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Categorized | Outdoors

Cross-Country Skiing

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche | By Ranger Steve Mueller

The end of winter fun on cross-country skis comes with mixed feelings and experiences. Skiing on fresh cold snow is a joy but breaking trail is hard work. Cold weather makes for best snow gliding but challenges our extremities if not well dressed. Warmer temperatures might be more comfortable but snow tends to cake on skis. I prefer temperatures between 0ºF and 15ºF. Next is -15ºF to 0ºF.  Above 15ºF is too warm for both skies and me. Below -15ºF is too cold.

We used to live in northern Minnesota where snow seemed to stay fresh and pure most of the winter. From Christmas to mid-February the temperature remained near zero or below for six weeks. When -15ºF the snow is good for gliding on ski tracks but hypothermia potential rises. On one outing a member of our group began experiencing hypothermia when we were still a half hour from a warming house at Itasca State Park. 

When body temperature drops, thinking becomes clouded. Protecting body parts from frost nip is important. Muscle coordination begins to fail. Dave was experiencing confusion and some loss of muscle coordination. It was -30ºF. We escorted him with encouragement and other than being too cold he suffered no body damage. 

It is wonderful to have groomed ski trails. In popular areas, a grooming machine provides the tracks to provide good gliding without the need to almost use skies like snowshoes. Kick and glide is the ideal. It can become habit to walk with skies instead of gliding. When one pushes against the ground (kick), the ski should grip to power the skier forward. When the slide momentum begins to slow another kick maintains momentum.

My wood skis require wax. A variety of waxes are produced for various temperature conditions and they work better than the newer fish-scale skis in my opinion. The fish-scale tread is designed to work in all conditions but that is like assuming car tire treads will work equally well in all conditions. 

My skis will ice up and snow will begin to stick but in my pocket I have different grades of wax. I scrape the ice and apply a fresh wax or sometimes a different wax for changing conditions. Friends on no-wax skies cannot refresh their skis and snow globs continue to cake, making it harder for an ideal glide.

When I first began cross-country skiing, my friend Molly taught me skills and etiquette. First was kick and glide. A significant number of people do not take advantage of the glide and create more work for themselves. When necessary to stop, good etiquette is to step out of the ski track to keep the trail in good condition. 

Occasionally, I fall for one reason or another. It is mostly on a twisting downhill stretch. Usually the fall landing is beside the trail. When I get up, I make an effort to rise next to the trail and step back onto the track. More challenging can be an about face turn to head in the opposite direction. I am able to lift my long right ski and rotate it 180º and set it facing in the opposite direction in the ski track. Then I swing the left ski around and set it outside the track next my other ski. Once turned around, I move my right ski into the other track and my left ski into the remaining track. Now I am ready to proceed in the opposite direction. 

Groomed trails are frequently one-way trails to keep skiing safer. On trails that I create at Ody Brook or in wilderness areas where other skiers will not be encountered, reversing direction is acceptable. 

Uphill skiing can become impossible to kick and slide. One does not want to end up skiing backwards down a hill. Herring-boning becomes necessary. The rear end of skies are kept close together and tips spread widely to allow walking up the hill. This obliterates the track but is necessary. Some remove skies and walk uphill. Molly taught skiing skills but I had different teaching responsibilities. She wanted to learn winter trees and shrubs. While enjoying winter on skis in the black and white beauty accented under a clear blue sky, we stopped to examine nature niche intricacies of the woody plant buds, leaf scars, lenticels, and other stem characters. 

Enjoy the exquisite beauty around you when skiing but do not miss the trees for the forest. Take time to examine trees, shrubs, animal tracks and occasional bird activity along the trail. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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