Cross Country Skiing is for Old People

You can still love an activity even if you’re not good at it. That’s true with cross country skiing and me. Beginning the sport in my forties, I’ve never progressed beyond mediocrity. Something I thoroughly enjoy, it’s gentler on my aging body than most other favored pursuits.

The School of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin (UW) says, “The low impact nature of the activity (cross country skiing) reduces impact loading on joints; this is particularly important for individuals with arthritis or joint surface defects.” Not sure what joint surface defects are but I have an up close and personal relationship with arthritis. And, unlike my other winter sport, mountain hiking, I’ve never experienced any joint discomfit skiing.

UW also says cross country skiing is the best cardiovascular exercise known, uses a larger percentage of muscle mass than other activities, improves balance and visual acuity. That’s not all, they assert that it enhances self-esteem, confidence, reduces stress and cultivates bonding with friends. This is the fountain of youth elixir us old folks having been seeking. Having resumed skiing again this year, I’m already feeling stronger, fitter, more confident and less stressed. Since I’ve been skiing alone, bonding hasn’t happened yet, but I’m hopeful.

Seriously, the sport has been exceptionally beneficial for me. It’s the only workout I’ve experienced that compares with running, which I’ve given up due to a knee replacement. Skiing and biking are the two outdoor exercises that don’t irritate my arthritic hips, offering confidence that I’ll be able to remain active year-round as my old joints age past other interests.

I began cross country skiing with my whitewater buddies a little over twenty-five years ago. My introduction was literally a crash course as they were significantly more skilled than I and inclined to the extreme. We did things like skiing the backside of Wildcat Mountain, descending the Mount Washington Auto Road and multi-day trips to the snow rich Chic Choc Mountains on Gaspe Peninsula in eastern Quebec.

In order to survive with my companions, I bought more advanced steel edged skis and developed a technique I call “catching eddies.” A whitewater term, it simply means that I find ways to stop or slow myself down on difficult descents to compensate for my limited abilities. It’s not unusual to find me clinging to a tree or wedged in a deep snow bank determinedly holding the snowplow position on tricky inclines. If I lose control, I sit down. There’s more cushion on my backside than my forehead. While it may not look or sound pretty, I’m still skiing and with the exception of an occasional bruised rear end, essentially unscathed.

A confession, I’m guilty of skate skiing envy. The aerobic workout is obviously exceptional and there are few athletic endeavors as graceful as accomplished skate skiing. About a dozen years ago, I received a lesson from a Quebec friend and was primed to buy the equipment and develop the technique. Retiring from my real job later that year, I traveled in warm climates for the next six winters. When finally able to improve my skating skills, worsening knee issues made it problematic. Now concerned about damaging my plastic knee, I’ve deleted it from my bucket list. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation to trip skate skiers with my ski pole when they zoom past.

Several excellent cross country skiing options are available fairly close to my home in Topsham. Preferences include the Camden Hills, Mount Blue State Park and Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. A favored commercial ski area is Harris Farm in Dayton.

There are numerous things that I like about Harris Farm. A working farm owned and operated by Mainers for four generations impresses me as I’m descended from Maine farmers who settled in Liberty during the 1700s and have an affinity for them. As a kid growing up in Randolph, there were three active dairy farms. I have great childhood memories playing in the pastures and climbing the then plentiful apple trees. A more mischievous diversion was secretly building cabins in the Grant’s Dairy Farm hayloft and sneaking chocolate milk from the walk-in refrigerator. Think it’s safe to say that we had a greater fondness for them than they for us.

I digress. Particularly appealing is the fact that one can ski for over two hours on Harris Farm perimeter trails without once going around in circles; avoiding the sense of being a participant in a Pavlovian behavioral experiment. Most of the trails are easy to moderate in difficulty, well-maintained and they offer an old man discount on weekdays!

Skip dominoes, bond on the ski trails!

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.