My sister has now gone on two ski trips since Christmas. Technically, so have I – at a fraction of the cost.
While Traci’s getaways to Colorado and Michigan were undoubtedly much more exciting and glamorous, Colleen and I had a blast learning to cross country ski at Fox Island Park near Fort Wayne last week.
Our first venture, to a $10 ski clinic Jan. 6 that included ski rental, took place on a morning when the temperature had rose to 4 degrees after several days below zero. Our instructor was park manager and naturalist Ron Zartman, who started skiing 40 years ago during the Blizzard of ‘78.
Despite the frigid conditions, Zartman was enthusiastic as a kid, because there hasn’t been much ski weather locally in recent years. After zero ski rentals at the park last year, he told us he’d been able to ski every day between Christmas and New Year’s – sometimes twice a day.
The first segment of our clinic took place in the nature center, where we learned about ski equipment. Then it was out onto the snow covered trails, where pre-existing grooves cut by other skiiers made it easier to maneuver. As our group moved along in single file, a bit uncertainly at first, it felt a little bit like moving along a human-powered railroad track.
The key to skiing, Zartman had told us, was to shift all your weight from one foot to the other. Basic forward movement really was about that simple. But in the early going, at least, it was entirely possible to feel perfectly at ease one moment and find yourself sprawled in the snow the next. At one point, I fell while simply standing in one spot.
Because your boots are attached to your skis via a locking mechanism, getting up is tricky. Zartman advised rolling onto your back and raising both legs in the air so your skis don’t get entangled. From there, we learned to roll to the side and then position ourselves over our feet in a kind of crouch. It took quite a bit of practice. Luckily, most of us fell several times so we had ample opportunity to work on this maneuver.
The hardest thing to learn was going uphill. At first, it took several attempts to make it up a laughably small incline without sliding back two feet for every foot of progress.
Zartman advised pointing our toes out and stomping up the hill in a kind of duck walk, while punching our ski poles into the snow behind us. We did better on a slightly higher rise midway into our trail session, and by the time we reached a legitimate hill at our turnaround spot, most of us were able to climb without fear if not actual confidence.
Down hill was easier, thanks to gravity and the “snowplow” technique, in which you keep your ski tips together in a “V” shape while bending your knees for balance. Only one member of our group made it down the hill without falling, but by then almost everybody was able to get back up in a minute or less, which felt like amazing progress.
By the time we made it back to the Nature Center, Colleen and I were hooked. This was an awfully fun way to burn more than 400 calories an hour. Though I doubt we invest in a pair of skis, given the uncertainty of snow around here most years, we went back to Fox Island one afternoon last week when the kids had a snow day. An hour of skiing cost us just $6 each for equipment rental.
I’m looking forward to hearing about Traci’s most recent ski trip when we go for a run this week. But for me, the cost, convenience and minimal risk of injury make cross country skiing more appealing.