Think back to the warm-weather months.
The popularity of outdoor activities was soaring. The supply of bicycles for sale was mostly gone, and a major issue for hikers in the High Peaks was parking. The surge in interest was widespread from rounds of golf played on local courses to the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
Well, the coming of the cold months hasn’t cooled off that interest in heading outside for something to do amid the pandemic. People want to get outside, and the interest in cross country skiing and snowshoeing this season is far higher than area shop staffers remember from past winters.
Throughout our area, the demand for Nordic skis and snowshoes is testing availability.
“I think the demand is three-to-four times greater than I can recall,” says Jamie Georgelos, the long-time ski division manager at Alpin Haus in Amsterdam and Clifton Park. “In the past, we never saw much interest until the snow began to fall. This year, sales were brisk starting last summer.”
Others report the same thing — and this is not just a local phenomenon.
Roger Lohr, the editor of XCSkiResorts.com, is seeing similar interest throughout the country.
The result: “Shops everywhere are taking cross country gear out of the corner and making room in the middle of the store.”
No one understands this better than Dick Carlson, the Pied Piper of cross country skiing in our region. The Broadalbin native came to North Creek in 1974 as a ski patroller at Gore Mountain. In 1982, he moved over to the Garnet Hill Lodge, a cross country ski center in nearby North River where he has worked at least part-time ever since. He is the long-standing president of The Cross Country Ski Areas of New York, which represents some 25 areas across the state and a principal in the Upper Hudson Trails Alliance that looks to maintain and increase Nordic terrain in the southern Adirondacks.
He doesn’t complicate things.
“Hey, skiing is skiing” Carlson once wrote in Adirondack Sports. “The curly end goes in the front and you slide around on snow. Cross country skiing is sport and fresh air fitness, and it’s a connection with the natural world in winter.”
This simple message is resonating this season, especially when all sorts of organized sports have been sidelined.
WHO IS DOING WHAT THIS WINTER?
The hardcore are trekking into the backcountry, where the only ski tracks are the ones made by those passing through, skinning up hills and skiing down. This has never represented a large part of the sliding world, but it is getting bigger as the availability of the specialized gear needed to do this safely increases. Mainly, these are experienced skiers who participate in outdoor activities 12 months a year.
The majority of those who participate in the sport do it on prepared tracks that may be walking trails or golf courses in the warm months, or groomed cross country centers like Crandall Park in Glens Falls and the North Creek Ski Bowl, or full-service get-away lodges like Garnet Hill or Lapland Lake in Benson, near Mayfield. These places will have machine-set tracks on trails that make for easy gliding, the preferred style for most casual cross country skiers. Some may also try the “skate” style of skiing that requires wider trails and usually more physical effort.
Then, there is snowshoeing, which is walking on the snow using gear that will keep you from sinking. If you can walk, you can use snowshoes and there is no real terrain or trail limitations on where you can go. The major decision here is whether to use ski poles or not.
The growth of interest in cross country activities seems to be coming not so much from Alpine or downhill skiers, but from summer outdoor enthusiasts new to winter snowsports.
“I’ve never been asked so many times about cross country skiing by people who came to our shop for other outdoor gear,” Georgelos said. “It is the new gateway to winter.”
So you want to get out of the house before the next tulips bloom.
For people who have never done outdoor activities in winter, Carlson suggests that snowshoeing is the best way to start.
“Snowshoes don’t slide,” Carlson said. “There is no learning curve. It is the easiest way to get comfortable outdoors on snow.”
If you are ready to slide, Carlson suggests you start out with rental gear and lessons to learn basic techniques. You will need to learn important skills like how to get up when you fall, which inevitably all newcomers will do.
And, Carlson added, when starting out: “Go where the hills ain’t!”
When just learning how the skis work for you, it is much easier to slide on flat terrain than contend with hills. That will come along with comfort on the skis.
In addition to being outdoors in often beautiful surroundings, a benefit of cross country activity is the relative absence of crowds.
A mid-winter Saturday at Gore might attract 5,000 alpine skiers.
A very busy day at nearby Garnet Hill may draw 500.
At this point, it is difficult to tell if the boom in cross country activity is the start of a long-term trend or just a single season blip created by the COVID-19 situation. Interest in Nordic spiked in the 1980s, but, within a few years, cross country skis became wall art in many area garages. It will take time to see which way this breaks. But for certain, those in our area who are trying it for the first time this winter will discover a great recreational resource right here in our own backyard.
MOUNT VAN HOEVENBERG OPEN
The World University Games is expected to draw some 2,500 winter sports athletes to our area in early 2023.
To prepare for that, New York State has invested some $70 million into new and upgraded facilities for the Nordic ski events and the sliding events at Mount Van Hoevenberg outside of Lake Placid.
The revamped cross country ski venue is now considered one of the best in the world and it is open for recreational skier use.
Altamont’s Chris Beckmann was one of the best ski racers ever produced in the Capital Region.
But after making it to the U.S. Ski team a decade ago, a series of injuries forced him to retire from competition.
However, he is still involved in skiing and currently is an assistant coach for the speed-events skiers on the U.S. team.
This is his eighth season with the team and, after spending time recently working on a barn restoration project in the local area, he will be heading to Europe in early January to join the U.S. racers on the World Cup competition circuit.
SALT LAKE TO BID FOR OLYMPIC GAMES
The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in the Beijing, China area, and 2026’s event will be in Northern Italy, based in Cortina. It will be a couple of years before The International Olympic Committee chooses the site of the 2030 Games, but the United States’ candidate to host has already been picked: Salt Lake City, Utah, which successfully hosted the 2002 Winter Games, the last time they were held in the United States.
Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected].