Winter weather has put our long-distance cycling temporarily on hold. Sure, we continue to bundle up and cycle to the local tap room or yoga class, but the proximity of deep snow and excellent cross country skiing trails just an hour from our home has forced us to dig through trunks and plastic storage containers in search of warm layers and “called us” to the cold, snowy mountains to play.
There have been some changes since our first nordic days over 35 years ago. The equipment has gotten more specialized: nordic, back-country, alpine touring, telemark, and skate-skiing to name a few types of skis.
The clothes have gotten more specific and colorful. Gone are the days of throwing on a pair of Levis and and pulling a pair of gators over our boots to keep the snow out. Today, skiers are sporting everything from cycling-type spandex to bright orange snow pants and everything in between.
Equipment and clothing aside, the biggest change we’ve noticed in the number of skate-skiers racing along the smooth corduroy-like packed snow adjacent to the traditional nordic tracks.
Eric, plodding along on his 32 year old nordic skis, looked longingly at the “freeway” of skiers racing along side us and said,
“I want to try that!”
As from the fact that his pride might have been hurt when one skier stared at us on our near-antique nordic skis and boots as if we were a living museum modeling as soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, Eric really was pumped up about this “new-to-us” sport.
“We’ll rent equipment tomorrow and if we like it, let’s buy a set!”
I wasn’t 100 % sure that I wanted to try skate skiing. After all, my 32 year old nordic skis had been steadfast in providing what I had considered to be the perfect dose of nature and fun for over three decades. And, like cycle touring, I like nordic skiing for the slower pace and solitude that it provides.
Skate-skiing seems more like road cycling where cardio, competition, and equipment are the focus. But, in the effort of being a good sport and trying new things in retirement, I agreed to be open-minded and rent skate-skis for the day.
Lucky for us, the weather and snow for our first attempt on skate-skis was picture perfect – temperatures near 30 degrees, no wind, soft-packed snow, and bright blue skies. Clicking boots into the bindings was simple and familiar. Getting our gloves into the pole straps was another story. The straps are designed to fit so snugly that our puffy downhill ski gloves and mitts barely fit. After five minutes of struggling we decided it was easier to remove our hands from the mitts and leave the mitts in the pole straps.
Once our gear was secure we watched a few skate-skiers glide by watching their technique and saving the $68 each for a lesson. After several wobbly attempts to start moving forward we discovered one very hard truth.
Skate-skiing is HARD work.
I mean really HARD work. To make the skis work their absolute best they must always be moving. And, to keep them moving with with the least amount of wobble, they must be pushed in a skating motion. And, because there are lots of hills on Grand Mesa, they skis must be skated UPHILL which takes a boat-load of energy. And, because Grand Mesa is situated at 10,000 ft., skate skiing takes a lot of energy with limited oxygen.
After about 50 yards of what I felt what pretty good technique, I came to an abrupt stop, bent over and held my sides all while trying to suck in air and catch my breath.
We practiced skate-skiing for several hours which was about a long as we could physically handle it. As we improved we found pleasure in the rhythm and glide of the skis. Going faster was also kind of fun. The downside was not being able to look at the scenery except when we stopped because whenever I took my sights off the trail in front of me I would fall.
we justified the purchase of skate-skiing equipment with the idea that learning something new was good for our brain and working so hard was good for cycle training.
And, yes, I kept my nordic skis for those days when, like cycle touring, I just need a slow, peaceful day in nature.