way that provides necessary repetition while keeping it interesting. Not to mention, as Adam pointed out, “the Crosscut skiing facility is impeccable.” With the Bridgers as a background, the fluffy, groomed trails winding through the forest are nothing short of dreamy.
And, as a testament to Eric and Heidi’s enthusiasm for sharing their love of Nordic skiing with others, we all left wanting more.
To schedule a lesson or to learn more, visit crosscutmt.org/lessons-rentals.