Before this winter, I had classic skied five times- in my life. All of which I remember thinking, ‘this is really hard and not very fun.’ Well now that I am a cross country skier, learning how to classic ski is simply necessary. This winter, all of the collegiate classic races are 20 km’s in distance. I’ve never raced more than 15 km’s before so calling this a challenge would be an understatement.
Luckily, the college season doesn’t start till the middle of January. This has been a serious blessing as it has given me ample time to go through all the phases of learning how to classic ski:
Phase one. Classic rollerskiing:
In this first phase, you spend countless hours rolling around on glorified rollerblades with the added addition of ski poles and cringeworthy spandex. You fend off cars as if you were another formidable vehicle on the road, forgetting just how vulnerable you are in said spandex. The one bonus is getting mighty tan but even that loses its appeal once you realize your skin maxes out at a still pasty white. All these hours are worth it though because, “It’s all for the cause.” The cause is, going wicked fast on skis and impressing mega hot babes.
Phase two. What the fuck am I doing:
This is the phase where you realize all those hours spent rollerskiing were basically pointless because classic rollerskiing doesn’t prepare you for classic skiing whatsoever. In this phase you daydream about all the things you could have been doing instead of rollerskiing through the road rage and pot hole filled neighborhoods of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You think about the pool down at Lobo Village which you didn’t visit enough, the mountain bike trails you didn’t ride enough, and golf, you think about golf.
This is also the phase where coaches try to walk you through drills such as classic skiing without poles. Here is the thing, if you don’t know how to classic ski with poles, you surely won’t find any success doing it without poles.
I vividly remember our first ski camp in Red River, New Mexico. I remember trying to classic ski up a small hill without poles. Instead of moving forwards, I was actually sliding backwards down the hill. In addition, Red River sits at 10,000 feet above sea level. So not only was I moving in the complete wrong direction, but I was out of breath doing so. This was concerning. Not in the sense of me winning any races, more in the sense of even being able to finish a race.
If you are bad at running, you just go slow. Being bad at classic skiing sucks far worse because not only are you slow but you actually can’t physically complete the task of moving forwards. I would compare classic skiing to someone asking you to draw a picture. Easy enough right? Then when you begin drawing, someone just repeatedly slaps you in the elbow.
Phase three. I figured it out. Nevermind:
In this phase, you get good enough at classic skiing to think you enjoy it. This is an illusion because all it takes is a slight change in snow conditions for everything to change. You will go out the next day and change your mind on the entire subject.
Phase four. Actually trying to go fast:
In all the previous phases, you have been basically walking around in circles on skis. In phase four you are asked to do intervals on classic skis. You begin this particular phase with confidence as by this point, walking around on skis is manageable. It turns out that the sport gets even more difficult when any kind of speed is involved. At this point you immediately go back to Phase two, “what the fuck am I doing”. Trying to go fast classic skiing is like putting on Heely's and trying to run across a frozen over lake. It’s not happening. I also always feel one step away from a severe rolled ankle as classic boots offer zero support.
Phase five. Shakira:
In this phase, people start to give you advice on how to improve as they are no longer scared of the constant anger which pools out of you. The weirdest part, all the advice seems to center around your hips. Thus, this phase being called the Shakira phase. Believe me, I can move my friggen hips, but when you tell me to, “dance up the hill on my skis,” that makes zero sense. Phrases like, “get your hips over” and “get your hips on top” get thrown around often and I end up just standing on the side of the trail throwing my hips in every direction possible.
Phase six. Racing:
I’m pretty proud to have made it through six stages of classic skiing. I wish I knew where it all ended but honestly there could be 100 phases. I just don’t know where the pain will stop. Last week I completed my first ever classic ski race. I hoped for the best but truly expected the worst. In the end, it was a lot better than I could have imagined.
I hate double poling because much to my dismay, I’m still built like a ski jumper. My preference is when the course gets steep because the only option is to run. I’m pretty fit so this is actually where I lose the least amount of time. My ideal course would just be one constant steep uphill.
Phase seven. 20 km NCAA mass start:
At this point, I’m no longer concerned about being able to complete a 20 km race. Now it’s just a matter of how fast I can do it. The whole thing could be extremely comical, or I could surprise myself- we will see. Really my only goal is to beat my teammate Johan, who is back in Norway utterly distracted by females. I’ll take any advantage I can get.
Lastly, I hope I haven't ruined classic skiing for anyone else. It truly is a great hobby. Just don't get yourself as deeply involved as I have.