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Cross country skiing experiences growth in popularity

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It's easy to see the appeal of cross country skiing. It's easy ... as long as there's snow, and there is snow this year.

Step out with the right foot, then the left, right, left, right ...

just like walking. Then, for a little variety, skiers can add a little

glide — right foot thrust out, left foot back and slide. And, if and

when they choose, they can stop and lean on the ski poles and enjoy the

quiet — it's almost always quiet — and the surroundings, whether it's

on a snow-covered golf course, a tree-lined mountain trail or an open

meadow with not a single mark in the snow.

Skinny skis can take a person uphill or downhill, along a prepared

track or through backcountry powder. Skiers can go out on a bright day

or overcast day, in shirtsleeve weather or in frigid cold, or out on a

short excursion or a daylong adventure that includes a backcountry

lunch.

All of which, in some way, accounts for the fact that nordic skiing's

popularity is growing, or it would appear so in talking with staff from

some of Utah's nordic centers.

Consensus seems to be that there was an increase last year, despite

poor snow, and an even larger increase this year, due in part to the

good snow, and also the urge to get outdoors and the real affordability

of nordic skiing.

As one track manager said, "Whole families can get into cross country for what it cost for one set of alpine equipment."

Also, along with cost and the short learning curve, some growth is

attributed to an increased number of alpine skiers making the switch to

skinny skis.

John Brooks, touring store manager at the Solitude Nordic Center, is

one of those who's noticed an increase in skier numbers this year.

Reasons given include the cost and the fact that more people these days

are interested in fitness and exercise, which are both byproducts of

even a casual stroll on snow.

He also said he measures the increase by the increased number of

beginner lessons going out daily, "not only to individuals but to whole

families."

Track passes at Solitude are $18 for a full day. Daily rentals for an

adult for classical equipment is $18 and for skating equipment it's $20.

Kelsey Coy, who works out of the activity center at the Homestead, said

she is seeing more families out this year, "mainly because this is

really a family-type resort. But we're also seeing a lot of

individuals. We've got good snow this year and that helps. Last year we

had to delay our opening because we had no snow."

A trail pass for the track that follows the golf course is $6 for an

all-day adult pass. Daily rentals are $12 for an adult and $7 for a

junior package.

Brandon Adams, an instructor/director at Soldier Hollow, said that thus

far into the season the skier count is up around 10 percent over last

winter's figures.

Here, too, the increase covers a broad range, from single individuals

to whole families. Another measuring stick is the fact that the number

of beginning lessons has also increased.

"Most of the beginning lessons we are giving are for classical skiing

because it's easier to learn. Skating takes a little more experience,"

he said.

As noted, there are two styles of cross country skiing — classical and skating.

Classical is old-world skiing; skating is new world. Classical involves

a parallel sliding motion, identical to walking. Skating is a little

more technical and involves a V-shaped stance, widest at the tips, and

then pushing off alternating skis in a skating motion. Classical skiing

is more relaxing and slower; skating requires more energy and speeds

are faster.

Tracks around Utah groom a 16-foot-wide trail designed for both

classical and skating. Two parallel grooves to one side of the groomed

trail hold skiers in the classical form. Most of the trail is smooth

and intended for skaters.

And then there's the backcountry experience. Entire winter areas are

open to cross country, from high mountain excursions to mid-elevation

tours through the trees. Those headed into the backcountry, however,

are urged to get an up-to-date avalanche report.

As far as equipment goes, not much has changed over the past four or

five years. Waxless skis are still preferred by the newer skiers since

they require no technical skill to prepare. Skiers will find today's

boots more comfortable and warmer, and bindings much easier to get into

and out of.

As far as attire goes, anything will do, but the suggestion is that

skiers layer their clothing so they can remove shells when things warm

up and replace layers when things cool down.

There's no reason to stay indoors in the winter not when it's possible

to take a stroll in the mountains, on skis, or hit one of the prepared

nordic center's and escape into some of the most spectacular country in

the world.