The Best of Winter

I am a committed out-the-backdoor cross country skier.

I discovered “cross country skiing” at college during the early 70s. Having grown up on alpine slopes, I was pretty disappointed to learn that my new home, St. Lawrence University, was not, ahem, in the heart of New York’s downhill territory. That was especially true in those days, when no freshmen, and few upperclassmen, had cars. Even a quick 50-mile trip to Big Tupper was rare.

Setting out across the yard mid afternoon Sunday in perfect conditions. Fresh snow, temperature approaching 10F. (Photo: Martha Foley)

So, if you wanted to get outside on skis regularly, x-country was your best option. It was a joyful transition for me. First, once you had your skis, poles and boots (CHEAP then), and some waxes, it was free. Second, it’s a warm sport, unlike sitting on the chairlift at Gore Mt., which was dangerously conducive to frostbite.

Third, I loved the adventure; we were discovering the rural landscape. Topo maps were our guide, or a friend who lived out in the country somewhere.  We’d pick a likely destination, dope out a likely route, and go. These were generally group expeditions, four to 12 people and a dog or two. Almost without exception, we were breaking trail. There was a lunch or heavy snack stop involved, and if we were lucky with our topo map interpretation, at least one thrilling downhill. An unlucky day found us spread out, picking our ways through an alder swamp to get home. (That’s when being short really is a real asset.)

Late afternoon, across the road, in the neighbor's field. Yes, that's a snowmobile trail. The aging dog needs it! Late afternoon is a favorite time to ski. (Photo: Martha Foley)

This is still my favorite way to ski, though at 59, I don’t have the legs for day-long trips, and I’m a little more cautious about the downhills. But the joy hasn’t faded. And after 30-plus years, our neighborhood has developed some lovely trails, so you don’t HAVE to bushwhack.  Though sometimes, it’s irresistible.

4 Comments on “The Best of Winter”

  1. Hank says:

    Beautiful. I really enjoy these personal vignettes posted by NCPR staff.

    My wife and I are snowshoers and, of course, the experience and the enjoyment are similar.

  2. Lucy Martin says:

    Wonderful, evocative post, Martha! And I know just what you (and Hank) mean.

    Growing up on Maui, there was snow _maybe_ every 5 years or so, for just a few days only, atop 10,000′ Haleakala. But it was usually gone by the time the summit road re-opened for traffic.

    There was no way to ice skate, period. Eventually, one (1) rink was built for an entire state with a million people. On Oahu. As exciting as that was, you had to buy a ticket, stumble around in a crowd and endure really loud music.

    After moving to the Ottawa area, I was totally blown away by the difference between a noisy indoor rink, and skating out-of-doors. There is _no_ comparison!

    OK, sure. Hawaii is not exactly hard on the eyes. Beaches and surfing are amazingly wonderful too. And there are definitely times when winter wears thin. (You’re beyond cold and miserable. Or the driveway you just broke your back shoveling needs clearing — yet again. )

    But, my gosh. On the good days, Winter’s beauty just blows me away.

    It is sublime.

  3. Bob Falesch says:

    Martha, you drew me right into your clutches with this article. I’m totally, unexpectedly bushwhacked.

  4. Martha Foley says:

    Thanks, Bob! Now for some snow…this warm weather is the weak link in my ski plans.

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