From Stuffing to Skating

Last fall, friends of mine talked me into a three-day, pre-season cross-country ski lesson. Initially, I resisted the idea of trading a lazy Thanksgiving in front of the TV with a giant bird browning in the oven for skinny skis, wicking layers, and aerobic exercise. However, my friends promised I would not regret it and challenged that I have never seen West Yellowstone during the Yellowstone Ski Festival. “It’s a different world down there,” they claimed. They were right.

We arrived on Wednesday night. Immediately, we were forced to navigate around pedestrians walking down the center line with skis slung over their shoulders unable to find the sidewalks buried under feet of snow. Fat flakes continued to fall from the sky and a Nordic buzz was in the air. Skiers of all shapes and sizes wore everything from full-body spandex to baggy snowboard pants. I found myself standing between a gaggle of junior skiers who traveled by bus from Duluth, MN and former Olympians from the 2010 Vancouver games. We were all there for the same reason—early snow and groomed trails.

Staying in town was ideal. We walked from our hotel to the Holiday Inn, Festival Headquarters, to the trailhead and out for dinner. The first morning, we were divided into groups based on experience and met our professional instructors. I was ready for two-a-day sessions of classic and skate skiing techniques, but I didn’t expect to have this much fun. We signed up for the women’s clinic that culminated in an afternoon waxing demonstration. The charismatic Jack Hart from Swix hosted our private lesson. Wine, cheese, and a new kind of ironing were on the agenda. Forget pleats—we’re talking kick pockets and glide wax.

Lunch breaks found us craving the delicious mac and cheese served at the local Nordic shop’s coffee bar. How did the young ladies at Freeheel and Wheel manage to cram all my favorite things in one small shop? They quickly became our go-to spot for coffee, chocolate, another pair of gloves, the latest skis, wax, and information.

There was so much to do in three short days, but with local guidance we managed to do it all. We could try out brand-new skis, boots, poles, and even wax at the On-Snow demo. I found I’d beenskiing on the wrong length of classic skis for years. In the evening, we talked shop with the top names in cross-country skiing at the Indoor Expo. There was live music, films, presentations—and that was after I pulled myself away from the hotel hot tub.

After a few days on perfect corduroy, I did not miss my old Thanksgiving. I still enjoyed a turkey dinner but left the cooking to restaurants. Instead of watching athletes, I became one. Three days and one Yellowstone Ski Festival later, I returned home with new friends, muscles I didn’t know I had, and an appreciation for a lifelong sport.