What makes a successful season of Nordic skiing? Is it the miles you put in? How fast you go? Measurable improvement in technique?
I’ve had a somewhat successful ski season thus far in that I’ve managed to hit the trails more regularly than I did last year. For me, a slow and steady classic skier with no ambitions of speed or competition, this is what constitutes success. That, and enjoying my time on the skis while in good company.
I had the pleasure this season of introducing two friends to Nordic skiing for the first time. I’m not sure it was the best option for them, but for me it was a real blast and an opportunity to see an activity I’ve enjoyed since high school through the eyes of someone just discovering it.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in any sense of the word when it comes to skiing, classic or otherwise. After being a downhill skier for much of my youth in Michigan, I turned to classic skiing with my dad in high school. Whatever I was able to copy from him while he traipsed through the wooded trails of the Upper Peninsula at his single, unforgiving speed is what I learned. Most of what he taught me had less to do with technique and more to do with getting out and enjoying nature.
I was able to help my companions get onto their skis and impart the very basics before they got much better instruction elsewhere.
But those first days at the McNeil Canyon trails took me right back to some of my earliest ski lessons — how daunting the task of staying upright and going around corners seemed to me then. (In the interest of full transparency, steep hills and I still don’t see eye to eye.)
We tackled clipping our boots into our skis, the proper way to use one’s poles and how to climb up hills. Things I’d taken for granted, like how to get up when you fall and how to clip in without your ski sliding around in the snow, were suddenly things I needed to put into words. Maybe there’s a reason my dad let me learn by following him around all those years ago — teaching is hard.
Watching my friends find their balance and strike a stride through the snow this season has rekindled a love for skiing I must admit had been waning over the last few years. (Certainly not waxing, though what a good pun that would have been to get into this column.)
When one is surrounded mostly by skate skiers who relish in the fast-paced challenges of the Tour of Tsalteshi or the Kachemak Bay Nordic Ski Marathon, it can be easy to start feeling out of place or even “less” of a skier. I’ve sometimes felt adrift in a sea of competitive racers — a slow, sometimes clumsy classic skier left in the dust.
I ski slowly. I ski without much grace.
I ski to be outside, to feel the sharp air biting my lungs and hear the snow squeaking underneath me. I ski to stay healthy (or try to) and to fight off fits of the blues during long Alaska winters. I ski to remember how much our planet has to offer, and to remind myself to be grateful I live in such a heart-wrenchingly gorgeous place.
I also ski to be with people I enjoy and admire. The quiet, groomed trails of McNeil or Ohlson Mountain are where many of life’s biggest problems can be solved, I’ve found. Now that I have some friends who are learning, who aren’t looking to throw themselves down some steep hills anytime soon and who also relish in soaking up the Alaska outdoors, I’m starting to feel less alone on the trails. I have my ski people.
For every ski style that exists out there, there are people who enjoy it. Whatever your reason for skiing, there’s someone out there lacing up their boots for the same reason.
Odds are you’ll find them. And even if you don’t, there are still more reasons on any given day to hit the snow than to stay home.