November can be a frustrating month. The weather’s usually too cool for biking and there’s limited snow for skiing. Weather goes from warm to cool to freezing, with lots of annoying precipitation in between. Days are short, and it gets dark quickly. For cross country skiers, it’s a challenge to find ways to stay in shape while waiting for snow.
Some diehard Nordics travel to places with early snow like British Columbia’s Silver Star or Scandinavian countries. Many bike when it’s warm, run or hike when it’s not, or take up roller blading or roller skiing.
Nordic striding keeps skiers in shape as they use their ski poles to push off while bounding up hills. Other frustrated skiers will take out a gym or pool membership to maintain fitness while waiting for the flakes to fall.
If it’s cold enough and the lakes freeze, some of us will go Nordic skating. Others will cross over into Alpine skiing to get their snow fix. We all have to practice patience and keep ourselves fit so we’ll be ready when the ground turns white and we can get out on our skinny skis.
For Nordic racers, early season training is crucial for a successful ski season. They can’t wait for snow. When it arrives, they have to be race-ready.
Local high school racers have been out on their roller skis practicing since September and doing their “dryland” training exercises, under the direction of the Kennett High School Nordic team’s coach, Steve Vosburgh.
When they have their first “official” practice on Monday, Dec. 9, they’ll be raring to go. Depending on the snow conditions at that time, they’ll be either continuing with dryland exercises, running, or roller skiing, or, if they’re lucky, training on snow.
Last year, when I observed the Nordic team practice, there was enough snow on the playing fields for some skiing. But, in years before, the ground was bare — it was “dryland” training time.
After a warmup run down and back up Eagles’ Way, Coach Vosburgh had them do sprints, “burpees,” “flamingos,” lunges, forward and backwards jumps, and the “karaoke side step” to build their stamina, flexibility and balance.
Steve then divided the group into two groups. Steve’s roller skiing group spent the rest of practice roller skiing around the building, practicing different skate-ski moves. The second group went with Steve’s assistant, Scott Lajoie, to practice striding with poles up Pine Hill, mimicking the diagonal style.
The almost two-hour practice exhausted me, but the students seemed to enjoy it. I’m sure they prefer training on snow, but that’ll have to wait for Mother Nature’s cooperation.
For the rest of us frustrated skiers, we’ll keep going with whatever our dryland version of exercise is until we get enough snow to ski on with our cross-country skis. If you want some ideas of exercises and equipment you can use to practice Nordic techniques and strengthen those cross country muscles, I’ve listed some resources below:
Dryland Exercises: There are many online sources, You-Tube videos, and books to check out. Here are a few:
The Concord Carlisle High School in Concord, Mass., has a website with many suggestions here for dryland exercises, including videos of the Concord Carlisle Nordic Ski Team getting ready for ski season, at tinyurl.com/t8rkc5h.
Explore Magazine has suggestions for workouts for cross-country skiers at tinyurl.com/wr5bvyb.
Roller blading/Roller skiing: The first thing you need is equipment, then you need a place to use it. Roller blades are available at many sports stores and consignment shops. Purchase some knee, elbow, and wrist pads — you’re going to need them. Wear a helmet, too. The best place locally for roller blading is the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg- it has the smoothest surface. If you start at Porter Road and skate to the airport end, you’ll have a mostly flat 2.5 mile section for a 5-mile round trip. Other places include parking lots like Story Land off season and development roads not yet built on, but they’re a little rougher.
Roller skis can be purchased sometimes at ski swaps. Check the condition carefully, especially the wheels and know what type you need. Good ones don’t come cheap. Many Nordic ski shops and catalogs have roller skis for sale, too. Akers Ski, Inc. in Andover, Maine, has several varieties (akers-ski.com). Nordic Skater in Vermont (nordicskaters.com) is also a good resource.
If you’re new to roller skiing, ask advice from ski coaches and racers as to the best type to buy. If you plan to use poles, include roller pole ferrules to protect your pole tips. Where you can use roller skis depends on your skill, the type of wheels, terrain and traffic. I’ve seen roller skiers on Mount Washington Valley roads, but they tend to be the experienced ones. I’m not sure I want to roller ski with traffic. I’d try the Mountain Division Trail first.
The NENSA (New England Nordic Ski Association) website has suggestions for roller skiing exercises. Go to nensa.net/rollerski.
Nordic Skating: Nordic skates are thin stainless blades with an aluminum platform that you attach your cross-country ski boots to, using a cross-country binding.
Some refer to them as “Nordic Clip-on Ice Skates.” The blade has a gradual curve at the front and glides over bumps and cracks and even snow covered lake or pond ice. The heels are free and the boots are warm and comfortable-much better for me than traditional ice skates!
The two sources I know for Nordic Skates are Akers Ski and Nordic Skater. Without bindings, they cost about $110. With bindings installed, $165, for basic models. They come in different lengths according to your boot size. If you order them, specify binding type you need: SNS, NNN, etc. Sometimes you can purchase these at ski swaps.
At the Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee, Vt., they rent Nordic skates on the weekend. Try them out on the plowed oval behind the inn. Go to tinyurl.com/ydevb5xd for more information.
In late snow years, when it’s been cold enough to freeze local ponds and lakes, our Nordic skates have saved our sanity while waiting for snow. We’ve used them on Echo, Crystal, Silver and Chocorua lakes, when the conditions were right.
Already this year, I’ve seen postings on the Facebook group “Maine and NH Skating and Ice Report” (tinyurl.com/r6csdt3) that people have been skating on their local ponds. I think I’ll wait a little longer to make sure it’s safe. I’ll feel more secure when I see bob houses and other people on the ice.
Go to this site out to get guidelines on evaluating ice safety: tinyurl.com/susejs3.
Snow Chasing: If you’re a snow chaser, you can check out this source for cross-country snow conditions in the states as well as Canada, Europe, and the Southern Hemisphere: tinyurl.com/ujqxs87.
After last Sunday’s storm, some local Nordic centers have picked up enough snow in higher elevations to start limited grooming. Call or go to their websites to find out what’s open.
It’s early season, not yet officially winter. Let’s not get discouraged about the lack of snow; it’ll come. Until it does, stay in good ski shape so you’ll be ready to pounce on the snow and make new Nordic tracks as soon as the ground turns white.
Saturday, Nov. 30: Great Glen Trails Craft Fair, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., to benefit Great Glen Bill Koch League Ski Club for kids, grades 1-8.
Saturday, Nov. 30: Last day of early season pass discount at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, Great Glen Trails and Bretton Woods.
Sunday, Dec. 1 through Tuesday, Dec. 24 (Tuesday): Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring season pass sale.
Tuesdays, Dec. 3, 10 and 17: Great Glen Trails nordic warm-ups, 10-11:30 a.m..
Saturday, Dec. 14: Jackson Ski Touring Foundation’s potluck, 5-7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 15: Great Glen Trails Bill Koch Ski League starts, 1:30-3:30 for students in grades 1-8.
Sally McMurdo is currently a cross country ski instructor at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For almost four decades, she has explored New England’s groomed and un-groomed trails on all kinds of skis.