Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Little League of Cross Country Skiing

For a family that loves outdoor activities, Nordic skiing is an essential part of our quiver of winter fun choices.  Introductory cross-country ski programs for kids provide a fun way to get outside and enjoy playing in the snow.

Happily retuning to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center for another season, I passed by a family loading up little ones into their Chariot for a tour. One of the kids was crying, and I wanted to reassure the parents that (1) most likely their kids would soon fall fast asleep as they glided along the winter trails, and that (2) before they knew it, the kids would be clamoring to strap on skis of their own.   It occurred to me that this would be the first season in five years that we wouldn't be toting our babies around in the trusty pod to get our skinny-ski fix in.

Instead, we were embarking on a new endeavor to all of us: Bridget was going to try out the Bretton Woods Nordic Club's Bill Koch League.  Named after the first American Olympic medalist in Nordic skiing, BKL is the Little League of Nordic skiing.  Sponsored by NENSA, the New England Nordic Ski Association, BKL programs teach the fundamentals of Nordic skiing and racing with an emphasis on fun.

Although Bridget is only five, the youngest of the age requirement to join the club, I had a feeling she'd do fine, given her familiarity with downhill skiing and her one foray into Nordic racing last year.  I was excited for her to ski with other kids, knowing that the camaraderie of other kids would make it more about playing in the snow than learning a new technique.

After filling out some paperwork and renting skis, we met the group out by the tennis courts.  Bridget was thrilled to have poles - a piece of equipment we haven't tackled yet on the downhill terrain.  Although parents are required to accompany kids 7 and younger, I was glad to be able to tag along and see what kinds of activities the kids would do.  It was reassuring to see that along with the coaches and other parents, 31 kids had gathered to learn more about cross-country skiing - a large number for what many consider to be a "secondary" sport to downhill skiing.

We started with a warm up that asked the kids to pretend they were touring the world on their skis, and they yelled out countries to visit and obstacles to ski around.  Although I'm pretty sure the zombie references were above Bridget's head, she followed right along as we stood in place and moved from double-poling to tucking to making a star pattern in a circle.  I could see how all the jumping and hopping around would make these little skiers nimble in the snow.  We played a game to see how many times we could double-pole along a length of track and then ditched the poles to practice gliding as far as possible. We played freeze tag, where the only way to "un-freeze" was to have someone else either ski through your legs or over you.  Bridget's size made her perfect for rescuing the adults who wanted back in the game.


Next, we split up into smaller age and ability groups.  Our friend Audrey, an instructor for Bretton Woods Nordic, took Bridget and a few other girls under her wing for some basics in getting moving on cross-country skis.  We practiced shuffling our feet and swinging our arms like a gorilla, to "step, step, glide" along the track.  Then we skied over to the hill below the Mount Washington Hotel to practice a little uphill and downhill maneuvering.  The girls we eager to slide downhill, and somehow didn't even notice that they were using a herringbone (making a V with their skis) to get uphill.

Although our allotted time wasn't quite up, some of the girls had to take a restroom break and I knew that Bridget would be exhausted after all the new activity she just took part in.  As part of her membership in the BKL, a cup of hot chocolate was waiting for her in the Nordic Center, and I knew she'd be happy to go in for a while and tell her Dad all about her adventures.  She's excited to return next week!

For more on a sample of Bill Koch League games, visit the NENSA Bill Koch League Kids Page.

For more on getting kids started cross-country skiing, visit Winter Feels Good.

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