Winter is fast approaching, despite warmer than normal temps here in the northern hemisphere. And we all know what colder temperatures and the onset of winter means: SNOW! I was late to the winter fun game, learning to downhill ski at the ripe old age of 14, and never really becoming good at it. Sure, I sledded down the hill at the golf course with the rest of the chaotic riffraff as a kid, and yeah, I did my fair share of cross country skiing, but the big downhills never really took hold. Don’t get me wrong; I love downhill skiing. I just suck at it. And it’s been quite some time since I strapped on a couple planks and carved some turns in the powder (man, just describing that makes me want to head out to a mountain right now). But it’s high time we took a look at some winter sports here on PTV.
Downhill (Alpine) Skiing/Snowboarding
This is the sport we all know and love. Strapping two boards to our feet (or a single plank to both) and tossing ourselves down a steep mountain doesn’t sound all that appealing on paper. Yet, the adrenaline rush of carving through fresh powder as you hurtle down the hill while enjoying spectacular mountain views…well, that’s something you have to experience for yourself in order to understand why so many people love this sport – and are willing to spend lots of money on it. From equipment to lift tickets to the gas to get your rowdy group of friends to the ski area, skiing can be expensive. Then again, so can almost any other sport these days.
Cross Country Skiing
For many, CC is the boring brother of Alpine skiing. For others, it’s a pretty awesome workout and a way to see the backcountry like no other. Cross Country skis are longer and narrower than their downhill counterparts, and the boots only attach to the bindings at the toe, allowing the foot to complete an action more akin to walking. There are few hills to careen down, and the pace is much, much slower. But damn, the workout is much harder, and the slower pace allows for a lot more exploration of the ski area. Plus, you can pretty much go anywhere there’s a trail, negating the need for a lift ticket.
The bastard child of Alpine and Cross Country skiing, telemarking has its roots in Norwegian ski jumping (don’t ask), and today has a solid following of dedicated snow jockeys (EDIT: As pointed out in the comments, Telemarking has been around way longer than downhill skiing. So, not really bastard child; more like big brother, or weird uncle). Named for the Telemark turn, telemark skiing uses shorter, wider skis like Alpine, but with a binding that only attaches the boot to the ski at the toe, like cross country. This allows for deeper, more pronounced turns through the snow, using a really high ratio of inside-to-outside ski weight distribution. The added benefit is that Telemarkers can go anywhere both Alpine and Cross Country skiers can go, and thensome. Including uphill (using ski skins). Telemarking is also popular with backcountry skiers who are likely to encounter a variety of terrain.
We all remember the old timey wood-and-leather snowshoes that look like overgrown tennis rackets strapped to your boots. Believe it or not, those are still made and sold all over the place, but today’s snowshoe has a lot more technology behind it. Most snowshoes today are made of aluminum for strength, durability and light weight, with plastic bindings and built-in aluminum crampons to bite into hardpack snow and ice. This winter activity will give you one hell of a workout because you have to exaggerate motion so much more than normal walking. The only downside is you’ll only cover so much ground in a single expedition, and not nearly as much as skiing. But who cares when you can go pretty much anywhere with these things?
Nordic (Tour) Skating
I first heard of this one on the Doing Stuff Outdoors podcast several months ago (as an aside, an email I wrote is actually featured in this episode), and the idea intrigued me. Strap on a pair of skates, hop on a frozen river or lake, and just skate for miles, avoiding watery potholes that could lead to your untimely – and severely cold – demise. Sounds like fun, right? The sport is very popular in Sweden and Norway, where hundreds of thousands of skaters in hundreds of skating clubs take part every winter. It is, however, starting to gain traction (no pun intended. Ok, maybe a little intended) in North America as well. The skates themselves look like giant versions of the speed skates Olympic athletes use in races: attached by a hinge at the toe with a long, straight blade. If I knew how to ice skate, the idea of skating for miles in a relatively straight line — as opposed to a continuous left-hand turn (hello NASCAR?) — would really appeal to me. It’s like cross country skiing, but with blades. And the possibility of falling into a freezing cold watery pothole. Fun!