Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Winter Games

I’ve not been much of an outdoor winter sports aficionado. I just was never exposed to it that much, plus it seemed you needed all kinds of expensive gear. During my days as a student in Morgantown, I drove out to Wisp Ski Resort one Saturday and watched a beginners’ class on the bunny hill—they didn’t look like they were having all that much fun. So I opted to go to the Garrett County Fairgrounds where (at that time) one could rent a snowmobile by the hour. My motorcycle skills served me well as I had much more fun riding the snowmobile than I would have had trying to learn to ski. That was the closest I got to “alpine activities”—until last week.

This past Friday, I decided to make up for lost time and attempt some winter activities in beautiful Tucker County, WV. A March mid-week snow storm had left lots of fresh powder on the slopes. Canaan Valley State Park had recently opened a new snow tubing park near their ski slopes, complete with a “magic carpet” conveyor belt to transport you to the top of their hill, so I thought it would be an excellent day to give it a try.

During my childhood days, I fondly remember sledding down our neighbor’s steep hill. As I recall (perhaps slightly exaggerated over time), their lawn seemed like a 60 degree slope for the first 50 yards. Unless you bailed out, the hill continued through a rough former pasture field with small saplings and broom sage. If you had a really good run (as in not hitting anything), then you could make it to the forest where the deep brown leaves and lack of snow due to the tall trees would finally stop you. It was quite an exhilarating ride—followed by the long trudge back up the steep hill for the next run (there was no such thing as a “magic carpet” back in the old days!). We were probably lucky we never got injured given the speed and all the obstacles.

I had a good time snow tubing at Canaan, but I must admit it wasn’t the adrenaline rush I had expected (in other words, not a bit like hurtling down my neighbor’s hill). It is perfect for young families—and for keeping the state from getting sued—but I guess I still have enough dare-devil in my fifty-some-year-old body to want more of a challenge.

Since the two-hour session at the snow tube park wasn’t enough for me, I decided to rush over to the White Grass Ski Center to give cross-country skiing a try. I had heard that cross-country skiing might be something I would enjoy. Never having had skis on my feet, it was a totally new experience. My personal instructor showed me the basics, and gave me lots of positive encouragement. After my hour with her, she declared me capable of heading off on my own. Before she headed back to their lodge, she gave me a suggested route from among their criss-crossed network of trails.

I spent the next couple of hours honing my skills the hard way—on my own. During my lesson, I only fell once, and had little trouble getting back up. Later, while by myself, I probably fell four or five times, and for various reasons it never seemed to be quite as easy to get back up as it had been the first time. I soon appreciated how cross-country skiing provides an extensive full-body workout!

The first trail I took was uphill all the way, requiring careful footwork to avoid losing what little progress I was making. I then made it to the next trail she suggested, which went laterally across the hillside, and provided some beautiful views of the Canaan Valley area. I finally arrived at the main perimeter trail, which involved numerous downhill switchbacks through the woods before working my way back to the lodge.

I’m very glad that I tried cross-country skiing, so that I now know what it feels like to be wearing those long narrow skis on your feet, or to shove off with both poles to start your way down a slope, or to snowplow to a stop, or any of the other novel experiences I had that day. My “muscle memory” will make watching the Winter Olympics even more enjoyable next year.

I’m also grateful I finally tried it before I got too old. In hindsight, I wish that I would have made the effort to try it when I was younger. If you have the opportunity (or can make the opportunity) to try new things, I encourage you to “just do it!” I have found life is much richer when you try new experiences.

Here's proof that I actually did it. By the way, my ski outfit consisted of a cheap pair of rain pants and a rain coat over top of my jeans and basic winter layers. Anna's niece knitted my hat as a Christmas present.

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