I have recently been rediscovering my inner Nordic skier, which has been slumbering for many years. Ski tours this winter in Leavenworth, Blewett Pass, and Snoqualmie Pass – including one beautiful day introducing my 8 year-old son to what we used to call cross-country skiing – represent more classic touring than I have done in years. The simplicity of just moving across the countryside on light-weight gear allows me to focus on movement, rhythm, and accumulating mileage rather than vertical; enjoying the tour, rather than the turn.
As a boy growing up in semi-rural western Massachusetts I grew up skiing both alpine and cross-country. I had the extraordinary benefit of having corn fields around my house, so I was able to ski out my back door whenever there was enough snow. As a teenager we moved to the hills and woods where I could explore even farther. Track skiing was a rarity at home, but on family trips to Colorado or northern New England we would ski at the nordic resorts. I was always trying to ski faster, sometimes imagining a cross country race the way other kids imagine a football game.
When I was in college, my dad and I took a trip to a hut on the 10th Mountain Trail in the Colorado high country. The gear was typical for the time – which is to say terrible – but we shared space with a guided group and played around on slopes near the hut. From that point I rarely skied cross-country and my focus turned to telemarking and peak touring. I soon moved to the Northwest where I skied some of the standards: Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams as well as some moderate tours in the Central and North Cascades.
I enjoy a challenging adventure and the aesthetics of leaving fresh tracks – and not just a few sitzmarks – in the backcountry but I have never been a real adrenaline junkie. With a busy family life I often just want to explore new areas, visit places for their beauty or solitude; where turns are more of a bonus or a pleasant side-effect rather than the goal. On my tours I sometimes feel the payoff of moving lighter, faster, and farther is greater than the modest descent.
My patrol always provides course support for races at a local public-access nordic ski area. We ski out on the course with our patrol packs, hang out at one location for a while and watch the racers go by. On the longer races we rotate positions periodically during the race to stay warm. For someone like myself – who as a kid, inspired by images of Bill Koch, would roll up his stretch ski pants like knickers and treat every outing like a time trial – slogging along while the racers flew by became torture.
This season I decided to return to my my roots (a few technological advances not withstanding). I got my first ever NNN set-up and have spent the season embracing my inner kick-and-glider. Even while carrying a patrol pack, the relative weightlessness, speed, and sound – specifically the lack of it – feel familiar and comfortable. It has been like a little recreational homecoming.