I’m not totally convinced that Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Although my last foray into the wonderful world of skate skiing did end well, certain body parts are not screaming “all’s well”.
My first “not well” clue came in the form on an innocuous water bottle. I won a handheld, Ultimate Direction water bottle from a raffle of a 10K I ran on Saturday and brought the bottle along based on the fact that it was sitting on the counter. Halfway up Casper mountain, with a manual transmission and 10 mph switchbacks, I was screwing the entire lid off to get a sip of water. Beware the water bottle that comes with instructions.
I didn’t bring the bottle along for my ski or I would blame the water weight for what happened next. The flat-ish area where I first learned how to skate ski was a bit melted out and some incline was obvious, but not enough to concern me. I started down the incline and gained more momentum than anticipated. Focusing on my form, I over weighted my right ski and crashed hard. Naturally putting my hands out to catch myself (note to self: work on “tuck and roll” form), I luckily kept my semi-injured thumb in close to my hand to no avail. Instead of hyperextending my UCL (ulnar collateral ligament, aka “skiers thumb), I jammed it back hard. Too hard. It’s super sore today and a little swollen – just enough to remind me to wear the thumb brace I bought a while back to prevent such an injury. But I digress.
Since my beginner area wasn’t seeming so beginner, I set off to explore. To me, “exploring” is roughly defined as “attempting to get lost while meandering in whatever direction seems like the most fun”, and is really easy and maybe more exciting if you’re directionally impaired. And this was the best kind of exploring as following a groomed track ensured that it wouldn’t escalate to a survivalist situation.
Setting off on Bishops Loop, I was pleasantly surprised at the occasional scenic overlooks and snowed in A-frame cabins sprinkled throughout the forest. Intense cardio ensured I got several lungfuls of a heady pine scent and eventually, my route dead-ended into a T. One thing was certain: the left trail went one way, while the right went the other way. I went left, ended up spotting a “Braille Trail” sign posted by the Lion’s and the irony of my semi-lost state hit rather heavy.
Eventually, by looking 360° around me at every intersection, I made it back to the car. I had spent an entire hour in cardio land and actually enjoyed myself. So maybe Shakespeare was right after all.
So I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at most of the sports I do. I only fall over in yoga every now and then and haven’t hurt myself skiing in more than two seasons. I didn’t even hook my dog last time I went fly-fishing, so I was a little nervous when my latest gear came with a lesson from the sales person.
And exactly what gear comes with a lesson (or should, at any rate)? Skate skiing gear. For those of you that need a refresher, cross-country skiing has two types- classic and skate skiing. When doing the classic style, the skier appears to be on a Nordic track and their skis are indeed often in tracks. For skate skiing, imagine ice skating on really narrow skis and add in poles that come up to your nose. If that sounds incredibly awkward, then you have the correct mental picture.
I met my instructor at the Casper Nordic Center, which has 42 kilometers (26 miles) of groomed trails. This is exceptional. The alpine skiing in Casper is less than exceptional, hence the reason for my new sport. He first had me bumble around without any poles, practicing the basic skating motion, which is a great first step in all skiing disciplines. Shortly after, I added the poles in and learned the various V1 and V2 techniques. I won’t bore you with the details here, but suffice to say I felt like a torso barely held upright by four randomly flailing appendages.
After jaunting up and down a straight bit for a while, we went for a ski. The downhill sections didn’t worry me much since I’ve been flinging myself down steep slopes for too many years to remember. This was a gross oversight. I had one fantastic spill when I knocked my jaw with the handle of my pole, all because I tried to turn on the edges of my skis. Downhill skiers, Heed My Warning: skate skis do not have edges. You must step turn. Noted.
By the end two intense cardio hours, I was more or less gliding with gradual but significant weight shifts over the active ski. I even feel confident in several of the poling techniques. But the biggest lesson was how awkward my new gear felt and the ensuing trepidation which resulted from said awkwardness, which is a great reminder for any instructor. We get so comfortable in our chosen vocation that we can forget the sheer terror that is a perfectly normal response for most students, which is why I recommend that all instructors learn something new every now and then for a healthy dose of empathy.
Announcement! In a hopefully brilliant attempt to boost readership, MountainKidd will now post every Wednesday. Ideally sometime in the AM hours, but hey, I’m human. Feel free to forward this blog onto anyone and everyone who might marginally enjoy it (or just read it, even if they don’t enjoy it).