What was skiable snow turned into an icy mess after last Sunday’s rain and freeze event. Where numerous people had skied and walked, their tracks had frozen, making a chunky mess. The surface was what we call “boilerplate.” Grooming it was a challenge — it was too hard.

When I arrived at Jackson Monday morning to teach, I went for a test ski loop around the golf course. I had trouble climbing, getting an edge for snowplowing and getting much kick on my waxless skis. Conditions didn’t look promising for teaching beginners that day.

When beginners showed up for lessons, I suggested they come back when conditions weren’t so hard. They wouldn’t have a good learning experience and might fall and get hurt. It was definitely not worth the risk.

Tuesday, I skied at Whitaker Woods. The groomer had been able to skate groom a 10K loop. I decided to test three different skis — skate, classic no-wax and skin — to see which ones worked best on the hard surface. Too bad I forgot my waxable classic skis with klister or my melt-edge touring skis. They may have been the best choices.

I wanted to see which ski had the best glide on flats, best grip climbing hills and most control on downhills. Factored in was also my aesthetic experience and confidence skiing on each one.

Conditions favored skate skis. They glided well on frozen snow, though they skidded out at times. Climbing didn’t involve grip as I used my energy and poling to keep them sliding forward. Down hills were quick, but controllable.

Aesthetically, they were quieter and smoother than the other two.

Both waxless and skin skis had trouble with no tracks. I had to force my ski forward to track straight. Skins didn’t seem to grip any better than no-wax climbing. They were both controllable on the downhills but didn’t move as smoothly and fast. They both made noise.

Faced with icy conditions over the years, here’s what I’ve discovered:

1. When conditions are icy and dangerous, don’t ski. If you can’t risk falling or getting injured, don’t go. There are other safer choices for winter exercise. This week, I’ve seen people micro-spiking, snowshoeing and fatbiking. Using their Nordic blades, friends are skating on lakes. Alpine skiing where snowmaking covers icy snow might be a better option.

2. If you do go Nordic skiing, choose the place with the best grooming report for your skill level. Jackson’s Prospect Farm was groomed and suitable for more experienced skiers, but not novices. Bear Notch groomed 5k for those who can do hills but suggested snowshoeing for beginners. Whitaker Woods was fine on the flats where groomed, but the hills were scary for inexperienced skiers.

Ski only where it’s groomed. In Whitaker, taking a shortcut on ungroomed Armstrong Alley, I realized my folly. The trail was rough, which was okay for climbing, but terrible for descending! I sidestepped down to save myself.

3. Pick your technique and ski to match the conditions. If it’s too icy to push off when skating and control the skis, opt for classic. If gripping is difficult on the hills, the best choice might be your waxable skis, with a combination of klister and hard wax. Neither my no-wax nor skin skis gripped well on frozen snow. I herringboned a lot.

If it’s so icy, control on the downhills is an issue, I’d grab my metal-edge touring skis. With them, I can get enough edge to control my speed and stop. They’re also wider and heavier which gives me more stability in slick conditions.

Jared Manninen (TahoeTrailGuides.com) is a PSIA instructor and avid skier. In his online article, https://tinyurl.com/yc2uzhwy on Nov. 15, 2020, he says, “Not only does choosing the correct cross-country gear to run in challenging conditions help. But, modifying your attitude and technique will surely contribute toward having a quality cross-country experience regardless of when or where you ski.”

4. Modify your expectations to match conditions. Icy days are not the days to do long skis far away from home and help. Instead, go shorter or do multiple laps where grooming’s good. Don’t try to go fast. Go slower and work on your technique. Use caution and don’t do anything stupid. If it looks scary or dangerous, don’t take the chance of getting hurt. You want to ski another day, don’t you? There will be better days to ski.

Manninen agrees, saying, “I used the diverse winter conditions to embrace beneficial training experiences. Namely, I began to focus more on the concept of frequency over the duration with regard to my training and preparation.”

5. Employ icy skiing survival skills. Minimize movements to minimize sliding. When faced with glare ice, don’t move your feet at all, just double-pole through it. Otherwise, you’ll be like “Bambi on ice.”

If a hill looks too icy or rough, you don’t have to ski it. You can sidestep your way down to where it’s manageable. You could take your skis off, too, but ski boots can slide easily on ice. Use caution!

Don’t be “tense and tight.” That’s a natural reaction to being on ice, but it doesn’t help. The more you can relax, take your time, and plot your course and strategy, the better things will go.

Annie Pokorny, writer and former professional cross-country skier, in her Feb. 23, 2016 article (tinyurl.com/3bcwtucf) had this advice for skate skiing on ice. “The most important part of skate skiing on icy conditions is committing to your ski. In the name of self-preservation, our instincts tell us to shorten our stride and not shift weight too far to either side, for fear of tipping over. Try to shift all of your weight onto each ski, so that you’re entire base touches the ice, giving you more stability and glide (because more glide means that you’ll get past the icy spots with fewer strides!)”

Pokorny also has this advice: “Skiing well on ice takes a lot of practice. Go out and ski without poles, feeling what it’s like to get over your skis. Balance as long as you can, keeping your knees and ankles bent with strong legs. And, if you fall, get back up and try again; it’s worth figuring it out and gliding with confidence over the ice.”

Hopefully, with new snow predicted, cross-country skiers won’t be dealing with icy conditions for a while. However, these conditions will happen again, so it’s best to be prepared for skiing Ice Capades!

Upcoming special events:

Jan. 8 — Kennett High Nordic team’s first ski meet at Sandwich Fairgrounds, 7:30 a.m.

Jan. 12 — Kennett Nordic team race at Great Glen Trails, 2:30 p.m.

Jan. 12 — “Nordic Skiing and Human Body” online presentation by Hilary McCloy, 7 p.m. Request link here: hilary@hilarymcloy.com.

Jan. 15-16 — Great Glen Trails’ Women’s Winter Escape, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 8:45 a.m to 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more, go to greatglentrails.com/winter-escape.

Jan. 16 — Great Glen Trails Nordic Demo Day, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Jan. 17 — Bretton Woods 48th annual Geschmossel Classic 15 K Ski Race. For more, go to tinyurl.com/2d6yfbuk.

Weekly events

Bill Koch League Ski Club at Great Glen Trails on Sundays, for grades 1-8, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Nordic Meisters at Great Glen Trails, Tuesdays, through March 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bartlett Athletic and Recreation Association (BARA) Jr. Nordic Program, grades 1-8, Tuesdays into February, after school at Bear Notch Touring Center, Bartlett.

North Conway Community Center Nordic Skiing Program for grades K-6, Fridays in Whitaker Woods, began Jan. 7, 3;30-5 p.m.

Friday Night Lights Uphill Series at Black Mountain, Fridays through March 18, Registration is at 6 p.m. with a group start at 7 p.m. with pizza to follow. The cost is $10 per night or $70 for season passes.

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 ungroomed trails on all kinds of skis.

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(1) comment

Jared Manninen

Nice article! Not many people talk about xc skiing in tough conditions, in spite of the fact that we all probably ski more on those difficult snow conditions rather than the ideal pristine scenarios. And I totally appreciate the shoutout. That said, could you correct my website name to TahoeTrailGuide.com (it's not plural). Thank you ☺️

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