I won’t lie: While I’m an avid alpine skier, Nordic skiing has never been something I’ve thought twice about. I’ve never been into long-distance running, and I hate traversing on the ski resort terrain. Frankly, I’ve always assumed cross-country skiing was a combination of the two. But when I found out that OutThere Colorado would be filming with the Crested Butte Nordic Center, I was game and gave the sport a try.
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We got to the Crested Butte Nordic Center a little after noon after rushing from a 360° film shoot on the mountain. We were there to film three very good cross-country skiers on their skate skis for our website. We grabbed some classic skis from the Nordic Center so that we could try to keep up with the skate skiers for the shoot.
The first thing that really surprised me about nordic skiing was how manageable the gear was. Unlike clunky alpine boots, these boots slid on easily, and tightly hugged the foot while feeling like a regular shoe with slightly more ankle support. The skis they gave us were light, tied together with a rubberband around the tips to make up for the lack of brakes. Soon after fitting the gear, we were off.
I couldn’t help but watch our talent in amazement as they glided around a groomed cross country track with ease. Each lift of the foot launched them forward several feet as they followed each other in single file while we used a walkie to give them direction. We got the long-distance shots we needed and then came the fun part.
It was my turn.
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In case you’ve never tried your own hand at cross-country skiing, the bindings are a bit different than those found on traditional alpine skis. They only clip in at the front of the boot, right at the toe. The heel is then able to pivot off of the ski, allowing a stepping motion that’s used to propel skiers forward. I was stoked to experience the Nordic version of what telemark skiers love about their sport—free the heel, free the mind, they say.
But when I tried to clip my boot in by myself, I found it impossible, slamming down my toes in hopes of locking in and failing repeatedly. Finally, one of the seasoned skiers took pity on me and helped me out.
Locked in and ready to go, I took a step, doing my best to imitate what I had seen others doing. It almost sent me to the ground, not used to only half of my foot being connected to the binding or being on a ski that was so lightweight and narrow. It took a few more tries, but I was finally able to move forward a few inches without flailing.
“Keep those arms straight! Use the opposite pole you’re stepping with, just like walking!”
Advice came at me from every direction, and I tried to execute their suggestions. Slowly the skis felt more natural, though I still couldn’t imagine traveling more than a few minutes in the gear.
The pro with us made small talk as she watched me struggle. “You know, an article was just published about how cross-country skiing is the most strenuous sport in the world. Even more so than open-water swimming.”
At least I’d get a workout.
My boss and I did our best to finish up our shoot, following the skiers we were filming with our stabilized camera, waddling along as they made the sport look easy. I was, by far, the most awkward in the group.
As we wrapped up our shots and bid farewell to the talent, I was ready to unclip and get going. I felt uncomfortable on the cross-country skis, not able to string together enough fluid steps to enjoy it.
My boss on the other hand immediately fell in love with this new endeavour. It was right up his alley as a cross-country runner throughout his life
“Let’s do a quick lap before lunch!” he enthusiastically suggested.
I glanced across the snowy horizon, down at the trail my boss was gesturing towards. The loop had to be close to a mile.
He shot off down the trail like a rocket. Reluctant, I followed.
This is when the real experience started. At first I was clumsy, unable to decide if I preferred the indented ice tracks built for the type of skis we were on or the groomed open trail. I tried both, neither was better and both felt inefficient. The struggle continued around the track as each kick carried me a only few inches forward. The distance between myself and my boss grew greater.
Finally, around the halfway point and roughly 20 minutes in, something clicked.
Each stride started to carry me further, feeling more natural as the snow slid past beneath my skis. Without even thinking about it, my poles and steps slowly became coordinated, and I started to close the gap between myself and my boss.
Just as I was starting to feel like cross-country skiing might actually have some potential as a new sport for me, we finished our lap and our time on the skis was over.
As we packed up, my boss beamed, unable to stop talking about how much he loved trying this sport for the first time.
Looking back on my experience, I’m still up in the air when it comes to cross-country skiing. Part of me knows I’d rather be flying down the slopes on my alpine skis over doing something that feels a lot more like exercise. That being said, if I wasn’t on a set track and I was out exploring, the skis seem like they’d be an awesome way to get around the snow quickly, letting one see more cool stuff and cover a further distance all while getting a great workout.
Would I try Nordic skiing again? Most definitely. Though next time, I’ll probably try to explore something that’s a little more off the beaten path.
Special thanks to Crested Butte Nordic Skiing for making this experience possible.
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