Time for another updated Pragmatic Yogi blog post... In my mid-30s, I discovered Nordic skiing, otherwise known as cross country or XC skiing. I fell in love the the sport when I lived in San Francisco and had to drive to the Sierra mountains in order to ski. Many days were full of sunshine and expansive views and some days we could shed our layers until we were skiing in short sleeves. Now that I live in Pittsburgh and have two young sons, it's a bit different. I still drive a couple of hours away, now I go north to Erie, Pa, but there are more cloudy days than days with crystal clear blue skies. And more of my time is spent nestled in the trees and not on mountain top ridges. But I still love it. All of these benefits I described decade ago still hold true and some of them I appreciate even more now that I am a parent and approaching my 50th birthday. And this year the need to be outdoors and socially-distanced is all the more reason to get out there and enjoy this age-old sport!
1. It's a great exercise: tough on the muscles but easy on the joints. The most fit athletes in the world are XC skiers. But you don't have to be super fit to ski. All you need to do is be able to slide one ski in front of the other.
2. You can ski for a lifetime. I've noticed that some of the fastest skiers in the events that I've done are older: 40s, 50s, 60s even 70s! Whether you're the competitive type or not, XC skiing can be done well into your senior years to help improve strength, balance and cardiovascular conditioning. Editing to add... I am now "older" as I approach my 50th birthday. And while I'm not personally as fast as I was in my 30s, I know that I have decades ahead of me to keep getting better.
3. It's relatively inexpensive. A weekend lift ticket at Seven Springs resort here in Western PA is $93 and rentals start at $53 for downhill skis. Compare that to Wilderness Lodge, where I now ski where a trail pass is $2o for adults and rentals are $15 for classic skis. Enough said.
4. It's outdoors. XC skiing almost always takes place in clean air, among trees and often with breathtaking views. Even urban trails in cold climates such as Anchorage or Minneapolis offer an escape into arms of Mother Nature.
5. It's in the winter time. I personally love the white snow and brisk temperatures of winter. But even those who are averse to the cold may enjoy XC because you can stay very warm the entire time you ski. Unlike downhill sports, there are no lifts or lines to stand in. And there is often a lot less wind because instead of heading to an exposed peak, you often can ski in protected groves of trees.
6. It offers variety: You can choose from two different techniques, classic or freestyle. In classic (my favorite), your skis move forward and back in parallel lines, often in grooves on groomed trails. Freestyle involves lateral pushing-off motion, like skating. You also have the option of skiing on groomed trails or going for backcountry skiing on fresh snow. Then there is biathlon if you are inclined to test your shooting skills while your chest is heaving from physical exhaustion. Talk about a mind-body sport!
7. It's an excellent social/family activity. When I originally wrote this, I noted that I often see families skiing together. Now I've become one of those families. Kids can start
to learn as early as 2 or 3 years old. And many children are on the slopes with their parents
even before they can walk, hitching a ride in a sled known as a pulk. Here's a phot of me a few years ago giving my toddler a ride in our Chariot pulk while skiing with my 4 year old:
A sad but necessary truth is that the social aspect of meeting up with others in the lodge isn't happening this year but it's still fun to see others on the trail and ski together, yet 6 feet apart.
8. It is less weather-dependent than other winter sports. I broke my arm snowboarding so I have since been very choosy about the conditions in which I will shell out money for a lift ticket. If it's not soft or powdery, I save money and buy a trail pass. But I will Nordic ski when it's icy, slushy, frigid or warm and I've always had a great time no matter what the conditions.
9. It's great for moving meditation. One of the best things about skiing is finding that rhythm where you can just focus on the steady state of your breath or sound of your skis gliding on the snow. This can free your mind and allow you to be purely in the moment.
10. The afterglow. Nordic skiing will leave you with a beautiful, rosy glow on your cheeks and in your heart after a day on the trail.
Next time, I'll share a few yoga poses that I like to do after a day on the trails. Stay tuned!