“I’ll ski in anything. I’ve got rock skis,” Rick said. This was a few days after a decent snowfall and seconds after I got done introducing myself and saying this was my first time out over a mile this ski season. I’d made one other attempt, but it was cold and there was just about as much grass as snow on the trails.
The folks — like Rick — who are serious about this skiing stuff turn to skiing on the lake when the trails don’t have enough snow. I, on the other hand, hit snooze when it’s 15 below zero and a rogue patch of dirt is likely to send me sprawling to the ground.
For my first real ski of the season, I spent much of my time just trying to stay upright on my skis. When you take suspect balance and sprinkle in a few high-speed turns at the bottom of hills and more patches of grass or ice under thin snow than I enjoy skiing over, you’ve got the recipe for early season crashes. And it didn’t take long for me to suffer my first. I’m starting to realize the spaces between my bones react differently to full-body impacts than they did just a couple of short decades ago. As someone who used to have more of a problem with cracking my knuckles, hearing that sound come from seemingly every joint in my body as I bounce off the frozen ground is a bit unnerving.
When I decided to start skiing more to get ready for my first American Birkebeiner a couple of years ago, I turned to former Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reporter Jerry Poling for some tips. Jerry had first helped me get started skiing the better part of a decade earlier, but some low-snow years and hesitation to register for a skiing race in the middle of the preceding summer led to me leaning my skis in the basement to collect a few years’ worth of dust. I started to get serious about the Birkie again a few years ago, so I turned back to Jerry to pick up some pointers. Jerry has more than 20 Birkies under his belt, so when he offers an opportunity to get out and ski together, I jump at the chance to see what the act of skiing is supposed to look like. His tips and encouragement helped get me through my first Birkie in 2016.
Then last year happened. In the ski season leading up to what was supposed to be my second attempt at the Birkie, we had — what was for me at least — a bit of a tricky year to get out skiing. We had some snow, but also stretches of warm and quite cold temperatures, and ultimately, the Birkie was canceled due to lack of snow.
Since Wisconsin is annually cursed with a few months without snow, my time on skis has been pretty limited leading up to what I now hope will be my second Birkie. That leaves me learning how to balance (and, for me, skiing is not at all, as the saying goes, like riding a bike) and get fit enough to cover the 50-kilometer distance at the Birkie skate in my six weeks of ski season.
So when Rick pulled up alongside me to offer some tips on balance drills, I was more than happy to listen.
“It’ll take practice,” he said of his favorite drill, “but once you get it down, the skiing will be easier.”
I took a few minutes to work through the drill and reported back: “It’ll take practice,” I confirmed.
But with six weeks to the race, I’m a little short on time. But with the help of tips from folks like Jerry and Rick, I’ll get in as much practice as I can and hope to get to Hayward in one piece.
Nate Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.