Of all the wintertime activities – skating, sliding, dry-knuckle boxing, the 100-metre layering – cross-country skiing is among my favourites. I particularly enjoy the solitude, but not for the nature-loving reasons you might think.
To fully explain why, I have to go back to when I was 12 years old and went downhill skiing for the first time. Located some miles out of town, the so-called mountain was a meagre slope that had been fitted with a T-bar to gently push skiers bumward up the hill.
I could not master the T-bar. I spent much of that afternoon trying to settle my kiester on the T, falling over and over into the snow.
“Just hang onto it,” my friend said as he disappeared up the hill without me. Trying to hang on turned out to be like trying to waterski in slow motion, except with harder, icier landings.
When I finally did make it to the top, skiing down was more of the same, only with the added force of gravity, speed and the leering grin of imminent death. “Bunny Hill,” my ass!
That day, I vowed I would never again downhill ski, a vow I have kept all these years and one I’m unlikely to break now, and if I did break it, I would be far too embarrassed to start on the Bunny Hill, so I would choose a more difficult run, and then I would die.
What I like about the solitude of cross-country skiing, then, is that hardly anyone sees you fall on your face. There’s my wife, of course, but she’s used to seeing me fall on my face, literally and metaphorically.
“How’s your groin?” she likes to call out as we ski, not so much out of concern for past incidents but because it’s fun to say, especially if you pronounce it “growin’.”
Being able to carry on such conversations is one of the beauties of cross-country skiing. It’s like walking in the woods, except faster, which is how I like my exercise: over with as quickly as possible.
Unlike downhill skiing, cross-country skiing is not hard to master. Are you moving forward? Congratulations, you’ve mastered it!
Deb and I began skiing again three winters ago after a few years’ absence following the ultimate disintegration of our old hand-me-down boots. Which brings me to another reason I like cross-country skiing: I’m cheap. After the initial outlay for skis and boots, that’s it. No lift passes, no costly outfits, no funeral expenses. Just you, your skis and maybe a pair of sweatpants thrown over tights or long johns – the perfect winter activity for people who have let themselves go. Curling is also good.
Despite the simplicity of skiing, there are certain guidelines you should follow.
Tip #1: Make sure there is snow. Skiing on dirt is hard on the skis, and then you’ll have to replace them, which kind of defeats the whole cheap purpose, doesn’t it?
Tip #2: A number of factors can slow you down: ignoring Tip #1; using the wrong type of wax for snow conditions; and falling over. The latter can occur when you take your eyes off your skis to look around you. Never look around. Instead, have a better skier follow you and describe your surroundings.
Tip #3: Always ski with a buddy, especially in the woods. You never know when you might need someone to go for help, give you a push up a hill, describe your surroundings or hand you a snack.
Tip #4: While it’s tempting to ski on snowmobile trails, this is dangerous. A collision can cause serious damage to the snowmobile, and those things are expensive. Skiers should stick to the woods and ski trails, while snowmobilers should stay on snowmobile trails, ski trails, sidewalks, schoolyards, highways, in front of my house, in fact anywhere they damn well feel like, apparently.
Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, is a quiet and courteous activity. I was thinking this just this past weekend as Deb and I were trespassing through someone’s sugar camp. Skiing can be almost spiritual. Surrounded by all that nature, just you and your ineptitude, it’s easy to get so carried away that you suffer a growin’ incident. Maybe you should just calm down. Watch your skis and think of England.