For a top-notch workout — and as a remedy for cabin fever — strap on a pair of cross-country skis
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Most beginners take lessons on waxless classic skis (waxes are used by experienced skiers). But anyone who’s had experience ice skating or rollerblading can give skate skis a try from the get-go. Classic skis generally are thinner and longer than downhill skis; skate skis are skinnier still and slightly shorter than classic skis. And both classic and skate skis have more camber than downhill skis. Camber is the arch at the base of the ski; it helps to distribute your weight evenly, which reduces drag and increases glide. “The longer the glide, the more efficient your form,” says Rob Kelley, the owner of Pawling Cycle & Sport. “When you get really good at it, and the conditions are right, you shoot along. It’s euphoric.”
Kelley points out that many beginners don’t know their own physical limitations or understand the importance of snow conditions. “In wet snow, you can go nowhere,” he says. “Having some snow-sport background is very good, because some of the downhill technique does transcend to cross-country.”
On the whole, cross-country is cheaper than downhill skiing — which is a huge plus, especially in these difficult economic times. For about $300, you can get a complete cross-country package (skis, poles, boots, bindings). You can easily spend that amount (or much more) on downhill skis alone. “You also spend much less money than you would going to an alpine facility,” adds Sibilia. “The rentals are cheaper, and you don’t have to wait on endless lines for lift tickets. Just put the skis on and go.” At Fahnestock, the daily trail fee is $9 for adults, $6 for kids; rentals (including boots and poles) are $16. Group lessons run $17 per person; private lessons are $30.
Aside from Fahnestock, the two other big cross-country facilities in the area are Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve, which Booska particularly appreciates for its subtly colored ice formations and access to remote, challenging terrain. Both locations are at relatively high elevation, so they get more snow and it stays cold longer. (To learn about trail conditions around the region, check the free-to-join discussion group on veteran skier Ken Roberts’ Web site.)
Keep in mind that cross-country facilities rate their trails by level of difficulty (from green for easy to black for difficult), but Roberts warns that trail ratings are subjective: “There’s a green hill at Minnewaska that suddenly drops and isn’t so easy anymore.” You need to think ahead: A trail that was simple to go down might not be such a snap to ascend. And a route that was soft in the early afternoon might become slick and slippery when you return at dusk.
A big part of cross-country’s appeal, of course, is that you don’t actually need a groomed facility — or even to travel out of your neighborhood — to enjoy it. Golf courses, open fields, your own backyard are all possibilities. Kelley has been known to classic-ski with friends through the center of Pawling to grab a cup of coffee on the weekend. They’ll also get together after work and skate-ski into the wee hours on a long stretch of the frozen Great Swamp in Patterson. Or they head over to Pawling’s Lakeside Park with classic skis. “If we get as little as three or four inches of snow, we can break classic tracks and ski the heck out of them,” says Kelley. “People can go over and use them. Once the tracks are broken, it can be out of this world for any level of skier to get out there.”