A defense of classic skiing


Whenever there’s an article on cross-country skiing in mainstream media, people get pretty excited. For that reason, when travel writer Christopher Solomon’s “One Problem with Skate Skiing is that it’s Hard,” hit the New York Times last week, my friends and I were giddy. In the article, Soloman describes his introduction to and subsequent love for skate skiing. He does so with the backdrop of Silver Star, BC, a Nordic skier’s Utopia, in which he learns the triumphs, and trials, of learning to V2.

All this is great. I love the press, I love that people are getting involved in the sport, rebranding it as cool, fun and worthy of attention. Keep that up, Solomon. The issue I have, is how he painted skate skiing as the better version of classic, the “zippy younger brother” to the traditional diagonal stride. Comparing it to a walk in the woods, classic skiing gets the cold shoulder as mere slow, boring “shuffling through the woods while wearing a scratchy wool scarf.”

When I first read these words, I entered an emotional tilt-a-wirl that spun me back into the halls of my high school, where freestyle skiers and snowboarders told me that Nordic skiing was dull and tedious, an elderly hobby rather than the result of fast pacing and athletic prowess. I love both techniques, but classic skiing brought me to the sport. I find it graceful and challenging, beautiful and fast. Winter’s trail running, classic skiing doesn’t necessarily need perfect grooming, just a sense of adventure (and the fitness to match).

Skating may be younger, it may be faster, but it certainly is not better than classic skiing. With the right tools, technique and cardiovascular capacity, classic skiing can be sexy, too.

I rest my case (fasterskierphoto)
I rest my case (fasterskierphoto)

As you read along, it becomes evident that most of what’s said for skate skiing could also be said for classic. “It’s hard.” “Big lungs are hugely helpful…yet even more important is good technique.” “The push is good…but the glide is better.”

Preach, brother.

Then he talks about Silver Star, its remarkable Nordic culture, beauty of the area, and artful trail design. He talks about the confluence of clinics, skiers of all ages and abilities and the general sense of happiness and community in it all. “Good snow alone didn’t bring people to this mountaintop; the culture did.” If I didn’t know better, much of his description of the place could be exchanged for West Yellowstone at this time of year.

He also pointed out part of that culture that may hold back progression both in the US and Canada: it’s hard to break into. Solomon shared an experience with a fellow new skier, feeling out-of-the-know with respect to events, gear and ski opportunities. That’s something can to work on. As a community, we constantly talk about how much we want to grow the sport, and yet, sometimes, we treat outsiders like threats to our little secret. Scoffing at people who don’t recognize Kikkan Randall won’t get us far, and acting like we belong to an exclusive elite crop of ultra fit humanity will hold us back even more. Perhaps it’s just me, because this post started out as a snarky defense against someone I’d deemed unknowledgeable…until I continued reading.

Solomon (and other new skiers like him) gets it. Nordic skiing is hard, but it’s also graceful, cool, enlightening, empowering and a slew of other born again adjectives. It deserves to be shared.

At the end of his piece, Solomon described a scene definitive of his transformation into a skate skier:

“Soon it was good enough just to be alone in the mountains with the squeak of snow underfoot, and the tom-tom of heart in ears, and a ridge away the sound of a machine grooming the trail for me, and to my back the sight of the Monashee Mountains quietly disrobing their storm clothes.”

Turns out, he didn’t discover skate skiing. He discovered skiing. And he shared it.

That’s what I’ll try to do. I hope you will, too.


Happy season!

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