In which I find my perfect winter sport

I’ve talked before about my love-hate relationship with skiing. (Basically I love the whole skiing ‘thing’. I just hate the actual skiing.) This weekend we headed up to Tahoe to ski Homewood, a smaller resort on the west shore. It looked perfect for us – lots of greens and blues, ideal for a family trip. I knew I could do greens and I was up for trying some blues!

I won’t go into details but suffice to say that I hated skiing on Saturday. Hated it. NONE of this is due to Homewood which is a great little resort which we all really liked. I was just a crap skier having a crap day. I was done with skiing.

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On the Sunday, NONE of us wanted to ski. This has NEVER happened before. Neither the Husband nor the Dude were particularly healthy this weekend,  so they decided they’d rather go sledding at Granlibakken and I was determined to have a go at cross-country skiing.

I’ve wanted to try cross-country (aka nordic) skiing for a long time now….it’s on my Bay Area Bucket List. I’ve long been secretly convinced that it’s my perfect snow sport. All the things I love about ‘skiing’…being active, being outside, snow, mountains, cake…and none of the things I hate…fear, broken bones.  I did try it once when I was unknowingly pregnant, in France with my lovely friend Debs. We skied for about a mile before finding a chalet with deck chairs in the sunshine selling hot schnapps. (I said UNKNOWINGLY PREGNANT). But I hadn’t done it since. However I know that a lot of Europe’s best trail runners (including my heroine Emelie Forsberg) do it as a winter activity because it complements running so well. The action is similar, it builds cardiovascular fitness in a similar way. So I cashed in some Christmas money from my in-laws and booked a group lesson at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Center.

My lesson was at 10.30, my boys dropped me off and headed off to sledge. I felt at home instantly. A lot of the people there clearly did this regularly and they looked like runners. They wore different clothes to us newbies wearing our downhill ski clothes. The regulars wore much less bulky clothes, almost like running clothes. The shop was full of stuff that I could imagine myself running in…I wanted to buy most of the stuff too. This was my place. My heart beat faster.

The place was RAMMED. This was their busiest weekend of the year and the queue was long. (So get there early if you’re planning to go). However it moved fast and before long I was kitted out. The minute I put on the ski-boots, I knew this was the sport for me. Cross-country boots are not the torture devices of downhill skiing. They’re soft and pliable and comfortable, and you stand NO chance of snapping your tibia over the rim. (Yep). I was in love. Also the skis are much thinner and much lighter than downhill skis – no heavy schlepping around here. I basically skipped onto the snow.

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So comfy…
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So light…

My group lesson was with a sprightly older gentleman named Rick. It was a big group – maybe 13 people. I’m sure this is abnormal due to the holiday weekend. We were all total beginners and all a little nervous. Rick showed us how to step into the skis and over the next hour he showed us how to move forward, how to move forward faster, how to glide, how to go downhill and most importantly how to stop. I was a little nervous on the downhills but there was none of the terror I feel in downhill skiing. Most of all, I was having fun.

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My lesson

Cross-country skiing does feel a lot like running. The movement is similar and my running fitness really made a difference, I noticed I was faster than others in my group. Normally I’m the slowest and the last in my ski-classes so this was nice. As I skied, I could feel my heart working similarly to how it does when I run easily.

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At the end of the lesson, I had about an hour and a half before my boys would pick me up so I set to work. I spent much of that time simply going up and down the very gentle slope near the lodge practising climbing and practising descending. Each time I descended, I got a little less tense and a little less clumsy. I was elated with myself.

For the last half hour, I headed up the easy yellow trail to the flat meadow area where a network of trails spread out. Trails are graded in difficulty from yellow to green to blue to black. I stuck with greens but felt really comfortable on them. I really loved exploring the new trails. It was so peaceful and pretty. I swooshed along happily and just relished being on skis without being scared.

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As my time ran out, I skied down back to the lodge to find the Husband waiting for me. He saw my massive grin and knew instantly that this was much more ‘me’.

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My enthusiasm was so great that I persuaded my (previously reluctant) boys to try it on Monday morning before we headed home…but the weather had other ideas. A massive snow storm blew in and we decided to head over the Donner Pass before it got too bad or anyone got too hungry. Sensible decision but it just left me itching to do more. I sense a return trip coming up in the weeks we have left.

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But all in all…flipping excellent!

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Lunch-date with my favourite gap-toothed cutie

10 Comments Add yours

  1. gracechua31 says:

    Oh – you are my people. I am an iffy downhill skier at best, either cautious or catastrophic. But I love cross-country skiing and don’t do it enough!
    Also – gap-toothed! What is this tooth-losing business?! First shooting up a foot, now losing baby teeth…I can’t take it, this is much too fast for me.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Okay, you and I are basically Opposite Coast Twins!!!

  2. Angela says:

    I’ve wanted to try cross country skiing for a while now and this makes me want to try it even more! I enjoy downhill skiing & have improved a lot over the years, but it’s also really stressful and exhausting and I feel like cross country skiing might play more to my strengths (and also give me a good option for getting a real work out in in ski country when I can’t really run!).

    1. Cathryn says:

      YES, exactly to all of that! I honestly think you’d love it. I read somewhere that you have to work for twice as long as running (ie: 2 hrs XC ski = 1 hr run) which was useful info.

  3. bt says:

    Oooohhhhh… fascinating. I grew up downhill skiing and doing fast adrenaline-heavy sports, so I *love* downhill skiing. We do it every year for at least a week with E’s family, typically somewhere in the U.S. In the last few years, however, I’ve found myself getting more and more hesitant when I downhill ski. More aware of how my catlike reflexes are not what they once were. More aware of how in the last 2 ski seasons first my Father-in-law broke his collar bone and then E broke his humerus. Last year was the first year where I opted out of all black diamonds since i skied my first black diamond when I was 9 or 10 (in fairness, the snow was icy and the moguls hadn’t been groomed, so I don’t think I’m totally off black diamonds for good, but I’m definitely more selective than I once was). The last few years, I’ve even opted into a few 1/2 day ski sessions so I could fit in some time doing yoga and/or running while the others closed out the mountain because the hardcore adrenaline and muscle flexing descent down a mountain is like serious speed intervals with a longer recovery interval, but sometimes I really just crave a little more aerobic consistency. So cross-country skiing may just be my next winter gig — I may even give it a try in Colorado on this year’s trip. Thanks so much for the post and the inspiration.

    1. Cathryn says:

      I do think you should try this, it sounds like it would fit the bill ideally. There’s very little adrenaline (which suits me) but if you combine with downhill, you should get the best of both worlds!

  4. Layla says:

    I’ve never skied, which is kind of ridiculous since I grew up at the foot of a very tall mountain, and now I’m terrified at the idea of injuring my legs. (I do like sledding, though.) But maybe cross country skiing is more my kind of thing. I’ve wanted to try snowshoeing, so this sounds similar. I’ll add it to the bucket list!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I want to do snow-shoeing too! And you should try XC skiing! I meant to try snow shoeing this weekend but it didn’t happen…but I sledged backwards so that was a triumph.

  5. Bean says:

    I also enjoy cross country skiing and snowshoeing 100% more than skiing or snowboarding because of the absence of leg shattering fear. Sounds like a great weekend! Love reading about all your bucket list happenings but sad to think you are moving….though excited to think that we might be able to come visit you in your new home ;). I am in a glass case of emotions over here.

    1. Cathryn says:

      PLEASE come and stay with me…I’m an emotional wreck already!!! We can go to France and do XC skiing and trail running together!

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