Skiing Ugly: Cross-Country Skiing for Winter Fitness

The Running Ugly  philosophy is to start where you are and doing what you can while you are there.  It is about taking advantage of the moment without worrying what others have to say, nor how you look.  That philosophy certainly translates well to cross-country, or Nordic, Skiing.

I have wanted to cross-country ski for years but never had the opportunity.  This summer the local Goodwill store had a pair of skis and I purchased them for eight bucks.  Here in Missouri we maybe have good conditions for Nordic skiing once or twice a winter.  The weather is so erratic.  But, I figured I would be prepared when the weather presented an opportunity .   I walked home, a bit over a mile, with skis on my shoulder, wearing shorts, and a t-shirt.  I noticed one guy in a pickup  was busy laughing and taking pictures.  I wish I had some of his pictures for this post.

My cross-country skiing equipment.
My cross-country skiing equipment.

Over the summer I ordered a pair of boots from eBay, then a pair of bindings when the ones on the skis turned out to be the wrong kind for the new boots, and a pair of adjustable pools from my son-in-law.  I was ready  to go for just under sixty dollars.  All I needed was snow.  In the meantime we had  decided to take a trip to Denver, for downhill skiing at the Loveland Ski Area, and enjoy the sights. I was ready.  I packed my  Nordic gear.

We were supposed to go downhill skiing on Monday, December 29th, but the weather turned bitter cold, and it snowed in Colorado for two days.  We postponed our ski trip until New Years Day when it was scheduled to warm up (which it did). In the meantime it was brutally cold, and I was not looking forward to spending two days inside with nothing to do but read or watch television.  I decided to bundle up and go out into the snow for my first ever cross-country skiing excursion. With the temperature in the single-digits, and the wind-chill in the double-digits I went outside.

DSC_0273I had read a couple of books at the library, and barely knew how to put the gear on.  Jenifer acted as the event photographer, and made sure I had my  cell phone in case I got into trouble.  I put on a lot of layers, managed to get the skis on, and headed out for my great adventure. Without further ado I was off and cross-country skiing.  It was not pretty, nor fast, but I was living the dream. I had no idea what to expect.  I had not even been downhill skiing in over 15 years, and the weather was much colder than I was accustomed to.  As a matter of fact, I had  never been outside for an extended period of time in such weather conditions.  It was great.  I learned a lot.

DSC_0276First of all I learned how to cross-country ski.  I skied for over eighty minutes the first day, and skied the same distance in just over an hour the second day when it was even colder.  The first day my left ski came off at least five times, and I fell about five or six times.  The second day both skis stayed on, and I only feel twice.  I was also much more relaxed on the second day. I even found myself smiling like I do sometimes when I am running or riding my bike.  Having fun, like a kid.  What about comfort?  I was never cold either day.  I was wearing good gear, was well layered, and a time or two even became a bit overheated.

There is something magical about cross-country skiing, and it was everything I had hoped it would be.  There is a beautiful, harsh, starkness that is unique to winter with the snow and the cold.  Then there is the sound.  That muted sound of winter.   It felt good to be out in the snow, and in the cold, and moving.  I can’t wait to do it again. It makes you feel alive.

Nordic ski binding.
Nordic three pin ski binding for 75mm LEFT boot. I had this on my right foot the day before.

I learned a lot.  For example, I learned that Nordic bindings, at least the kind I have now, have a left and a right.  I had my  bindings on the wrong foot which is what caused the one binding to keep falling off because it was not closing properly.  I also learned that I have no reason not to train (walking, running, or Nordic skiing) in the harsh conditions here Missouri.  Why? I have already done all three in Colorado under much harsher conditions than I am likely to encounter here.  I also learned to deal with the apprehension, and fear, of trying something new and perhaps failing.  I learned one other thing.  Cross-country skiing is not only great fun, it is great exercise.  It is the only other exercise I would rather do than run.  That is saying a lot.

If you want to try this sport keep an eye out for used equipment – especially in the summer when people are cleaning stuff out of their basements and garages.  I think my strategy of finding a good set of used skis, and building from that was a good one. My skis are the waxless variety, and they worked great. From what I understand you are supposed to be fitted for your skis, but I figured if I was close enough I would be fine.  I was fine.  I think buying the boots new was a good idea, and I love the ones I purchased online.  They are warm, and kept my feet dry.  The adjustable poles allowed me to experiment.  The tricky part was figuring out what kind of bindings I had, and trying to match up with the right boots.  THAT is essential. They did not match and I had to order a new set of bindings, I mentioned this earlier,  for about ten bucks.  I removed the old bindings and mounted the new ones following the directions I found online.  By the way, never trust just one source online for something critical like mounting ski bindings, but I strongly suspect that Nordic bindings are much easier to work with than the downhill variety.  Here in the midwest Nordic skiing is not as popular as in other regions so the do-it-yourself approach was a necessity.  There is not a ski shop in town.

If you want to do something do it.  If I had waited for someone to teach me, for someone to go with me out into the cold,  or for the perfect equipment I would still be thinking about it.  I’ve done that kind of thing for too long anyway.  Confucius was right “Perfect is the enemy  of the good.”  I am not a perfect skier, but I have a good time doing it – flaws and all.

There is snow in the forecast.  I might just get lucky.


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