At 2:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, I learned I had a “Learn to Ski” lesson with three people. They were determined to try cross-country skiing. It must have been on their end-of-the-year “bucket list.”
I was game if they were. My goal was to teach them the basics and get them comfortable on skis first before we attempted anything like hills. Sliding on slippery skis can be scary for someone not used to it, and I wanted them to have a good time.
We started slowly, staying on the flats, moving from ski to ski without using poles. Then we added more glide. When someone fell, I showed her the easiest way to get up — a useful skill to have when you’re learning to ski.
Adding poles, I showed them how to use them efficiently in both diagonal and double pole fashion. We headed to a small hill to try downhill techniques, using the tracks to carry us to the bottom. There were a few falls, but everyone eventually made it down the hill.
Turning around, we tackled climbing back up the hill, getting our waxless ski ridges to grip underneath and using the poles.
Snowplowing came next, with mixed results. Some got it, others needed more practice. The brave ones tried it on the little hill, then a slightly bigger one. Some made it to the bottom on their skis. Others came down on their backsides.
The lesson ended with smiles and laughter, and my goal was met. They had fun and learned the fundamentals of cross-country skiing. Whether they will try it again, I don’t know. But they’re more likely to now that they’ve had a lesson.
This January is designated “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month,” a national initiative. As part of the January promotion, ski areas offer discounted rates for first-time skiers and snowboarderss. Check out the deals at local Nordic centers on Ski NH’s website — tinyurl.com/y97x7tyc — or call ahead to ask about deals.
Who should take a lesson? Anyone who wants to improve their ski experiences, from novices to seasoned skiers, from kids to adults. Lessons taught by experienced instructors will help anyone learn new techniques or correct and improve old ones.
That same day at the touring center, I had a 7-year-old in a kid’s lesson and an adult father and son in a beginner skate lesson. Though the ages and techniques were different, I had the same goal for both groups — teach them how to have fun on skis while learning some skills.
To teach an elementary-aged student, I had to think like him. I spiced up the lesson with games like “Green Light, Red Light” and “Follow the Leader.” We set our poles aside and played on skis — jumping, striding, running, turning and stopping. As he got more comfortable, we added some pole work. We trudged up hills and skied back down. Both of us had a good time, and he improved his skiing.
I’m glad he was school-aged. Children under 5 have a tough time with lessons. Their attention span is short, their coordination just developing, and they get cold easily. We advise parents to wait for lessons until they’re older. Once kids go to school, they’re more receptive. Children younger than that just need short playtime experiences on skis, not lessons.
The adult father and son were examples of classic and alpine skiers exploring skate skiing. Their skate ski lesson was semi-private. Teaching beginner skate skiing in a group lesson format doesn’t usually work well. Some people catch on, while others struggle. It makes it hard to address everyone’s needs.
We covered equipment and progressed to mechanics, body position and balance. The first part of the lesson focused on drills to get skis gliding forward. Pole techniques were added. We able to make it around the golf course loop. That’s impressive for first-timers!
Other students are alpine crossovers. Tired of the downhill experience and expense, they try Nordic skiing. Some complain of knee and hip problems and are looking for an alternative snow sport. The peacefulness, beauty and exercise of cross-country trails are appealing. These students learn how to move the skis on the flats and up hills — no lifts here! Learning how to snowplow without metal edges is a challenge for some. Once they get accustomed to the difference, most are ready to ski the trails.
During vacation week, many families came out to take lessons with their kids. Those are always interesting as the instructor tries to balance the kids’ attention span with the needs of the adults. The focus is on keeping the youngest member going while showing and telling the adults skills they can reinforce later. It’s a combination of keeping it fun while teaching techniques.
Whatever your instructional needs, there’s a lesson plan for you. You could take a group or private lesson or even a series of lessons to learn or improve your classic or skate technique.
Afraid of hills, try the “enjoying the downhills” lesson. If you want individual attention, private lessons will meet your needs. Book a series of three lessons, like the “Excel” series, or sign up for a skate clinic series.
Whether you’re a “newbie” or seasoned skier, lessons will help you enjoy your skiing experience more.
January weekly events
Great Glen Trails: Tuesday Nordic Meisters and Fatbike Meisters — Jan. 8-March. 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m. is Nordic, 4-6 p.m. is Fatbikers. Sundays — Bill Koch Ski League, young skiers from 1-8 grade, 1:30-3:30 p.m., through March. Saturdays — Ski with a Naturalist, Jan. 5, 26, Feb. 16, March 2, 10:30 a.m.-noon. Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays — January Learn to Ski Month special packages — $29 a package.
Jackson Ski Touring Foundation: Friday skate clinics — Friday mornings, call JSTF to register and get details. Friday Gliders, Sliders and Easy Sliders, Jan. 5-March, 1-3 p.m., a two-hour social ski followed by snacks and beverages. Tuesday Trekkers Snowshoe Tours — 10 a.m.-noon, starting Jan. 8.
Bretton Woods Nordic Center: Saturdays Ladies Loppets — Jan. 3, 10, 24, 31, 10:45 a.m.-noon, activity based, a social group working on improving techniques. Jan. 6-11 is Learn to Ski Free Week.
Jan. 18-19 — UNH Winter Carnival, Jackson Ski Touring.
Jan. 19-20 — Great Glen Trails Women’s Winter Escape.
Jan. 19 — Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring Center’s ninth annual Snowshoe Scramble, a 4-mile race in Whitaker Woods, start time 10 a.m.
Jan. 21 — Bretton Woods’ Nordic 46th annual Geschmossel Classic ski race, 15K, 11 a.m. start.
Jan. 26 — Jackson Ski Touring’s Freeman Frost Classic 30K race.
Jan. 31 — Kennett High School cross-country ski team classic race, Whitaker Woods, 2:30 start.
Sally McMurdo is 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.