HANSEN — When I ask volunteers at Magic Mountain Resort how they got involved with cross-country skiing the most common answer was: “Learn to Cross-Country Ski Day.”
It’s a long-standing tradition with the High Desert Nordic Association, with the most recent version held Jan. 5.
What do the South Hills’ Nordic skiers have to offer? Free use of 23 miles of trails centered around Magic Mountain Resort.
About 10 miles are machine groomed.
The club posts the status of which trails are groomed at skihdna.org.
And they offer help from a small but enthusiastic number of volunteers who help beginners learn to love cross-country.
Of course, people don’t have to join the club to use the premade ski trails. But there’s an incentive: Members get free use of the club’s skis, poles and boots, stored in a locked shed at Magic Mountain Resort.
At the annual education event, High Desert Nordic offers free equipment use and instruction. Club members put on the event to recruit newcomers to the sport. The only cost is transportation to the event.
As these things normally go, my newsroom volunteered me to venture out into the frozen mountain to embarrass myself. I had a brief stunt of downhill skiing when I was younger. But I always enjoyed the lodge more than the slopes and I quit. I never had much of an interest in cross-country skiing, which made this event much less exciting. But life is too short to turn down opportunities, so I said yes to this adventure.
Before I tried cross-country skiing out for myself, I contacted club member Valdon Hancock on what to expect from the event.
“I think the thing instructors stress is the falling section,” Hancock said. “We learn how to control to fall safely. It’s a matter of learning to control the fall. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it up there if you’re dressed properly.”
I took this last comment seriously. During my last trek in the South Hills, I wore jeans and ankle high socks, a mistake I wouldn’t make again.
When I went up on Saturday I was wearing four layers of clothes, probably an excessive amount but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I went over to the shack where people were grabbing equipment for their first venture.
I had a little bit of a wait before I could try anything on. I was surprised at the number of people. Nordic Association President Irene Nautch said that this was one of the busiest years yet. In the first hour, they had sent out 23 groups of skiers. Nautch chalks up the flood of people to a strong social media push by Southern Idaho tourism and by word of mouth.
Interest in South Hills cross-country has increased since 2014 when the club began grooming trails with a new Arctic Cat snow machine, which was acquired through a federal grant to Twin Falls County’s parks department and money from High Desert Nordic, the county and the Seagraves Foundation. The new equipment allowed High Desert Nordic to groom trails that were previously groomed infrequently. By the crowds of people at the event, it is evident that cross-country skiing is alive and well.
It was finally my chance to adorn myself with the proper gear: boots, poles and a pair of skis. Lane Daley, a volunteer, said that her first experience with cross-country skiing was at the “Learn to Cross-County Ski Day” last year, she is still new to the sport but she’s already in the club.
“If snowshoeing is like hiking than cross-country is the snow version of mountain biking,” she said.
I was trying to anticipate what that was going to be like. She told me that it’s a workout for your hip flexors, which had me even more nervous because I have pathetically weak hips.
I went along with a group of about four people. Our teacher Dennis Pettygroove had been skiing for over 60 years, 30 of which had been cross-country skiing. We were in good hands. He went through the steps of how to fall and slow yourself down. Plus using your poles to drag along the ground. He said that to ski well it’s a kicking motion that produces the most momentum.
I went ahead of my group eager to try this out. There were pre-made trails from skiers earlier in the day. I tried to stay humble knowing that if I wasn’t on a groomed trail I would’ve fallen already.
I kept my momentum going, which disguised my lack of balance. The kicking motion was comparable to ice skating or rollerblading. I had never felt more graceful gliding on the snow. After a couple of laps on the tiny trail, I decided to call it quits. I skied back to put my equipment away for the next person to use. I passed my instructor.
“I think you were a ringer,” Pettygroove said. “I think you’ve done this before.”
Clearly, flattery will get you everywhere with me. I said that my curiosity had been piqued by this exercise and I hope to try it again soon. I chalked up my success to his teaching and ultimately, my luck that he didn’t see me flailing my arms trying to maintain balance.
If you are going to start cross-country skiing, there’s no better place to start than here. Also, make sure to wear appropriate winter clothing. But four layers may be a bit much.