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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Learning to cross-country ski is proving an adventure

Jordan Price
Posted 1/27/21

Bushwhack. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “bushwhack” means to clear a path through thick woods by cutting down bushes and low tree branches. “Hey Jordan, do you want …

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Learning to cross-country ski is proving an adventure

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Bushwhack. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “bushwhack” means to clear a path through thick woods by cutting down bushes and low tree branches. “Hey Jordan, do you want to go on a backcountry Nordic ski trip?” my friend Clara asked recently. “Sure! I’m in!” I said, not knowing what I had just agreed to. “Just a heads up, we might have to do some bushwhacking,” she stated. Bushwhacking is exactly what it sounds like, but imagine doing it with long skis on and poles in your hands.
An adventure is what I asked for, and an adventure is exactly what I got.
Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is a pretty popular activity up here in the Northwoods. For those who are unaware, there are two styles of cross-country skiing: traditional or “classic” and skating, which typically requires a firm surface and open terrain. On this bushwhacking adventure, we stuck to classic skiing, a method that involves sliding your skis parallel to one another using a bit of glide between each “step” to gain more distance. Those who are knowledgeable on the subject say that classic skiing is a better option for those who want a pair of skis that do it all. You can ski deep in the woods, like on my adventure, or you can check out the many groomed trails in the area and ski within the narrow set of tracks. Believe me when I say that I am definitely an inexperienced classic-style cross-country skier, but I am learning more every time I ski.
Turns out, Clara’s mom is a part of what’s known as the Friday Ski Group out of Ely, so we joined in on one of their recent adventures. The Friday Ski Group has been skiing together for nearly 40 years. The most impressive part: they go on a cross-country ski trip almost every single week in the winter. “Okay, Jordan. Here’s a bit of advice: If you get stuck while bushwhacking, just hold your poles straight up in the air so we can come find you after we’re done and pull you out.” This quote set the tone for the trip and it made me realize how special this group was. I was fortunate to be able to join them and experience the Northwoods in a way I would have never thought possible. We ventured to beautiful places that are inaccessible during any other season. We skied across lakes, frozen swamps, on trails, and bushwhacked in between to make a nice three-hour loop back to the car.
When I accepted a job in the area last August, my parents told me that I would have to learn how to cross-country ski, so my mom generously passed on her 1980s Fischer classic skis. I get it. Sometimes, it can be hard to make an investment in something when you don’t know how often you’re going to use it. However, keep in mind that skis will last you for years and provide many memories. Of course, if you aren’t quite ready to buy skis, there are places around, like Ely’s Piragis Northwoods Company, that rent them. If you are apprehensive, I would suggest renting first to see if it’s something you enjoy.
It’s been hard for me to meet people in the area due to COVID-19, but it’s activities like cross-country skiing that allow me to be social even amid the restrictions. When we got our first snowfall, I posted on Facebook asking if someone in the area could give me a few pointers. That’s how I met Clara. In fact, I don’t even know if Clara has ever seen me without a winter hat on. Among the many people who reached out to me, she is another example of the kindness this area has to offer. Clara has given me so many helpful tips and I can say now that I thoroughly enjoy the sport. Cross-country skiing is a great activity to take part in during the pandemic because it’s easy to social distance. And if you like the outdoors, all the better.
It’s also a good opportunity to learn how to fall. I didn’t think I would crash on this backcountry adventure, but boy was I wrong. In total, I fell seven times, but who’s counting? Clara missed all of my downhill, out-of-control spills except for the last one. “Jordan, oh my gosh, are you okay? That looked like a rough one. You’re never going to want to come again!” Clara called out from ahead. I chuckled. “Clara, this has been happening all day. You’ve just missed it every time. By now, if I know I’m about to go down, I just let it happen,” I said.
The Friday Ski Group goes to show that bad or cold weather isn’t a reason to avoid the outdoors. Learning to enjoy the beauty with people who can do the same is what it’s all about. If you haven’t tried cross-country skiing, I’d highly recommend it. If you’re lucky, you may even meet a forever friend like I did. By the way, Clara, I would LOVE to go on another bushwhacking backcountry trip with you, but maybe let’s cut back on the hills next time.

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