How schussing on flat land put my ego—and my lung capacity—to the test.
When I moved to Colorado seven years ago, there was only one kind of skiing on my mind, and I beelined to Summit County’s downhill resorts every chance I got. Over the years, I’ve gotten to a point where I don't have to think about how to turn or stop or not fall over. So when I show up at the idyllic Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash on a crisp, sunny morning (yes, I felt a pang as I drove by Winter Park and Mary Jane) to test my snow legs on the Nordic trails, I think I’ve got it made. I’ve signed up for a private session of skate skiing—a more nuanced form of cross-country skiing that requires transferring your weight entirely over one ski, then shifting it entirely to the other, much like a skating motion. The ranch is crisscrossed with flat (comparatively), groomed, wide-open trails. How hard can this be?
Turns out, pretty damn difficult. The skis are skinnier, longer, and lighter than I’m used to, so my equilibrium is totally off; I keep trying to throw my weight around to gain momentum like I do on alpine skis, but just end up flailing about to keep my balance. Lean too far to one side and you’ll topple over. Which I did. Three times. On flat land.
My instructor, Brian Macpherson, reassures me that most people go down half a dozen times on their first time out. So I guess I’m ahead of the curve! He shows me how to push off in a “V” motion using the inside edges of my skis. And whaddya know? It is like ice skating. But I can’t shake the fear of crossing the back tips of my skis each time I set up the “V,” and my gliding is a little disjointed.
Nevertheless, I’m ready to add poles to the equation. They’re chin-high and very effective at preventing the tip-over. Pretty soon I find my rhythm, “V”-gliding my way around the groomed track through open meadows and woods, alternately enjoying the scenery and cursing my lack of cardio preparation. Unlike in alpine skiing, I don’t often come across a lengthy stretch of steep downhill to coast and catch my breath; every minute of pushing and poling is self-propelled. Despite my labored breathing, I’m in such a groove, I don’t even mind that I have to snowplow down the tiniest of swells we come across. After all, everyone needs a good throwback to the bunny hill days now and then, right? —JD
Where: Devil’s Thumb Ranch Nordic Center, Tabernash, devilsthumbranch.com
Cost: $60 for one hour (includes rentals and trail pass)
Quick Tip: Layers are key; even if it’s freezing, the aerobic motion—once you get it down—is a killer workout. You will sweat. A lot.
Also Try: Frisco or Breckenridge Nordic centers, 1.25 hours, $47 (group) to $64 (private); costs include rentals and trail pass.