The Outsider December: Shake a Leg

Call it cross-country skiing, ski touring or Nordic skiing — whatever the name, the skiing remains the same. Cross-country skiing is the healthy and affordable alternative to downhill skiing.”Cross-country skiing can provide wonderful opportunities for kids and their families to share the fun of winter and snow,” says Olympian Sue Wemyss, the Great Glen Trails ski school director in Pinkham Notch. “It is great for health and enjoying the world of nature.”Many touring centers have nature-themed programs where skiers can learn to identify the wildlife tracks in woods. Go star-gazing on skis or schuss under the glow of a full moon.There are social groups that follow a day on the trails with a potluck supper. There are incredibly serious competitions and zany races. Some see it as a cardio-vascular workout, a way to burn away winter’s calories, while others view it as a touch of romance as he and she ski through the woods and fields from inn to inn.Instead of a ski lift, skiers propel themselves along rolling meadows and near sparkling brooks in parallel tracks set by grooming machines. There are two major techniques used in this free-heel sport: classic and skating. In classic, skiers keep their skis in those parallel tracks.Narrow skis, poles and ski boots — think hiking boot instead of Frankenstein-like downhill skiing boot — are the basic gear needed, augmented by dressing in layers. Touring centers across New Hampshire offer rentals, lessons, base lodges and getaway packages. Most centers rely on natural snowfall to coat the trails, but a few have a small number of snow guns to produce manmade snow.With adult trail passes at Granite State Nordic centers under $20 a day, it’s over the frozen river and through the snowy woods we go.Impressive FactOlympic skiers with New Hampshire ties — either born here or living here — include three-time Olympian Carl Swenson (North Conway), Justin and Kris Freeman of Andover, and Dorcas Wonsavage and Sue Wemyss.Gear BoxLebanon-based Alpina has beginner touring packages.For her: Alpina’s Control LW skis are wide enough for stability in the woods but also glide in groomed tracks ($149.50). The Rottefella NNN T3 Touring Auto binding is an all-around step-in binding ($54), while the Alpina Eve 20T boots ($99) are light and warm. Wrap it up with the Alpina ST pole ($25).For him: The Alpina Control NIS* ski ($159), first used last year on the World Cup circuit, has been adapted for touring and works well with the Rottefella NIS T4 Touring binding ($59) and functional Alpina ST 30 boot ($125). The Alpina ST pole fits too ($25).Expert AdviceAn Olympic cross-country skier, Sue Wemyss is the ski school director at Great Glen Trails at the base of Mount Washington. She competed in the 1984 Olympics and on the World Cup circuit. With a penchant for coaching, she continues to ski race at the Masters level and won a pair of bronze medals in the 2003 World Masters Championships.How is cross-country skiing different from downhill skiing?
Cross-country skiers rely on their own power and technique to propel themselves up hills, as well as down hills and across flats. In order to do this, the bindings on cross-country skis allow the skier to lift up their heels as they push off, rather than having a fixed heel binding as in downhill skiing. There are other equipment differences as well; for starters, cross-country skis, boots and bindings are much lighter in weight than alpine skis, boots and bindings.What is the difference between classic and skating techniques? When classic skiing, the skis are mainly kept parallel to each other when one is striding forward or using their poles for propulsion. In skating, the skis are generally being used with the tips splayed out and the ski tails together.What can I expect from my first lesson? You will be introduced to the equipment and how to put on and take off your skis and poles. How to get up from a fall; how to control your speed; how to change directions; ways to propel yourself forward on flats and uphills; general ski trail etiquette.When I watch the winter Olympics, I hear about cross-country skiers having to wax their skis. What is waxing and does everyone have to wax their skis? Skis are waxed for two purposes. One is to increase the speed of their glide. The whole length of a skate ski is waxed (tip to tail) for enhanced glide; the glide zones for a classic ski are the front portion and the tail portion. The mid section of a classic ski is waxed for grip with a different type of wax that allows the ski to hold when weighted so one can ski up hills. Classic skiers who have a pattern on the mid-section of their skis do not need to apply grip or kick wax. The glide of all skis can be enhanced by the addition of some type of wax, be it a synthetic rub-on wax like Maxiglide or a bar wax that is melted on to the ski surface to get into the ski base. There are waxless skis, too.What kind of clothing do I need for cross-country skiing?Athletic wear that breathes, allows for lots of movement and can insulate from cold and wind. A lightweight hat is one of the most important articles of clothing as so much heat is lost through the top of our heads. Lightweight gloves that keep hands comfortable but with good dexterity are also important.As a parent, anything I should know about cross-country skiing and my young children?You can easily turn a kid off the sport by pushing them too far too fast. Very small children (under 5) often seem to lack the core strength to hold themselves up on skis that are gliding. It may be best to let little children walk around wearing their ski equipment on a carpet, before pushing to get out on snow. Kids under the age of 12 probably learn best by playing games on their skis, being given challenges, and imitating others, not by being taught formally with detailed technique explanations, etc.