January is Learn to Ski Month in New Hampshire — and in skiing states from Virginia to Oregon — and I wanted in on the action.
The problem there is I’ve been on the alpine slopes since I could walk, regularly strap on the old cross-country gear for treks through the woods with the dog, spent a few years telemark skiing in Colorado and the couple of times I’ve tried snowboarding were a disaster.
That left me with skate skiing, and early this week I wandered through Crawford Notch to the Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett to see if I could learn to ski another way.
Owned by brothers John and Doug Garland, who trace their roots back to the earliest settlers in the region, Bear Notch is a homey place. Trail passes are sold from the front room of a centuries-old farmhouse, and skiers will find homemade bread and soups each day in the small warming hut out back.
The Garlands maintain 65 kilometers of trails through field and forest and along the Saco River for both skate and classic skiing — a stark contrast to my normal through-the-woods loop out my back door.
Another Garland brother, Clifton, was enlisted to show me the skate-skiing ropes when I visited Bear Notch early this week. Turns out Clifton and I were neighbors many years ago, when I lived in Crested Butte, Colo., so we had plenty to talk about between skiing tips.
His favorite tip, no matter the type of skiing: Always keep one foot between your face and the snow!
I managed to stay mostly upright during our outing on the gentle learning loop near the warming hut, and Clifton — who was one of the top telemark racers in the country a while back and has instructed in that discipline as well — used my background as an alpine skier to teach me the ins and outs of skate skiing.
“People come with the skills to be skiers,” he told me. “I just have to interpret what those skills are.”
During Learn to Ski month, Nordic and alpine areas throughout the state are offering a variety of deals on lift tickets and trail passes, rentals and lessons. So, if you’re looking to add a new snow-sliding skill to your quiver, check with your favorite area or go to SkiNH.org for specific Learn to Ski programs.
A few days before my skate ski adventure, my kids had taken their first ever Nordic lesson through a school program at Bretton Woods. The instructors there had the kids leave their poles behind and work on balance through a series of jumps and short step-and-glides, eventually moving on to freeze tag and Simon Says — sans poles.
We skipped the games, but Clifton put me through similar no-poles exercises so I could get the feel of the skis without the crutch of balancing-by-pole. We also skated across a stretch of unmarked snow so we could examine my tracks for clues to what I was doing right and what needed adjusting.
Once I had the feel of pushing sideways (without the comfort of the wide skis and metal edges I’m used to on my alpine gear) and gliding, I added a double-pole plant on one side for extra propulsion.
Before long, I found a rhythm in the sideways push and glide of skating on skis — and enough confidence in my fledgling skate ski skills to feel like I could tackle future outings on my own. Turns out old skiers can learn new tricks after all.
Winter Notes is published on Fridays during ski season. Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at firstname.lastname@example.org.