The quiet, pristine mountain trails that snake through the aspen groves and pine thickets are among the most beautiful sights available to outdoor lovers. In the summertime, hikers, bikers and horses wind through the area, taking in the natural beauty that silently beckons them. But now those trails are covered, silenced by the latest storm that has deposited snow in the area. They aren’t off limits though, and cross country skiers can attest to that.
Now is as good of a time as any to discover cross-country skiing. The opportunity to escape the stress of the valley and spend some time interacting with the environment is one that skiers like “Nordic” Nate Hawkey, a staff member at the Sundance Nordic Center, can’t pass up.
[easyembed field=”Photogallery”]”I get up to the mountains before my day starts, get my heart rate going, my endorphin levels up, skate up to the valleys and just listen to the chickadees sing,” he said. “The environment is just something special, and every year I spend more time doing cross-country than downhill.”
The enticements of cross-country that draw athletes to back-country trails, hills and valleys is not just the time to reflect and relax; it’s a connection to history.
“4,000 years ago, we were using cross-country skis to hunt and travel,” Hawkey said.
Cross country skiing is a Nordic event, an event recognized among the Olympic Winter Games competitions. The biathlon, telemark, and ski jumping all utilize the same equipment that cross country skiers use. The free-heel equipment is simple to identify because of it’s unique binding, meaning the only connection between ski and skier is a small cable and a toe hold. Cross-country skiers propel themselves with poles longer than a normal ski pole, ideal for gaining leverage to help climb hills and cross valleys.
“The toe hold lets us go uphill, but it really takes away a lot of control when headed downhill,” Kelly said. “You have to basically just pick a line and then go straight.”
Skiers can use their climbing ability to travel uphill to explore the back-country, or can stick to trails that have been groomed to allow for easier access.
The two locations that an individual with an interest in cross-country skiing should know about are Sundance Nordic Center and Soldier Hollow.
Sundance offers 15 kilometers of groomed trails, while Soldier Hollow 31 kilometers of trails that were used during the 2002 Winter Olympics. BYU students can get some skiing in at the Aspen Grove facility, a two-mile drive past Sundance. Groups can call ahead and make reservations for night trips as well.
There is a fee to use the trails at those locations, but there are opportunities to go elsewhere and explore for free.
“It’s best to try to get above 8,000 feet, because that is where the snow is going to be,” Kelly said. “My favorite spots to go are Daniel’s Summit, Strawberry Reservoir, and South Fork canyon.”
Kelly recommends going out and spending a day just learning how to move yourself around, turn, and most importantly stop while enjoying the beauty of the area and the winter weather. It’s an opportunity definitely worth taking, as attested to by Austin Beck, a BYU student from Kaysville, who is learning the sport this semester.
“It’s my favorite part of the week.”