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A skate through the woods

Shauna Farnell
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Skate Ski tipsInstructors say wearing breathable fabrics is key in skate skiing, and eyewear and a mask on very cold days. Underlayering to begin with is better than overdressing, as long as additional layers are close by.The Vail Nordic Club conducts a 5-kilometer race at 5 p.m. once a month. Skate skiing is available at Vail Nordic Center, Beaver Creek, Cordillera, and other groomed roads such as Piney Lake in Vail and Tigiwan in Minturn. For information about races, lessons or rentals, call the Vail Nordic Center, located at teh Vail Gof Course Clubhouse, at 970-476-8366. It’s hard to imagine that one can move one’s own feet faster across the snow than many professional sprinters can over pavement.All you need is a pair of skinny skis, a good sense of balance and a certain level of fitness. And maybe a few other skills.

“It’s so fast. You just fly,” said Dawes Wilson of the Vail Nordic Club, who can be found training or racing on his skate skis on almost any given day of the week. “You go much faster than you can run. It’s technical and total-body – that keeps it interesting. It’s one of the two best forms of exercise in terms of overall muscle use, the other one being rowing. I call it the one true sport because it has power elements, aerobic elements, technique, balance and it’s nearly injury-free.”When a passer-by sees a skate skier gliding along the snow quickly and gracefully, the symmetrical arm and leg pushes look effortless and inviting. But upon trying the sport for the first time, it becomes immediately clear that the graceful movements require a lot of work and concentration.”He makes it look so easy,” remarked a group of students while watching Wilson demonstrate the V-2 technique during a free skate-ski clinic at the Vail Nordic Center on Wednesday.The V-2 refers to a technique used to move quickly on flat roads where the skier plants both poles just before gliding with one foot and then again before gliding with the other. A V-1 is used to climb hills and involves planting both poles simultaneously with either the right or left ski. One gathers quickly upon learning to skate-ski, that a lot of technique comes into play.Not as easy as it looks”There’s sometimes this misconception of, ‘Oh, I’ll just go skate ski. It looks easy when you see people who have been doing it for a long time,” said Vail Nordic Club’s Adam Plummer. “A lot of people around here are very athletic. They bike, hike, ski and snowboard. They do all kinds of different sports. They see us out here and they go, ‘Oh, that looks easy.’ It’s not. They get out and try it and get frustrated and don’t do it anymore.”While falling is not completely unheard of in skate skiing, it doesn’t happen very often. Effort and focus are the factors that make the sport a difficult one to learn, but the learning curve is short with practice, and relatively painless – minus a lot of huffing and puffing. This, in the eyes of some learners, detracts from the fun factor.

“Downhill skiing is more like an adrenaline rush, it’s more about having fun. This is more about a workout. I wouldn’t do this just for fun,” said Dave Perry, who was skate skiing for the first time in the clinic Wednesday. “It’s more gratifying and rewarding than fun. I feel tired. I feel like I did a lot of work. It’s not fun, but it’s good to do. Fun is jumping off cliffs, skiing powder. This is more about being fit and being outdoors.”Of course, the challenge of mastering the various skate techniques appeals to many first-time skate skiers. “That part is fun, the technical part,” Perry said. “It’s fun trying to master the technique. But breathing hard, I don’t know. It’s not that fun for me. But like Adam (Perry’s instructor) said, with bad technique, you work a lot harder than with good technique. You have to be efficient.”Getting started, skater skiers might think they have the technique down, but then they come across a hill or a stretch of off-camber road. Maintaining the glide, or modifying it for changes in on’es path is what advances the up-and-coming skate skier.”One of the difficult things is keeping a rhythm when the terrain changes,” said Pavan Krueger, who has skate skied a handful of times. “I like the flats. I can’t do the downhill yet, but on the flats, you can get into the groove. I’d like to do more skate skiing. It’s good winter exercise, low-impact and good on the body.”The ideal winter workoutSkate-skiing is a way for individuals who do a lot of downhill winter sports to keep up their cardiovascular health and a way for those who participate in high-aerobic summer sports like running and cycling to maintain their fitness in the cold weather.

“It’s so nice to be doing something outdoors that’s aerobic in the winter,” said Mary Isom, who is just getting started in skate skiing. “We all have great aerobic sports for the summer.”While Isom finds skate skiing to be challenging, she is willing to practice until she’s got the glide down.”Balancing on those skinny little skis is the tough part,” she said. “But I think it will come fast. I don’t feel it’s impossible to learn or improve. It’s not intimidating.”Skate skiing, as an Olympic sport and as a recognized branch of the Nordic disciplines, has evolved in the last 30 years. Still, some like 67-year-old Vail Nordic Center instructor Igor Gesse, originally from Russia, was skate-skiing long ago.”I’ve been Nordic skiing for 50 years, and skating only for 20,” he said. “Skate skiing is a brand new official sport. Unofficially, it always existed. I skated in 1950, 1960.”Now, World Cup and Olympic-level skate skiers can reach speeds exceeding 30 mph downhill and up to 20 mph on the flats. Besides the joy of acceleration, skate skiing is a way to explore the wilderness wherever a snowy road can be found, not to mention a way to stay warm in the winter.”I started Nordic skiing in Vermont. It was subzero all the time and I was like, ‘I gotta do something to stay warm.’ Every muscle in your body is being used. In cycling, it’s just your legs. In Nordic skiing, your blood is going everywhere. It increases your aerobic and anaerobic capacity. It’s a nice experience to get out into the woods and skate around and get a nice workout.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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