Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alpine and Nordic Skiing: Two Great Choices

Earlier this winter, my friend Leah asked me what type of skiing I prefer: alpine (downhill) or Nordic (cross-country). I must admit, it would be hard for me to pick just one. It will be interesting to see which sport the kids will favor as they get older.

Traditional alpine skiing is my first love: I learned to ski in junior high when my brother worked at a ski area in New York, and I was soon hooked. As a teen, I loved the freedom skiing provided – it was a great way to get out with my friends. Although I’m sure I didn’t realize it then, it was also a great way to challenge myself physically, perfecting a new skill, and a healthy and safe way to spend my weekends. As a young adult, my husband and I found a fun group of friends who all loved to ski, and we pushed each other to take risks and found satisfaction in new accomplishments, like skiing moguls or a tree line with finesse.

I began Nordic skiing when we moved to New Hampshire. As a bicycle racer during the warmer months, Nordic skiing is a perfect winter complement. Although I did put in my time on the indoor bicycle trainer, I’ve never been a fan of working out indoors, and Nordic skiing has similar aerobic fitness elements to biking. On winter weekends, many of our White Mountain Velo friends can be seen at Bretton Woods Nordic, and towards spring we might even be able to swing a cross-country ski in the morning and bike ride in the afternoon. (Well, actually that all-day event was a lot more likely when we didn’t have kids!)

Both alpine and Nordic skiing have elements of speed and finesse, but there’s a different type of adrenaline for each. Alpine skiing uses powerful, short bursts of leg muscles to maneuver down the mountain. For me, the steeper the better, because it forces me to make turns and think about my next move, whereas I tend to get a bit lazy when the terrain flattens out. Nordic skiing also takes strong muscles and physical coordination, but it’s usually a sustained aerobic workout for a longer period of time. Classic Nordic skiing is generally a little easier on the lungs than skate skiing.

Weather and time of day might also dictate my skiing choice. Early in the day, it’s great to get first tracks on the mountain; but if it’s hard to get the kids out the door for the first lift, there’s a more casual pace at the Nordic Center and it’s often nice when the snow softens up a bit. I love to downhill ski in powder and while it snows, but if it’s snowing, it’s harder to skate ski, where it’s nice to have a firm groomed surface.

Most skiers I know are either Nordic OR alpine skiers, not both. But I find it useful to have both skill sets. My alpine experience makes going down hill a lot easier on Nordic skis; skating across a base area to a lift or a traverse along the mountain is smoother having some skate skiing muscle memory.

Luckily, Bretton Woods has the best of both worlds. A little alpine in the morning and Nordic in the afternoon sounds wonderful to me. Nordic skiers can even take a single lift ride with their Nordic pass and take the Mountain Road trail all the way back to the cross-country system. So what the heck – mix it up! What’s your favorite?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Classic Winter's Sleigh Ride

Yesterday I surprised Bridget and Timothy with a treat that every New England winter should not be without – a sleigh ride! With all this snow piling up, we’re enjoying taking part in all of those wonderful activities that you just can’t do in the summer.

When I told Bridget that we’d be going on a sleigh ride at “The Big Hotel” with a horse, she wanted to know two things: would there be sled dogs and would there be cows? So we know that she associates rides in the snow with sled dogs and horses with cows. No, no other animals this trip, but I assured her that the big draft horse that would be pulling us would be entertainment enough.

We checked in at the Activities Desk at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel and then took the shuttle down to the sleigh ride pick-up spot near the Bretton Arms Inn. Bridget was pretty excited to ride on the bus, so I knew the sleigh would be quite a treat. Another family with two small children were just finishing up their ride as we arrived, and all of the kids clamored to stroke the horse’s nose.

Glen, the big white Percheron that would be our horsepower this afternoon, was amazingly patient with all of the kids grabbing and patting at him. Timothy was absolutely ecstatic with the opportunity to touch him, and I had to juggle holding both kids in my arms as Glen sniffed at their hands. Glen was all decked out in an ornamented harness and Luke, the driver, encouraged us to spend time with the docile horse.

Into the red velvet Austrian sleigh we climbed, and covered up with think faux-fur blankets, although Bridget refused to wear her mittens – she wanted to be able to feel the blanket and be ready to touch the horse again. It’s amazing how 20 degrees doesn’t feel “that bad” after a morning of sub-zero temperatures. We toured for about half an hour, and Bridget snuggled in close to me as we lumbered along. We passed the stables where the other draft horses munched on hay and then behind the Omni Mount Washington Hotel for a spectacular view of Mt. Washington, with just a wispy cloud over its top.

Timothy got a bit restless about half way through – he kept pointing up at the horse and I knew he was more interested in petting Glen than in riding behind him. This is where a second parent to help wrangle the children might have helped! But in the end I think the kids were happy to be riding along, unrestrained by the usual car seat and straps.

More time stroking the horse’s nose finished out our afternoon ride. I had hoped we might top off our classic winter tour with a hot chocolate for the kids, but I could tell that naps were in order, and sure enough, both were asleep within five minutes of getting back in the car. I can only imagine they dreamed of velvet horse noses and gliding through all things frosty and white this afternoon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ski Time for Outdoor Mom and Dad

Every baby book and new mother website will tell you: make time for yourself and for your marriage. You need some "me" and "us" time to keep healthy and happy. But that time away from the kids is not so easy to come by, is it? Sure, I can mange a couple of hours here or there while Dad takes the kids. And we are sticklers for an early bed time for the kids so that Mom and Dad can have a little time each evening to recuperate. But I think the last time Matt and I had an overnight just to ourselves must have been before three-year-old Bridget was born.

So this past weekend Matt and I took the plunge. Matt's parents very graciously agreed to come to our house for the weekend and stay with the kids so that we could get away for a night. We debated quite a bit about where we would go, considering everything from a night in the big city to a Nordic tour to ski into the rustic Mountain Cabin at Bretton Woods. We finally decided that given the short window of time we had to play, we didn't want to spend hour upon hour driving to our destination, and would stay locally. Besides, we have such a wonderful winter playground right in our back yard, why go anywhere else?

The plan was to go downhill skiing at Bretton Woods for an hour or two to start Saturday morning, then hit the Nordic trails as Matt prepares for the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon and I for the Mount Washington Cup, both events now just over a month away.

The morning started out quite cold, and dressed in layers we hopped on the chairlift at 8:00am ready to see where we could find fresh snow after last Wednesday's big storm. After a few buttery groomer runs, we headed to Rosebrook and played in the snow on McIntire's Ride and Bode's Run. Then we hit the new Stickney Glades. There are now numbers designating each run, and we found only a few tracks on 4 and 5. As I mentioned before, it takes a little effort to get out there, but what a treat those woods held for us! Light and fluffy snow, and bright sunshine for the short wait at the lift back at the Bethlehem Express Quad.

The sun was winning out and the day warmed up quickly. Matt and I were having such fun tearing it up that we decided to just keep downhill skiing all day. Being kid-free, we did take the opportunity to enjoy an adult beverage and lunch at the Slopeside Pub. But with soft snow, abundant sunshine, and no nap time or diapers to attend to, as Matt said, "What's not to like?" So we skied to near exhaustion and then made plans with friends to return in the morning for more.

Overnight, our snow globe shook again, with another eight inches to add to the already record base depth by this time of year. This time the snow was a bit heavier, but we were meeting our friends for a quick video shoot for Ski New Hampshire and then some time to catch up and get a few more runs in. You can see us on SkiNH's weekly shoot - I'm the one in the orange jacket.

We returned home by noon so that that Matt's parents could make it home for the Super Bowl. The kids were having so much fun playing with their grandparents that I'm not even sure they noticed we were gone. What a relief. We may have to try this more often!

How do you make time for yourself?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cross-Country Coaching

The snow is piling up like frosting on a birthday cake out there. Apparently Punxsutawney Phil’s weather forecasting abilities do not cover northern New Hampshire, because I’m doubting that the three or four feet of snow we’ve got on the ground right now is going anywhere soon. I know, Mother Nature can be fickle, and it could all melt away, but for now I’m relishing all the winter fun to be had.

The Nordic (cross-country) conditions at Bretton Woods have been nothing short of perfect lately. This past weekend, the temperature was moderate and the snow was fast. I had the opportunity on Sunday to take a lesson with Dave McGraw to work on my skating technique as I prepare to race in the Mount Washington Cup on March 13.

I’ve been skate (freestyle) Nordic skiing for about seven years, but I had never taken a real skate lesson and had found myself in a rut. There are several techniques that a skate skier can use to propel themselves through the snow, but somehow I got comfortable doing just one, and now the “V1” is all I know how to do.

Without getting too technical, mostly because I’m worse at explaining the different techniques than I am at actually doing them, using more than one skating technique will make getting around the cross-country trails much easier for me. As Dave explained to me, the “V1” is like first gear: great for getting started or going up hill. But the “V2” and “V2 alternate” add more gears to your motor as you speed up.

In the "V1," you ski with offset poles and power your push from one side. First, Dave had me practice really loading the push from that one side, to take full advantage of the rebound that push would give me to propel me forward.

Next we spent some time practicing the "V2," where you push and pole equally on both sides, but I have to admit that my old habits kept me from making it very far. Dave was really patient with me, and although I couldn’t quite get it, he broke the arm and leg movements down into steps that I can visualize, so at least I know what I’m working towards now. We also worked on switching dominant sides for the "V1," which will help me with balance and versatility.

I’m really looking forward to getting back out on the trails to practice what I’ve learned. Isn’t it great to know that we can take something we’ve been doing for a while and see it with a fresh perspective? Sure, I felt a little (okay, a lot) silly as stumbled over myself, poles flying in awkward directions, as I tried to manage some new moves on the snow, but I think with some patience and persistence, it will get easier. The payoff: a more efficient ski, a little more balance in my life, and perhaps a little more finesse out there.