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?

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