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Nordic ski lessons challenge stereotypes, offer all-around fitness

Betsy Frick leads a classic cross-country lesson Thursday afternoon. Frick just moved to Steamboat in August but competed in Olympic Trials in the sport while living near Reno, Nev. 20 years ago.
Courtesy Photo

Tips for Nordic wear

Dress warm, but don't overdo it.

"Most beginners show up overdressed," instructor Betsy Frick said.

The reason most Nordic skiers wear less clothing isn't necessarily because they're always racing. It's in part because a regular ski jacket or pair of thick snow pants would prove much too hot during an average workout.

Also, don't bring the thick snow gloves. Try something more lightweight and thin instead.

The Steamboat Ski Touring Center

Trail Passes

- Adult $18 full day, $16 after 1 p.m.

- Children 12 and younger, $12/$10

- Seniors $12 all day

Equipment rental

- Adults, $13/$11

- Children, $10/$8

- Skating, $18/$15

Seasonal rentals

- Children Skate, $125, Classic, $75

- Adult, classic only, $135

Lessons

One-hour group lessons are available for $35 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. for classic style and at 9:30 a.m. for skate style. One-hour private lessons are offered for $59 at 11 a.m and 2 p.m. The center also offers a one-hour clinic Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon. Monday's clinic is for beginning skate skiers, Wednesday is for intermediate skate skiers, and Friday is for intermediate classic skiers. The Steamboat Masters Ski Program is every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and is tailored for intermediate and advance Nordic skiers. Its price ranges from $85 to $200 and includes coaching from a staff of six experienced skiers. For more information, visit http://www.nordicski.net or call the center at 970-879-8180

You’re supposed to wear tight clothes when you cross-country ski. At least that’s the thought I had in my mind Thursday as I dug through my closet in preparation for my first cross-country ski lesson.

The guys at the Olympics, they wear tight clothing. There was tight clothing everywhere at last spring’s Coureur des Bois, the first and only cross-country ski race I’ve covered.

It was lucky for everyone involved that I settled not only on the too-small set of long underwear I found, but also on a slightly more agreeable sweatshirt and pair of workout pants.



Luckily for me, after two hours of careful tutoring from instructor Betsy Frick at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, more than a few myths – spandex-related and otherwise – were shattered.

Fitness factor

The Steamboat Ski Touring Center is entering its 29th season, and on Thursday, it displayed why it has earned a core of dedicated customers. The center has proven to be one of the most user-friendly in the Yampa Valley, its trails opening earlier than others and remaining open through snow-droughts.



It was the only valley complex open Thursday before the weekend’s fresh snow.

“We’re at a little higher elevation than town, so that makes a difference,” director Birgitta Lindgren said. “It’s amazing, but a little bit (of care on the trails) makes a difference. We try to groom it at the right time and just enough, and we have good shady portions that help shield parts of the courses from the sun.”

The center has proven to be the launching ground for many a burgeoning cross-country skier. There’s plenty to draw people to the sport, said Lindgren, who’s been skiing Steamboat’s powder Nordic style for decades.

One such reason is a fear of injury from skiing traditional Alpine style at the Steamboat Ski Area. Cross-country skiing – either the classic style or the skate-skiing variety – doesn’t come with the same risks as a trip down the Ted’s Ridge run. It’s easier on knees and ligaments and doesn’t carry the same risk of a fall or a collision with an out-of-control skier.

It also can help build better fitness than downhill skiing.

“Cross-country skiing fits in with the fitness boom,” Lindgren said. “It’s one of the few sports that gets you total body fitness. It even helps out mentally by cleaning out the mind with fresh air and open spaces.”

Another consideration is cost. While daily lift tickets at the Steamboat Ski Area cost $91 per day during the regular season, and a season pass can cost upwards of $1,000, passes to the Touring Center start at $18. Skiers can add a lunch, available at the center’s eatery, The Picnic Basket, and ski the whole day for only $25.

Tougher than it looks

It wasn’t the cost that drew me to the Touring Center on Thursday’s sunny afternoon. I’m already on the hook for a season pass to ski Mount Werner and already have my season-long ski rentals.

It wasn’t the fitness, either.

I was eager to learn the sport because so many in the Yampa Valley seem so glued to it.

My instructor, Frick, fell in love with Nordic skiing as a graduate student living near Reno, Nev. She was competing near the sport’s highest level just a few years later when she earned an invitation to the Olympic Trials.

The next year, she moved with her husband to Atlanta, however, and skiing disappeared from her life except for a one-week vacation to the mountains each year. She moved with her family to Steamboat Springs in August and said she’s eager to get back to serious Nordic skiing.

“It’s like riding a bike,” she said, explaining away any perceived difficulties with picking up the sport full-time after a 19-year layoff.

I can’t exactly agree with that. Learning to cross-country ski was easier for me than learning to ride a bike.

My first, predominant instinct was to tip over on the skis, so much narrower than the alpine versions I’m used to. Miraculously, I never did, enduring the entire lesson with almost constant wobbling but not a fall.

But skiing classic style is not as easy as it looks when done by a pro. The goal is to use an efficient, streamlined motion to get across the snow while programming the body to make the right movements takes some repetition.

And it’s easy to over-think things and stretch too far when trying to glide with each lunge. Done correctly, skiing doesn’t need to be much more difficult than walking, and the correct motions feel almost like a leisurely, more effortless jog.

And, when done correctly, it certainly doesn’t require Lycra.


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