Until last weekend, I’d never cross country skied. Impossible, I know, but true. So J and I headed out to the Tantalus View Retreat with friends for the weekend, and from there to the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley. We lucked out completely on the weather; it was a perfect bluebird day, without a cloud in the sky.
Putting on the skis was extremely strange. Totally familiar, and yet not. Firstly, the boots were squishy and comfortable. Secondly, the skis themselves were these insane skinny things that didn’t behave at all the way I expected them to. The two skis put together were still narrower than one of my regular skis and the lack of edges initially seemed quite disturbing, since it wasn’t possible to use them to turn.
After some basic instruction from our friend C that was enough to get us moving, we set off. Apart from the tendency of the skis to want to slide sideways whenever I was out of the tracks, this felt like far more familiar territory since it’s the exact same motion as skinning, with some slight adjustments for the length of the poles.
The downhills were hilarious. With no edges, the only way to turn was to try and force the skis into an aggressively weighted snowplough which occasionally seemed to move me very slightly in the general direction of the corner. A variety of crashes, slides, and close encounters with snowbanks ensued each time the four of us came to a hill.
By the time we’d worked our way around the loop I was feeling pretty comfortable, having come to the realization that cross country skiing is basically just touring with really long poles and crazy skinny skittish skis. Sliding along in the sunshine, Brandywine towering ahead of us, it felt strangely liberating to be on such incredibly light gear and unburdened by an enormous heavy backpack.
This is something I’ll be doing again for sure. I’d like to keep working on my technique on the skis since there’s clearly a lot to be learned there, and I’d also like to try the skate skiing which looks like an absolutely killer workout. Mostly, though, I’m happy that I found a new way to do one of the things I love the most: move through the mountains.