I first learned to cross-country ski when I was 19 and living in Norway. Learning to ski in a country where skiing is the national pastime was both a blessing and a curse. (The national slogan”Nordmenn er født med ski på beina” or “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet” may help you understand why little Norway is so dominant in the Winter Olympics.) The curse part was that I was 19 the first time that I strapped on skis; I think I spent most of that first afternoon either falling down or trying to get up. To add insult to injury, as I struggled to complete the “beginner” 2K loop, dozens of skiers zipped right by me – including both a 90+ year old pensioner and a baby. I would call him a toddler, but not for the fact that later I saw him crawling around on a blanket in picnic area by the parking lot. Nothing bursts your bubble quicker than the realization that even a kid who can’t walk yet can ski better than you can.
The blessing part is that cross-country skiing can be such a joyful experience. I learned in Norway that it is cross-country skiing is a sport that just about everyone can do. I also learned that skiing allows you to get out and experience nature in a way that is very different from the rest of the year. The stillness of the snowy woods can be breathtaking. In the silence, you hear your breathing and the rhythmic sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh of your skis, interrupted occasionally by the sound of an animal or a bird. Unlike summer’s cacophony, in winter each sound is individualized and accentuated, carrying alone across long distances. From afar, I heard the yank-yank-yank-yank of the red-breasted nuthatch while skiing on Lake Harriet last week; it was still calling when I skied up to it 10 minutes later. When you are out in the cold, but not feeling it because your arms and legs are working hard, pumping heat through your body – that’s when cross-country skiing makes you feel the power for conquering winter.
And then there is this. The unique light and colors of a deep winter day that perhaps can only be experienced on skis.
It’s been years now since I learned to ski. I rarely fall down anymore, although I am still passed on the trail by faster skiers. Truthfully, I haven’t been out on skis much in the recent past. Climate change and the warmer winters of the past decade have meant the snow conditions have been less than perfect in Minnesota. This winter, however, the snow conditions are wonderful. And I have rediscovered my joy in cross-country skiing.