Cross-country Skiing in the Tracks of Olympians
Originally published in the 2017 Utah Explorer's Guide.
Nobody in my group believes me when I tell them this is the first time I’ve ever touched a ski. I grew up in Utah but my family didn’t ski, and when I graduated from sledding I went straight to a snowboard. I tell the cross-country ski instructor that I’ve been here to Soldier Hollow before, though. I came to help my uncle Steve install some gigantic Olympic rings for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games when I was 16. (Soldier Hollow hosted the biathlon and cross-country ski events.)
The ski instructor, whose last name is actually Winter, points to some spandex-clad skiers gliding past us as we step into our skis. “Those are Olympians right there!”
Great, now I get to learn to ski in front of Olympic skiers.
Winter demonstrates the basic principles of propulsion, steering, balance and stopping, and he tunes our technique as we take turns scooting over level ground. After gliding down a gentle hill and using the one-way traction of the skis to climb back up, I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. It’s like sliding around in fuzzy socks on a hardwood floor.
Ten minutes into the lesson and I’m questioning my decision to wear a thick black puffy coat and goggles. Winter says that it’s best to wear a thin base layer, a light shell, and sunglasses — cross-country skiing is basically like jogging in the snow.
We'll go ahead and call this a "pro tip" which can be vital information to beginners in cross country skiing.
As a former snowboarder, sliding around on snow without my feet attached to each other is an awkward feeling, but surprisingly I haven’t crashed yet — everyone else in my group has.
We make our way around the looping trail to the Biathlon course. It’s a warm but overcast day and we ski without talking for a while, enjoying the serene landscape and fresh air. Winter stops us in front of the Biathlon’s shooting range and gives us a bit of history: apparently, the sport was invented by bored Norwegian soldiers who would inevitably combine cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. As we stand stationary on our skis, talking, I somehow trip myself and collapse in a tangled mass. Winter shows me how to properly get up without unclipping my skis and we move along.
I'm accumulating pro tips left and right and feel the full import of the value of getting a proper lesson really strikes me.
As we near the end of the cross country skiing for beginners lesson and approach the lodge uphill, I become very aware just how out of shape I am. I’m never, ever going to become a jogger but this "jogging in the snow" is really something I could get into. It certainly doesn’t hurt to get introduced to the sport on a course steeped in Olympic history, in the placid and scenic Heber Valley.
When I walk in the lodge and everything blurs into a dark green void, I realize that I’m snow-blind. Next time: sunglasses. I’m already planning ahead.