With the recent heavy snows and the Super Bowl a week away, what can one do to keep in shape, burn some of those party calories, get out into nature and have a great time? Why cross country ski, of course.
Cross country skiing can be undertaken anywhere, and after the initial purchase of your skis and poles, very inexpensive. Skiing and spending a painful amount of money don’t have to go hand in hand.
Cross country skiing doesn’t require a groomed trail or any trail for that matter. All you need is a little ambition and a cell phone or camera to record the good times. Several companies make wider skis for snow surfaces which are not packed down.
Some skies have a texture or pattern on the bottom for traction while others require you to wax the bottom surface to match that day’s snow conditions. I prefer bushwacker style, which has an overlapping fish scale design for purchase on snow. Our bindings have angled metal toe stops with metal ledges to slide the top, leading edge of my hunting boots soles under and an adjustable binding that is U-shaped, spring-loaded and fastens around my boot and against the heel. Shutting the latch cinches the cable tight against the heel. These types of bindings work very well for us.
Bushwacker type skis have greater width and are shorter in length than trail type cross country skis. Some even have wider tips for additional support. Their design keeps skiers from sinking too deeply in winter snows.
A bush whacking skier can simply park anywhere with public access and head into the outdoors, the playing field is wide open.
If two or more people are skiing together, blazing your own trails across the snowy landscape, simply take turns leading. If you return the same route, well, your trail is ready and waiting for you. On power lines and gas lines it’s not uncommon to find that snowmobiles have been busy during the night and packed snowmobile trails create great cross country skiing opportunities as well. Plowed single lane, seldom used roads that haven’t been salted or graveled also can provide skiing avenues.
However, if you’re more of a social person and prefer to ski on marked and groomed cross country paths, Allegheny State Park has a very nice network of trails available to the outdoor enthusiast. The Art Roscoe Ski Trails of Allegany State Park conditions can be checked online at http://alleganynordic.org. Any civic minded skier or other individual wishing to join Allegany Nordic and help maintain and improve the existing trail system, summer or winter, or help with fundraising and public awareness can contact the organization on the website.
The Park also closes such roads as Thunder Rocks and France Brook for snowmobiling and cross country skiing. Holiday Valley also has cross country trails available.
I really enjoy filling a backpack with drinks and food and heading into the big woods away from public trails. When we reach the halfway point of our little excursion we stop, build a fire and toast up some lunch. The total body workout, brisk air and temperatures really build up an appetite and it provides a great chance to develop your fire building skills in winter.
When choosing a fire site, look for a large blown down tree, trunk on the ground, a big rock or other heat reflective surface. If the tree has been down a year or two, its smaller limbs can also provide a good source of firewood.
You need dry firewood for warming up and cooking, where do you find it in winter? Generally, just looking around the forest will reveal many smaller, fallen tree branches all around. Look for those with little or no bark on them and especially for branches leaning against tree trunks or otherwise held up off the ground and therefore dry. These are very common and should provide no problem in locating. Gather a good sized pile and haul them back to your chosen location.
Kick the snow away, right down to bare ground. Then snap 1-inch limbs over your knee into lengths of 12 to 15 inches and lay one layer of these pieces on top of the soil, creating a fire base approximately one foot square very close to or against the tree trunk or rock.
If you are smart, one or more of your sandwiches will be wrapped in wax paper. Crumple up a piece and cover it thickly with the smallest possible twigs gradually increasing the size and light the fire. Keep feeding it larger and larger branches until they reach the 2- to 4-inch size. It’s difficult to break larger limbs than that between other close growing trees or by stomping on them. Limbs this size burn some time and give off a lot of heat. Locate other logs if possible and position them to sit on, cut forked sticks and toast your sandwiches.
You’ll immediately notice how nice it is to take the skies off.
It’s funny how a nice warm, crackling fire magically transforms your little area’s atmosphere into a friendly, home-like one. Everyone enjoys these lunches, especially kids who get as big a kick out of feeding and poking sticks into the fire as eating.
Winter’s jumped all over us this year, we might as well do something fun and healthy with all this snow; cross country skiing meets all these requirements and more.