For a top-notch workout — and as a remedy for cabin fever — strap on a pair of cross-country skis
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On a bright but freezing cold day last winter, the medley of languages overheard at Fahnestock Winter Park might have fooled you into thinking that you’d been magically transported to Russia, Finland, or Poland — anywhere other than the all-American town of Cold Spring in Putnam County. As flags of many nations flapped in the wind, groups of transplanted Europeans, many up for the day from New York City, gathered around the outdoor fireplace at the lodge and sipped hot chocolate, their cross-country skis propped nearby.
“Europeans really have a heritage of being outdoors,” says winter park Director Paul Kuznia. “They’ll put on a backpack, ski the trails, and have lunch. It’s a way of connecting with how they grew up.” On a good weekend, as many as 700 people might visit the park, making it one of the busiest cross-country centers in the Northeast.
Not that there are all that many to choose from. While popular abroad, cross-country skiing (also called Nordic skiing), with its hip air of sophistication, is still an underground sport stateside. Until recently, it was enjoyed mainly by a small but passionate group of enthusiasts. Some were converts from downhill (or alpine) skiing, and many also took part in other rigorous sports like kayaking or bicycling. But it seems that this relatively easy and affordable pastime, which offers an excellent overall workout, is now catching on with the general public.
Staying in shape: With special skates, Sibilia practices her skiing form in the off-season
Dutchess County resident Janice Sibilia started out as a bike racer in the early 1980s, and took up Nordic skiing as a form of cross training. Today she coaches high-level skiers and is the competitive program director for the New England Nordic Ski Association. Sibilia practices the fast-paced form of cross-country known as skate skiing, which was popularized by Olympian Bill Koch in the early 1980s.
“Cross-country skiers are some of the fittest athletes in the world,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean you have to be incredibly fit. You can really set your own pace. You can go out for a leisurely, bucolic ski on classic skis. Or you can go out on your skate skis and try to cover as much ground as quickly as possible.”
The full gamut of skiers is evident at Fahnestock: Plenty of families and seniors make their way around the easy two-mile Field Loop, while the more experienced venture onto more challenging trails (all of which are groomed, which makes them easier and more enjoyable to use). When Lake Canopus freezes, skate skiers head out there as well. “It feels like Siberia out on the lake, like a different world,” says Mark Booska, a volunteer at Fahnestock and the cross-country chairman of the Hudson Valley Ski Club. “You’ll find a deer carcass out there and wonder what happened. Did coyotes surround it?”
Like other dedicated cross-country facilities, Fahnestock offers lessons in both classic and skate skiing. Basics covered include how to get up if you fall (and you will), and how to transfer your weight from one ski to the other. But that’s just scratching the surface.
“In downhill you have to learn one thing: to turn, which is also to stop,” says Booska. But in cross-country, you’ve got skating, classic, uphill, downhill, the transition from flat to uphill, “so you’re using different techniques and getting a total body workout,” he says.