There are certain physical activities one associates with age. Golf, shuffleboard, and lawn bowls all come to mind. I used to think that Nordic skiing was another. Wrong.
Nordic skiing is a sexier beast than most people give it credit for. Centuries ago skis were required tools for men hunting big game in the Canadian wilderness, but the activity lost its niche during colonialization and industrialization. For a long time Nordic has felt like the dorky little brother of the super-cool and adrenaline-pumping alpine skiing.
That’s all changed now. Our fitness-obsessed society has discovered Nordic’s recreational and health benefits and its stock has soared.
If you’re on two planks but the heel of your boot isn’t fixed to the ski, you’re Nordic skiing. Classic (also called traditional) cross-country skiing and skate skiing both fall into the Nordic category, as do telemark, biathlon, ski-touring and ski-flying. Yes, ski-flying. Who knew people even did that?
Thanks to infrastructure left by the Calgary ’88 Winter Olympic Games, Canmore, Alberta, is the official breeding ground of our nation’s most medal-winning Nordic skiers, but more than a few of the world’s best skiers prefer to spend their time at Silver Star Mountain Resort. Silver Star has better snow, and usually more of it on its 60-plus kilometres of impeccably groomed trails.
The day I tackle the Silver Star Nordic Boot Camp is bluebird, which means blue skies for you non-skiers. Our small group is suited in rental classic-style skis and led onto a relatively level plateau, the initial training grounds. Instructors cover the basics (how to stop and turn), and those boot-campers with a lick of athletic ability are separated from those for whom the boot camp will be akin to learning to walk the first time (and who later assure me they had fun doing it).
Those of us in the “fast group” break away from the colourful buildings of the village and head to the lower half of the resort’s trail system with Andi Fancy, a top competitive skier from New Zealand and our guide. She stops us on a straight stretch with a low grade, and takes us through a variety of drills, having us pause, mid-stride, to capture the balance necessary in a good glide. “Imagine there’s a rope tied around your hips and pulling you forward,” she instructs, and soon our group of four strides confidently through the lean forest of the sub alpine, the jaw-dropping vista of the Monashee Mountain Range stretching infinitely beyond us in the sunshine.
“Too easy,” I think, mentally crediting at least one of the Aussie dudes who helped me in the rental shop for the expression.
Things go sideways when I decide to tuck (crouch lower to get more speed and pull my poles close to my body) on a small hill, lose control and I hit the ground, hard. But the fall doesn’t stop me from completing our scenic loop. By the time we make it back to the village, many kilometres later, I’ve got the flow.
The next day we’re suited with skate skis, which look deceptively like classic skis but have way less grip beneath the foot, leaving the wearer to depend on their edges for any semblance of control. I make the fast group again (wah-hoo!), wimp out on the down hills (once bitten…), and work up a serious sweat going uphill. Skate skiing isn’t as easy to grasp as classic.
“It’s like you’ve got one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake of an automatic car,” explains our instructor. “You need to dig in those edges for control but it’s a lot easier to move if you trust in that glide. You have to find that sweet spot in between.”
I find the sweet spot all right, two of them. Skate skis are a wicked glute workout. Nordic skiing in general is a killer workout. But more importantly, it’s quite lovely to slip quietly through the woods amongst nature. Maybe it’s because I live in a large city or maybe I’m just getting old, but my shallow self feels grateful that Nordic skiing is de rigeur once again, so that my active self has another excuse to play outside.
Silver Star Mountain Resort is an easy long-weekend destination by car or plane (250-542-0224, SkiSilverStar.com),