Learn to Ski Plus: A Tale of the Trails
By Karen Clouthier
My first experience with cross-country skiing was not a good one! I struggled from start to finish, from falling down continuously to bumping my daughter off the trail as I descended a hill, gaining momentum with no hope of stopping! Not a good introduction, but I had figured it looked easy. I had watched a couple of videos on YouTube, and seriously, how hard could it be? Well, I soon found out it is way more enjoyable when you have been introduced to a few basic skills. That happened when I signed up for a learn to ski class with CanoeSki.
The first session was very short: courtesy of the -40 weather, the class was cancelled. A few days later I was off to Kinsmen Park again, dressed for the weather and ready to go. We met in the warm-up hut and after an introduction to the group members, the class was underway.
Learn to Ski Lesson 1
Parts of the ski, how it works and why, the pros and cons of waxable skis as opposed to waxless, introduction to colours of wax, correct pole height, the way to adjust the straps (I had that wrong!), were some of the topics covered in our rustic classroom. Theory lesson over, we were ready to hit the track, and we did, all of us I believe!
We shuffled over to the training track and proceeded to shuffle up and down it a few times before we were shown very diplomatically that there was a better way to do this – run! Set aside the poles and run up and down the tracks and keep the skis on! After a few failed attempts (shuffling felt safer), I was able to move at a pace, that with a vivid imagination could be mistaken for a run!
Reunited with my poles, I was able to move a little more fluently but not exactly gracefully! As the evening progressed and Cliff introduced a few more skills, my confidence grew. By the end of the lesson I was satisfied with my performance and a little enlightened on the art of cross-country skiing.
Learn to Ski Lesson 2
The weather was cooperating nicely and Kinsmen Park was again the venue for our next learn to ski lesson. We confirmed that we hadn’t forgotten all we had learned in lesson one and then Cliff introduced us to hills (both up and down), learning to associate words like “herring bone and double poling” to cross-country skiing . By the end of lesson two we could all initiate a snow-plow stop, not completely successful for me, but I was getting there and liking the feeling of control! We climbed the “big” hill using the herring bone technique, gaining confidence all the time. The concept of running as opposed to shuffling all made sense now, as it is far more effective to ski using a transfer of weight to gain momentum. We concluded lesson two and arranged to meet on Sunday morning at Tim’s to grab a coffee and head to Eb’s Trails located north of Saskatoon in the Nesbit Forest.
Learn to Ski Lesson 3
Sunday morning we all climbed into Cliff’s van and headed for Duck Lake. The weather was truly heaven-sent, beautiful blue sky, sunshine and a balmy -4° C. At the trailhead we donned our ski gear and trekked a short ways to the warm-up cabin to unload our back-packs and start our adventure. This was exciting for me, as my confidence level was pretty high. I could hear myself saying, “I’ve got this!”
First hill, I wiped out; nothing hurt or damaged, just crossed the tips of my skis and down I went. I was quickly upright, courtesy of Cliff having taught us the easy way to get up after falling – very effective when done right! And onward we went. We turned a corner and were met with a rather steep hill to climb. We all made it up only to be greeted by the downside. “How the heck am I going to do this?” I asked myself, but down I went, wobbled a bit, but stayed upright!
I think the trail we took was about 5 km. Each hill seemed less intimidating and I was really starting to relax and enjoy the whole experience. We stopped numerous times along the way for Cliff to explain what was ahead or just to chat and wait for everyone to catch up for a photo session! We completed the loop and arrived back at the cabin for lunch. I have to admit I was a little tired, but after sitting down for a while, I felt rejuvenated enough to head out again.
We took a different trail loop this time. We were all gaining confidence as we negotiated hills, sharp turns and getting on and off the track for other skiers. As we headed back to the cabin in the afternoon, I was praying for a hill! My legs were tired and what had terrified me at the beginning of the day was now a great feeling to glide down and give me a rest. All too soon the afternoon was over and we headed back to Saskatoon. This had been a truly memorable day!
Back at Kinsmen Park, it was fun to reflect on our experience at Eb’s Trails, and what had initially seemed somewhat daunting at times had all become characterized as “so much fun”. We spent the final evening skiing around the park and going up and down hills, generally practicing all we had learned with a few more skills thrown in as the evening wore on. We all finished the learn to ski course armed with a wealth of knowledge that will enable us to practice and eventually become seasoned cross-country skiers!
Ed. notes: Cross-country ski trails at Kinsmen Park in Saskatoon and at Eb’s Trails near Duck Lake are machine groomed and maintained by volunteers from the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club. The trails are open for all skiers to use; the Club respectfully asks that users help with the cost of the trails by donating and/or taking out a low-cost annual membership. The Nordic Club provides updated trail grooming reports for all the locations where it sets ski tracks.
For more info on Eb’s Trails – how to get there, what to take, wilderness skiing precautions & a trail map, see the CanoeSki blog post: Eb’s Trails – A Saskatchewan Cross-Country Skiing Mecca.