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If you’re interested in cross-country, there may be no better guide to the sport. If you’re not, this is sure to get you skinny skiing. Inside Tracks

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Jonathan Wiesel loves cross-country skiing… and loves to talk about it!

He welcomes your thoughts on the sport, any news or information you have to share about Nordic skiing – and he really enjoys hearing your stories about experiences you’ve had cross-country skiing. In fact, he’ll be posting your stories here from time to time, so please e-mail him!

Talking about Trapp Family Lodge35

In visiting more than 300 cross-country ski areas and ski resorts in the U.S. and Canada, in order to research my book and the articles I write for magazines (I know, I know: I’m really lucky to have visited 300 areas and resorts), the ones that I remember the most are about more than cross-country skiing.

Maybe there’s a particular view from one of the trails that’s stunning. Maybe there’s a certain dinner entrée (or, in my case, it’s more likely to be dessert) that I remember for years afterwards. Maybe it’s a certain staff member who went out of his or her way to make my visit that much more special.

So, although it’s always about the skiing, of course, it’s often about something more. And in talking with Johannes von Trapp, President and General Manager of the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont (you can hear the interview with him in our most recent Cross-Country Ski Getaways podcast), I was reminded that the something more for a lot of Trapp Family Lodge visitors is Johannes himself.

He’s the youngest of the famous von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame – his mother was Maria von Trapp and his father was Captain von Trapp – which some people who visit the Trapp Family Lodge know and are very excited about. It’s fun to see how happy people are to meet (or get their picture taken with) an actual von Trapp.

Trapp’s trails are great… the lodging is lovely… the food delicious… and there’s Johannes (and now, his son, Sam, is there), too.

Reflective pause (pun intended)34

I got really sunburned earlier this winter, skiing at around 8,000’ in the Rockies. Dumb! Not just my face but also neck, the bottoms of my ears, even under my chin.

All it took was a couple of hours, impatience, and forgetting that new snow (even on a somewhat cloudy day) can reflect light back up so you’re kind of getting twice the roasting effect. All I needed to prevent the problem was the sunscreen sitting in my pack.

At least I remembered to wear my sunglasses! Years ago some friends and I were working in the snow on a brilliantly sunny day as models for a ski shop catalogue. The photographer asked us not to wear sunglasses while he was taking shots, and a couple of us got mild sun blindness.

It took two days for the pain to go away, and the best comparison is that it felt like someone had sandpapered my eyes. That’s not a mistake that you make twice.

Sun Valley’s a Nordic giant31

Snow is due tonight on the plains of Colorado, there was a late-March blizzard last week – it’s been another wacky but really pretty wonderful winter.

I haven’t traveled or skied this much for years, checking out new cross-country areas and catching up with changes at old friends in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec.

Getting back to Sun Valley, Idaho, was a special treat. I almost moved there at one time and did a bunch of consulting around the region on various ski projects (talk about having fun making a living!).

But it’s been a while since the last visit, and Nordic skiing has changed, which in this case means gotten even better – and the area has grown into maybe the biggest Nordic trail system in the U.S., with around 200 km groomed. Some of the trails have support facilities, other just parking, but in either case, grooming is excellent.

Most of the trails (and higher-altitude kingpin Galena Lodge) are maintained by the Blaine County Recreation District. There’s a separate operation owned by Sun Valley Resort, run out of a gorgeous and huge new building that’s the golf clubhouse in the off season.

The region has close to 100,000 Nordic ski and snowshoe visits, probably the most of any place in the Lower 48 – pretty amazing, considering Sun Valley isn’t even near a big population center.

I got a huge kick watching the women-only Inga-Låmi Winter Tour at the Sun Valley Nordic Center. It celebrates Inga, the mother of Håkon Håkonsson IV (had to look up the spelling!), a 13th century Norwegian King. Skiers wear costumes ranging from Norwegian sweaters to false braids and even armor and horned helmets.

As the snow and wind move in, I’m plotting a return visit to Sun Valley some February, sooner better than later.

Lake O'Hara Lodge30

I haven’t done a lot of backcountry skiing (maybe because track skiing is so much fun?) in the last couple of years, but about a month ago I skied up to stay overnight at Lake O’Hara Lodge (barely on the British Columbia side of the B.C./Alberta border), and that’s way off the beaten path.

I’d tried to get there years ago with a group of friends for just a day trip, but we were maybe a little overconfident, got a late start, and had to turn back about 2 km from the lodge and made it back to the car just as it started to get dark and cold.

It’s an 11 km trip on double-tracked trail – call it anywhere from a two+ hour trip if you’re a hotshot and really fit, to five hours if you’re less experienced and not in the greatest shape. (Our group of three took a little over three hours – pretty good, considering we stopped for lunch, sitting on our packs to keep our butts warm.)

There’s something like 1,600’ of altitude gain on the way up, and we had to carry our own baggage (Parks Canada lets the lodge staff bring in food by snowmobile but not people or duffel).

I’ll never get over the views in this part of the world – the mountains in all directions are so spectacular. The views also provided a really good reason to stop on the big uphills.

The lodge is a beauty, built of Douglas fir and cedar that was hauled up by horse in the winter of 1925-26. Fun fact: Like a lot of lodges in that area and era (including Chateau Lake Louise), it was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to encourage tourism.

Once we got there, it was like living in the lap of rustic luxury – a great menu, a fine wine list (all from B.C.), intriguing and hospitable staff, snug rooms, and more gorgeous vistas.

Incidentally, if you’re skiing or snowshoeing from the lodge, you need to go with guides – actually a really good idea, since they know the terrain, sights, and avalanche dangers and are really good company.

The trip down can be an adrenaline orgy or really pretty sedate. One of us – a guy from Toronto – tore down the hills and made it out in less than an hour, on waxless skis. I might have kept up with him (might!) except for nowhere near as much courage on the big downhills.

Good prizes29

Viking Nordic in Londonderry, Vermont, is one of my favorite XC areas in the Northeast. There’s an element of nostalgia here, since I used to go summer camp in the neighborhood and also went downhill skiing at nearby Bromley. But mainly I enjoy it for the fun trails and because it’s run with flair and a sense of humor.

Here’s an example of their imagination. Viking is introducing a new spin on the weekly time-trial race: a self-administered, GPS-enabled time trial that lets you ski against yourself (or others) over a set course, whenever you want. Each week, points are given to participants based on finishing place and the number of entrants. At the end of the season, the winner gets a plane ticket to the 2010 American Birkebeiner (the biggest cross-country race/event in North America) in Wisconsin.

It sounds like fun, with a great big carrot at the end.

A second carrot comes to you via B.C. Nordic (you can get all the details at their web site). The way to win is to submit photos you’ve taken this winter of Nordic skiing, dog sledding, and snowshoeing at places that are B.C. Nordic members.

The grand prize is two nights’ lodging in Whistler, British Columbia, with skiing included, and a night at Callaghan Country Lodge, a backcountry destination with its own groomed trail system in the Coast Range wilderness. There are a bunch of other delectable vacation getaways (including The Hills Health Ranch and Silver Star Mountain Resort) and gifts too.

Kananaskis Country, Alberta28

The biggest surprise during my early February trip to Alberta was a visit to Kananaskis Country (known locally as K-Country), a vast (1,600 square mile) mountainous Nordic gem that almost no skiers outside of Albertans seem to know about.

K-Country is composed of a half-dozen separate provincial parks, filled with beautiful peaks and ridges, rivers, streams, and meadows. There’s a huge variety of cross-country skiing, starting with the famous Canmore Nordic Centre, which has easily the most consistently groomed trails in the region.

We (three writers and our guide) visited the relatively advanced Mt. Shark network, which hadn’t been groomed in the past few days, drove around the various parks, and skied a bunch of freshly tracked trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, starting at the Pocaterra Hut.

We stayed at Mount Engadine Lodge, near the south end of Spray Lakes Reservoir. The lodge has a couple of groomed trails of its own, and you can reach over 100 km of groomed and touring trails within a 20-minute drive. It’s a wonderful place (great food and staff, gorgeous views, great accommodations, and a hot tub). There’s not much choice in lodging in this part of Kananaskis Country, but I’d recommend Mount Engadine under any circumstances.

Since grooming can be inconsistent in the area, it’s worth checking for the latest skiing conditions.

Back from Alberta27

I just got home from a fantastic week-long media trip to Alberta (with a quick jog into British Columbia). 

There were three of us journalists on the tour, along with a guide who lives in Calgary, and we decided that the best word to describe the whole experience was “iconic” – so we used it (okay, over-used it!) constantly, because we couldn’t come up with anything more fitting.

The stunning peaks and forest, sweeping lakes, magnificent Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (though we also visited all kinds and price-ranges of accommodations), backcountry off-the-grid lodges, blue-ice glaciers, great snow, diverse dining, and the vastness of everything: definitely iconic!

One of the places we visited was Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, along the Icefields Parkway running north from Lake Louise up to Jasper (it’s about 40 km from Lake Louise). They don’t have groomed trails (maybe a few years down the road though), but there’s fun skiing on breezy Bow Lake, beside the lodge, and good snowshoeing. It’s a delightful place with 25 rustic guest rooms, three big stone fireplaces, welcoming staff, good food, memorabilia and art on every wall, and stunning surroundings.

Num-Ti-Jah is a little below the Continental Divide at about 6,500’. Just think “beautiful, isolated, quiet, deep snow” and you’ll have a hint of the place. Your cell phone won’t work, but there’s a pay phone. It’s a very serene part of the world – I’ve driven the roughly 140 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper and seen as few as three other vehicles.

Guests are a mix of ski tourers, telemarkers, snowshoers, mountaineers, and downhill skiers who head to Lake Louise each morning. You can make day trips to nearby glaciers.

There are a lot of wonderful places to ski in North America, the Alps, Scandinavia, and elsewhere, and a lot of beautiful mountains, but I’ve never seen anywhere that beats the region around Lake Louise. And with some changes in trails and grooming (which may not be possible – or at least slow in coming – due to environmental restrictions within national parks), the area would be recognized in a heartbeat as one of the greatest Nordic destinations in the world.

Grooming in Yellowstone26

I’m not fixated on Yellowstone National Park, really, it’s just that I love the place, especially because there’s a lot less snowmobile pollution these days. The country’s spectacular… wildlife and geothermal activity are unique… it’s incredible!

But I’m kind of puzzled why recent changes in grooming in the park aren’t really well known to skiers outside Southwest Montana.

Yeah, there’ve been dribs and drabs of groomed cross-country ski trails there for decades. It’s been a little unpredictable where and how often grooming would occur, but it’s been there.

Now the Park Service is track setting every night on both sides of the snow-packed road that leads from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction and then to Old Faithful, as well as from Madison Junction to Norris – a total of about 70 km. That’s big! (Thanks to the folks at Yellowstone Alpen Guides for this information.)

So I’ve had this even bigger vision of a multi-day race/tour inside the Park. It could run from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful (around 50 km), or continue a loop to West Thumb, Fishing Bridge, Canyon Village, Norris, Madison Junction, and back to West Yellowstone (total about 200 km).

It’s all groomable. The issues I can see are distance (maybe an interesting relay race?) and lack of lodging along the way (Old Faithful is the exception, along with the Yellowstone Expeditions yurt operation at Canyon). Oh yeah, December-January weather can be chilly, so the ideal date would probably be mid-to-late February.

But the 50 km West Yellowstone-Old Faithful route is doable by a lot of people in a day (or there could be a West Yellowstone-Madison Junction half-distance option). It’s also the most traveled route in the Park by both snowcoaches and snowmobiles, so tourers/racers could bail out and get a ride if necessary.

I don’t race a lot, but I’d definitely show up for this one!

Building the sport24

Usually I blog about places, equipment, kids, dogs, and other wonders of the cross-country ski universe. They’re all links to having fun and helping cross-country skiing grow. 

But I also write for people in the Nordic industry, which is a tough business, with the thought that my experience can make their lives easier and their businesses more profitable.

What it boils down to is ways to create more skiers and help them have a great ski experience.

Recently I got the chance to do this with an interview on MountainNews Industry Report. The story covers everything from markets to how the economy is going to affect ski area operators, suppliers, and retailers.

If you’re not in the industry and these kinds of insights aren’t valuable to you, then as a Nordic ski consultant, I counsel you to get out and ski.

Touring Montana23

I’m writing this in West Yellowstone, Montana, just before heading up to Bozeman to fly home to Colorado.

It’s been a phenomenal ten days here – great skiing, snow, scenery, a few too many calories, and lots of wonderful people. And pretty much everywhere is dog-friendly. I even borrowed two pups for skiing company at Swan Mountain Guest Ranch, my first stop. It’s fun skiing (about 30 km groomed) and great wild country at the bsae of the Swan Range, right on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Next came Stillwater Mountain Lodge, a few miles outside of Whitefish. The lodge is beautiful, and the Nordic Center is a moment’s walk away – 25 kms beautifully groomed, with the best views (like a magnet) at the end of the trail system.

Homestake Lodge is just east of Butte, and it’s a beauty – off the highway and off the grid (they generate their own power, etc.). The skiing is wonderfully flowing, through lodgepole pine forest and across sage and meadow. They’ve added a day lodge this year with food service, rentals, retail, and two comfy bunkrooms.

Maybe the most amazing thing I found out during the trips is that all three of these places have opened in the past three seasons – and that makes three of the four new areas in the whole Western U.S. that I know of. I’d strongly recommend taking a week or more to explore Swan Mountain, Stillwater, and Homestake – different but complementary experiences.

I’ll be covering all of them in the next edition of Cross-Country Ski Getaways.

Customizing your skis22

It was just a little downhill, across the flats, then up a gentle rise – not even really a gully. But it put just enough strain on my beloved, wood, Norwegian-made Blå skias to crack the tip (probably because the wood was a little dry early in the season, so it lost flexibility).

That was my last pair of wood cross-country skis. Since then I’ve been using tough low-maintenance fiberglass skis and pretty much forgotten about wood skis – until yesterday. That’s when I heard about a place in Minnesota where you can learn to build your own cross-country skis.

A guy named Mark Hansen is part of the faculty at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, beside Lake Superior. They run all kinds of courses, from basketry to boatbuilding, preserving skills and crafts of the past.

Mark teaches how to build skis from local trees, customized to your size, weight, etc. The course covers wood grain, how to bend wood, bindings, and more. Students leave with a pair of beautiful traditional hand-made (your hands!) birch skis (your skis!) – a taste of what skiing used to be like.

Am I famous yet?21

One of the fun things about releasing a new book is receiving media coverage for it, which is great in large part because I get to spread the word about the joys of cross-country skiing.

Major publications – like The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune – have written about Cross Country Ski Getaways, as have many other newspapers of all sizes. And I’ve had the chance to talk about it on radio stations all across the U.S. and Canada.

Some of the radio hosts who interviewed me love cross-country skiing… some like it or used to like it, but don’t ski much anymore… and some don’t ski at all. (Of course, I tried to put my best sell on the latter, spreading my bordering-on-evangelical, cross-country-skiing-is-the-greatest-sport message.)

But perhaps the most fun for me was getting an article in a local paper, here in the Denver/Boulder area – because it made me, for all of about five minutes, a local celebrity.

The other morning, I headed into a local café that I frequent regularly – I was starving and in need of one of their piled-high skillet breakfasts – and, as I entered the restaurant, Arlene, the manager, yelled from behind the counter, “Hey! You were in the newspaper!”

She proceeded to grab a copy of the article she had folded up next to the cash register and wave it at me. It was a full-page article – an article I hadn’t seen yet – with pictures of me skiing, including one shot in which my stance was just a little off somehow. Not too bad, fortunately, but off somehow.

Arlene explained that her husband had read the article, that she even grabbed an extra copy when she was at her brother’s house at Christmastime… and then one of the other waitresses started talking about the article, too.

I was feeling a little bit full of myself until Arlene came up to our table a few minutes later, waving another newspaper article at me. This one featured her five-year-old grandson, intently poised in preparation for a wrestling match… complete with five-year-old size headgear and a pint-size wrestling uniform. And, you know what? His stance was much better than mine…

Mixing cross-country and downhill skiing20

A lot of alpine ski areas have their own cross-country ski areas. Some are really mediocre, but there are at least a dozen in North America that are just outstanding – great trails and grooming and staff, special ski school areas, and really good support facilities.

One of my favorites is Crystal Mountain in Michigan. It’s a sizable area, with 40 km of trails. (As I write this, the resort is getting smacked by a huge storm – skiing should be extraordinary!)

They’re also the main site for the Women’s Winter Tour in late January. It’s a great event, centered around food, wine, skiing, snowshoeing, and chocolate.

Two of the things I like most about Crystal Mountain are the convenience (you can stay at a condo right alongside a lighted trail) and the friendliness. I rate the Midwest as the most hospitable part of the U.S., and Crystal always seems to be voted the most welcoming resort in the region.

Thinking about kids19

One of the best things about cross-country skiing is watching kids ski and smile. They’re amazing!

For some lucky grownups, snow is just an invitation to have fun. With kids, multiply that by a zillion or so, whether it’s on cross- country skis or making snow angels or throwing a snowball at pretty much anything.

They’re resilient, relaxed, a lot of them are totally fearless, incredibly energetic, and they’re not self-conscious the way adults often are. If you’re a kid and fall, no big deal! If you get snow in your pants or down your shirt, you wriggle and maybe yell a little – hey, that’s great! If Dad takes a tumble, that’s even better (especially if you can throw some snow on him)!

The most amazing thing is that so many kids become good skiers so fast. I think it’s because they’re exuberant and having a lot more fun than most of us adults do (at a higher decibel level too – that’s part of being a kid). I love watching them, teaching them skiing, and learning from them – and it makes me a better person and better skier.

New on the Nordic scene18

I visited Three Forks Ranch over the weekend, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to get background for an article in SNOW magazine. What a treat!

The place is just astounding, from skiing and snowshoeing (and snowmobiling) to staff and dining and lodging. This is the first winter the ranch will be open, and they’ll have 75 km of groomed trails. (That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what they could groom, since the ranch is over 50,000 acres.)

Trails and scenery are beautiful, running over huge meadows and through great groves of aspen. And as you can maybe guess, there’s never going to a crowding problem, since the new lodge/spa can accommodate only 30 guests.

Three Forks is gorgeous, elegant, friendly… everything a cross-country getaway should be. Expensive too, but ohh so definitely worth it.

XC ski reports17

Snow’s finally falling, and cross-country areas are starting their season all over the place. I’ve gotten excited notes from ski area managers in Michigan, Wyoming, Quebec, Alberta, Montana, New York, Colorado, and more, saying the season is young but the early snowpack is good.

If you’re starting to plan your cross-country ski getaways, probably the best source for finding which areas are open – and how many km are being groomed – is Cross Country Ski Areas Association. The “Snow Conditions” section, which covers something like 180 member areas in the U.S. and Canada, is conveniently broken out by state/province.

Areas start reporting once they have snow and usually update their information frequently. I’ve found reports are pretty honest.

First snow!16

We got our first snow of the season (finally)... only two inches, but I got a little bit of cross-country skiing in, just going through neighborhood parks and greenways.

New from Sun Valley15

The Sun Valley/Ketchum region in Idaho has a lot going on this winter, and it’s all fun stuff.

First news is that Blaine County Recreation District, the U.S. Forest Service, and Sun Valley Company together probably have the biggest groomed trail network (some of it new) in the U.S. – 263 km in total, though they’re not all linked trails. Royal Gorge Cross Country Resort in California used to claim the largest network, but they’ve scaled back operations for 2008-09.

The second thing is that Sun Valley Nordic has a new 58,000-square-foot lodge (which doubles as a golf clubhouse in the off-season), including locker rooms and dining area. It sounds great and makes me appreciate golf a lot more, since resorts don’t customarily put up buildings that size for cross-country skiers alone.

Finding peace14

I’d written earlier that I can’t choose one favorite thing about cross-country skiing. Elizabeth Diaz sent me this great e-mail in response:

"I can easily pick the one thing that is my favorite thing about cross-country skiing. The peace.

After a long work week in a busy, loud office, with the noise of television and video games always present in our house, what cross-country skiing offers me is peace.

I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like or for as long as I’d like, but when I’m out on the trail, the loudest thing I hear is the sound of the sleeves of my jacket rubbing against the body of my jacket. When I stop, there’s absolute silence… which brings me a peace I can’t find anywhere else.

Despite the demands of a full-time job and motherhood, I try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. There’s no other sport that brings me the peace that cross-country skiing does."

Answering your questions about e-books13

In the few weeks since the new edition of Cross-Country Ski Getaways has been released, I received a number of questions about it being an e-book, how to buy an e-book, what to do with it, etc. So here are the most commonly asked questions and some quick answers…

Do I have to read Cross-Country Ski Getaways sitting at my computer?
No. You can if you’d like, but you don’t have to. Many people – because it’s a 102-page book – choose to print it out to read it/refer to it. And, like with any document, you can choose to print out certain pages.

I’ve never bought an e-book. Is it complicated?
No, it’s easy. At the bottom of the e-book page, there are a couple of paragraphs that walk you through it. Basically, it’s like buying anything online: You’ll give some basic information, including a credit card number, and – after your purchase is approved – you’ll have access to the book (which, as explained above, can be read on your computer or printed out).

Since I can’t pick the book up like I would in a bookstore, how do I preview it before I buy it?
On the e-book page of this site, we included all the things you’d probably take a look at if you were holding a hard copy of the book in a bookstore: The cover, table of contents, and introduction, along with a couple of ski area description pages. They’re all available to click on when you go to the e-book page and scroll down a little bit.

Why is this edition of your book an e-book instead of a printed book?
Since the two previous print editions of my book came out (published by John Muir Publications in the ‘90s), the book publishing industry has come to the realization that some travel-oriented information can be much better presented online (say, as an e-book) than as a printed book – the major reason being that e-books can be updated at any time. With the cycle of time it takes to get a travel book published – in some cases, up to two years – a lot of the information is outdated by the time the book hits the shelves. I’ll be doing a major update on the book yearly (by November 1), with smaller updates made on an ongoing basis, throughout the year.

Please drop me an e-mail if you have a question I haven’t answered here!

Getting in shape for cross-country skiing12

For the first time in a long time – maybe ever – I’m going to be making a concerted effort to get more fit for this ski season. (The season probably starts in seven to ten days here in Colorado… not that I’m counting or anything!)

Since the end of last winter, I just haven’t run as regularly as I usually do… I lifted weights a few times, but not a lot… and, although I like to think of yard work as a bit of a workout, it’s not much.

Having worked as a cross-country ski instructor and backcountry guide, I often got the question: What are the best ways to get in shape for cross-country skiing?

It’s really pretty simple. Cross-country skiing is an aerobic activity – how taxing it is will be up to you (whether you go really fast and for long distances, or whether you choose to go more slowly and stop more often) – which means your cardiovascular system will be taxed (again, to whatever degree you choose).

So getting ready for the season should include some aerobic activity – one that raises your heart rate, like running, bicycling, swimming, walking (try for a good pace), or any activity that increases your heart rate for a sustained period of time. There’s all kinds of info about the heart rate you should be going for, given your age and such, online; just Google “target heart rate.”

And cross-country skiing takes a certain amount of strength (although I don’t want to scare anyone off; you do not have to be an athlete or even particularly fit to cross-country ski) – so you’ll want to increase the strength of the muscles you’ll be using. Your chest muscles and arms will be used a lot, so strengthening those muscles is ideal. (You use your legs, of course, also, but they’ll probably be getting strengthened through your aerobic workouts.)

Of course, you don’t have to prepare… you can just start skiing and get fitter – and faster, if you want – as the season goes along.

Me, I like to hit the ground running. With winter such a short season, anyway (in my opinion!), I’m committing today to get some more aerobic and strength workouts in. So, today: an hour run, possibly followed by a piece of that gooey chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen counter…

MVSTA adds new dog trails11

Here’s some good news for this winter for people in the Northwest who ski with their dogs.

The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association in Washington (they have probably the largest groomed trail system in the U.S., after Sun Valley, Idaho) has opened over 50 km of their trails to dogs.

The entire 48-km Rendezvous Trail system is now officially dog-friendly, including the overnight huts. Again, only Sun Valley has more trails open to dogs.

Ski clubs offer more than skiing10

I just got an e-mail from the Boulder Nordic Club here in Colorado, outlining their programs for this winter. Their activity level is both mind-boggling and thought-provoking. Maybe it’ll inspire you to join a club for entertainment and exercise.

Here’s a sample of program possibilities. The BNC has pre-season training with top-level coaches. There's also trail upgrading at a nearby cross-country area, a ski swap and Nordic Expo, and a special night event at a specialty cross-country ski store where you can be measured for the ideal ski (there’s a deep price discount but you have to be a BNC member). They promote races, support a junior racing team, and groom trails in Boulder when there’s enough snow. And that’s for starters!

I’ve visited a bunch of Nordic clubs in both the U.S. and Canada. A lot of them (particularly in Canada) operate their own cross-country areas. They’re full of dedicated people who want to have fun and ski fast… or ski slowly with friends and families… or see new places. They organize trips (everything from local to international) and social functions, support junior racing, volunteer at events, and seem to have a whale of a time at whatever they do. If there’s not a club near you, maybe you can pioneer your own club!

The best thing about cross-country skiing9

I’m about to ask you a question that, I realized, I can’t answer myself.

Here’s the story: I just got off the phone with a fellow cross-country skiing enthusiast, Christal McDougall. Christal is a recognized name in the cross-country ski world – she's run women's ski camps and has been an instructor – and she’s gotten a lot of people excited about the sport.

I asked whether there’s one single thing that for her is best about cross-country skiing. She says it’s impossible to choose just one thing because for her, skiing is about more than exercise or even being outdoors... it's a spiritual act. She loves seeing crystals of snow glittering in that perfect way as sun comes up over aspen trees, and getting a perfect glide on a really cold day, and even coming around a corner and meeting a moose.

Me, I can’t pick one thing either. What I love about cross-country is how skiers smile (we’re the smilingest bunch of people ever!), kids whooping as they slide on their skis and butts down a hill, a full moon coming over a mountain and shining on the snowy landscape like a searchlight. Oh, and the incredible silence as your skis slide through a couple of inches of fresh snow. And lots more.

Can you pick one thing you like best about cross-country skiing? I'd love to hear it (okay, you can pick more than one thing!). E-mail me and I’ll post your answers over the next few weeks (and maybe over the rest of the season).

Favorite places5

I was out raking leaves last week and got into conversation with a neighbor for 20 minutes or so out behind the back fence. He knows I do something or other in the cross-country ski world, so he started talking about places he’s skied, and then he zeroed right in on great ski areas and asked the killer question: “What’s your favorite?”

It’s weird, but I don’t really have a favorite among the hundreds of places I’ve been lucky enough to ski. There are dozens of indelible memories, from incredible snow and flaming sunsets to a great meal or conversation. Some of my best memories are skiing and talking with friends on groomed trails, others are going out for a long spring tour alone, or guiding a small group in Yellowstone National Park while a buffalo watched us to make sure we didn’t spook her calf.

I’ll write about some of the great places from time to time this winter.

This year I’ll be visiting new Nordic ski areas (new to me) in Alberta, also in Montana and British Columbia, and telling you about them right here. Meanwhile, if you have favorite places to ski, please share them with me. I’ll be posting e-mails I get (when it’s okay with the person who sent me the e-mail), so just e-mail me your favorite places.

Skiing with Newfies4

A question I got last week asked about skiing with dogs. While writing my answer, I had a big grin, remembering my two Newfoundlands in Montana, Cody and Willie.

The two dogs got along incredibly well except for when Willie, the younger/bigger (155 pound) guy, got too excited when we went skiing. We developed a system for handling downhills (it was a system that didn’t necessarily work) – I’d ski on Cody’s left, holding onto his collar, while he’d pull me downhill; Willie would grab Cody’s right ear; and we’d gallop along until one of us tripped over someone’s skis or poles or paws.

The falls were spectacular. (Spectacular!) Funniest thing was how as we’d pick ourselves up, the dogs always looked confused, like: “Wha’ happen, dad?”

Headed to Montana3

Each year I try to ski somewhere new. Next January (2009), it’s going to be three cross-country getaways with groomed trails in Montana – all new to me and pretty new in the Nordic ski world.

Homestake Lodge is near Butte. It’s growing like crazy and already developing a great reputation as a day area with some lodging. Swan Mountain Guest Ranch is further north, in the Swan Valley, east of huge Flathead Lake. Smaller than Homestake Lodge, it looks like a more private area, open for ranch guests. And Stillwater Mountain Lodge is right up by Whitefish. Like Swan Mountain, it seems to be open primarily for overnight guests.

I’ll tell you all about them after the trip in January!

Saying goodbye to old gear2

It’s finally getting cold, so pretty soon I’ll need to go out to the garage and look at what equipment to take to a local ski swap. It’s going to be a little sad to sell skis that have traveled so many great places.

There’s a pair of skating skis I haven’t used in three years, and some short wide touring skis that have a couple of small gouges in their bases. I got those skate skis after testing them at the Yellowstone Ski Festival. (If you haven’t heard of the Festival, it’s the premier fall ski camp in the U.S., held every year in West Yellowstone, Montana.)

The touring skis are a little ancient but were useful when I lived up in the mountains and had a few minutes to make a few turns on the hill below our house.

Good memories are treasures, so maybe the skis can wait in the garage one more year.

Cross-country ski shops1

I was just working on one of my podcasts (Three Minutes on Cross-Country Skiing: equipment), which got me thinking about cross-country ski shops.

The best thing about specialty shops is the people who work there. They’re incredible resources, not just because they know the gear and accessories they sell but also because they’re generally passionate about cross-country skiing. And they can advise you on everything from how to dress for cross-country skiing to maybe even where to cross-country ski in your area.

Is that really important if you can maybe get better prices at a general sporting goods store? Yep. Specialty stores generally have a wider range of better products, and staff will not only have gotten clinics about them but will have used them.

This makes a big difference when there are over 200 different models of cross-country skis available in the U.S. for touring, skating, track skiing, telemarking, kids, and more.

A lot of specialty stores have catalogs as well as web sites. You can usually get a lot of information over the phone (they’ll generally have toll-free numbers). There are also outstanding shops at a lot of cross-country ski areas and cross-country ski resorts. 

new book: great winter destinations

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