As a result of the pandemic, cross country (XC) skiing is booming across the USA as people want to get outdoors and recreate. Recently, U.S. Ski Team member Jessie Diggins won the Tour de Ski in Europe and is the current point leader on the World Cup season race series. She trains at Stratton Mountain School (SMS). Thirty-five SMS Nordic athletes have made the U.S. World Junior Team and 25 have made the U.S. National Team. Other New Englanders who are on the U.S. Nordic Ski Team and train at SMS include Simi and Sophie Hamilton, Julia Kern, Sophie Laukli, and Katherine Ogden.
These highly-conditioned Olympic athletes can reach and enjoy skiing at speeds above 35 miles per hour (with some help from gravity). The grace and power that’s possible to achieve using both technique and fitness is amazing to see and fun to experience! But, there’s another side to XC skiing. It can be done at any speed, and many who do it love it for its relaxing, rhythmic movements that carry one into winter wonderlands. Skiers can pick their own pace, gliding along through fields and forests, stopping when they choose, soaking in the beauty of the natural snow-covered world. It can be as peaceful and quiet as the skier wants, or as energetic, fast and exciting. Every bend in the trail can bring new sights and sounds.
For those that enjoy learning, the possibilities of XC skiing are virtually endless. While an hour’s instruction can provide the skills to a new skier to have them negotiating and enjoying mixed terrain safely, the technical nuances of the sport can be explored for years. XC skiing on the trails has two main disciplines, classic skiing and skate skiing, and within each there are sub-techniques that allow one to cover all grades of uphill, downhill, and flat terrain with efficiency and grace. There is also off-trail skiing (for example, in a local park or on a snow-covered golf course) and backcountry skiing (up and down hillsides). And not to be discounted is the value of meeting and spending time with others who share the love of outdoor activity and nature. XC skiers are just really nice people.
XC skiing can be done almost anywhere snow coats the ground. There are also specific XC ski centers which feature mechanically groomed trails, ski equipment to purchase or rent, food and drink, and instruction. All the states that get snow in the winter have these ski centers (check out www.XCSkiResorts.com), and it is well worth traveling to one to get started in the sport. In Vermont, check out the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Sleepy Hollow Inn, or Stratton Mountain Nordic Center. In New Hampshire, check out Great Glen Trails which is a top sustainable center.
XC ski area operators are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic with widespread adoption of plans aimed at minimizing risk of virus transmission for staff and guests.
For example, many XC ski areas have adopted e-commerce, and are requiring on-line purchase of trail passes, rental equipment, and lesson reservations. Plans to alter the flow of ski area traffic on the premises and in buildings for safe distancing, as well as limiting or eliminating indoor capacity, have also been put in place.
As per usual for the XC ski business, there is snow in some places and a lack of snow in others. But one thing is consistent, at least since August, XC ski gear has been flying off the shelves.
There are shortages for popular sizes of skis and boots. Bindings and ski poles are also hard to find. Manufacturers have been unable to supply enough products to fill the dealers’ needs.
XC ski area operators across the region were upbeat about the demand and the level of business this winter, so far.
In Vermont, the Woodstock Nordic Center, which traditionally relies on guests at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, has doubled sales of season passes with locals compared to other years despite a 50% decline in occupancy at the Inn. Woodstock manager Nick Mahood said, “We had our biggest day ever for revenue leading up to the holidays, and then there was a rain out. Then we got enough snow to open and increased business has occurred despite Vermont’s restrictive travel policy”. Mahood said that many local people who left the sport for years were coming back with their old gear that they want to get tuned-up.
On a recent visit I made to Green Woodlands in western New Hampshire (recently named a top place to XC ski in the U.S. by an on-line outdoor website), there was enough snow to ski, and there were only a couple of people not wearing masks. XC skiers appear to be respectful without being told to wear masks, and there seems to be a minimal chance to get infected with the virus when passing other skiers along a trail if you’re wearing a mask. Now is the time to join in, get outdoors, and hit the XC ski trails!
For more on this from Roger Lohr, see The Changing Face of XC Skiing, in this issue.
Roger Lohr of Lebanon, NH, who owns and edits XCSkiResorts.com, has published articles and promotional topics on snow sports, sustainability, and trails in regional and national media. He is also the Recreational Editor for Green Energy Times.
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