By Ross Longhini
The word “ski” is an Old Norse word for “wooden stick,” referring to the split or hewn wooden skis of that era. Some of the early skiers used a short ski with fur on the bottom for gripping the snow and a longer ski for gliding. They also only used one pole so the other hand could be used to carry a weapon.
Strapping a couple of sticks onto boots and trudging through the snow is the basis for all forms of skiing that we know today. Nordic skiing now refers to all forms of skiing that have a free heel, including both forms of cross-country skiing (classic and skate), ski jumping, Telemark and, arguably, biathlon.
Both skiing and trail grooming equipment have changed dramatically over the millennia and most significantly in the past century. Skiers are now able to cross mountainous terrain at speeds that would have been unthinkable just a century ago. Elite skiers on well-groomed, hilly trails can maintain speeds of over 15 mph for over 30 miles!
In the Sandpoint area, we have a few well-groomed trails where we can enjoy fast and firm corduroy for skating or silky smooth tracks for classic skiing. Occasionally, you’ll see some skiers both young and old cruise by at 15 mph for short distances. However, they are probably going downhill.
The Nordic trails at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch and the trails groomed by the Sandpoint Nordic Club on Boyer Avenue are places where Nordic skiing can be fast and exhilarating. These trails are also great places to meet others who enjoy skiing uphill, an odd little quirk of this community of skiers.
But there may be times when trudging through virgin snow like our ancestors may be what you need. Here the concept of trail is a bit more ambiguous, adventurous and free-spirited. The trail is yours to discover.
The 16th-century artist and sculptor Michelangelo reportedly said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Likewise, all of our forests, valleys and mountains have trails within them, and it is up to the Nordic skier to discover them. The magic of having the landscape covered by several feet of snow is that it opens the possibility of travel, especially when the conditions are just right.
In the late winter when the days are warm and the nights are cold, a crust forms on the snow overnight. In the early morning, “crust” skiing can be quite an amazing adventure. It’s as if the entire landscape is yours to find its undiscovered trails. The solitude, peacefulness and serenity can be truly beyond words.
We are so incredibly fortunate to be enveloped in such natural beauty. It’s one thing to look across a landscape and enjoy all it has to offer. It is truly another to engage with it. The richness of the landscape opens up in a way that makes everything more real. If you do decide to venture out and discover your trails, please be mindful of private property and avalanche dangers!
So as the days get warmer and longer and while the nights are still cold, strap on a pair of skis and discover your trail.
Ross Longhini is president of the Sandpoint Nordic Club and has been an active member of Trail Mix for several years. The Sandpoint Nordic Club offers affordable ski and boot rentals at Syringa Cyclery. These skis are most appropriate for the groomed trails at Boyer or Western Pleasure. Schweitzer Mountain Resort also rents Nordic ski gear and provides lessons. Trail Mix is a local collaborative of government and non-government organizations working together to expand the trail system in Bonner County.
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