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Don't wait for spring: Enjoy winter by cross-country skiing

Tom Dooher of Moorhead says people can enjoy cross-country skiing at any age. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum 1 / 2
More experienced cross-country skiers could trek a stretch of the North Country Trail, that runs from the Red River at Abercrombie all the way to the Sheyenne River State Forest, south of Fort Ransom. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum2 / 2

MOORHEAD — Once a necessary mode of travel used throughout 19th century, Nordic skiing, also known as cross-country skiing, is a loved and celebrated sport, embraced by locals who enjoy it throughout their lifetime.

"Cross-country skiing can be done by 3-year-olds all the way up to people in their 90s," says Tom Dooher, coach of Moorhead's high school and middle school Nordic ski team. "I even still see 80-year-old skiers out competing in races."

Not to be confused with snowshoeing — hiking over the snow with wide, tennis racquet-esque skis — Doheer says cross-country skiers "glide over the snow" with long and narrow skis. Cross-country skis are also different from skishoeing, which combines qualities from both skis and snowshoes, usually used on thick forest trails.

Dooher says the low-impact sport allows anyone, regardless of age, to get a full body workout, and is usually practiced by runners who want to take a few months off but still maintain their overall fitness and strength.

"Anyone can really try cross-country skiing, especially on terrain in Fargo which is relatively easy to navigate on skis," says Dave Klundt, assistant director of programming and facilities at the Fargo Park District.

Dooher agrees and points to his team's increase in numbers as proof: since Moorhead High School created the team in 2015, it has nearly doubled from 24 to 48 students.

"With this sport, we travel all over the state and see beautiful places. Most races are held in wooded areas. I think one of the biggest benefits of being on the team is enjoying the outdoors," he says. "If you dress properly and the wind isn't blowing over 20 miles per hour you can be out when it is well-below zero."

Tips and techniques

The first thing to master with any winter sport is to figure out an effective clothing system.

"The cold and the weather are really the only thing that people say keep them from the sport," says Matthew Davis, north regional trail coordinator for Minnesota and North Dakota at the North Country Trail Association.

Davis recommends dressing in layers and having extra clothes in your backpack that you can take out and put on when you take a break.

"Have extra clothes and dress in layers so you can moderate your temperature," Davis says. "Cross-country skiing is an aerobic activity so your body is going to get warm, and you're going to sweat. If you're too sweaty on a cold day that's where we get into problems."

Because sweating causes the body to lose heat, the risk of hypothermia increases.

"Finding that clothing system that works for you is really one of the biggest challenges," Davis says. "If you dress right, you can go out when it's 30 below and it can still be very comfortable."

Davis says he wears less clothes than some because he's a heavy sweater. Consider what your baseline sweat production is before getting dressed and packing extra clothes.

"Dressing properly and having access to equipment is really the key to enjoying cross-country skiing," Doheer says.

Classic vs. skate skiing

After you bundle up, it's time to choose your skis before hitting the trail.

Dooher says beginners should try "classic skiing," a type of cross-country skiing that uses a diagonal stride movements where your arms and legs swing in opposition. The site Crosscountryskitechnique.com points out that the diagonal stride is closer to running on skis than walking with skis.

Dooher says new technology called Skin Skis has also made it easier for people to enjoy the sport.

"Skin Skis has made classic skiing easier and much more enjoyable. Skin Skis have mohair inserts under the foot for 'kick'," he says. "Most recreational skiers have fish scales and these make skiing slower and louder."

Dooher also says Skin Skis work in all trail conditions — much better than the traditional fish-scaled skis.

"Gliding along, over the snow, is what people really enjoy about skiing. Skin Skis allow the skier to have a much better experience," Doheer says.

Another popular technique worldwide is skate skiing, Dooher says. Students at Horizon Middle School start out with this style which uses the ski poles, and body weight to propel themselves.

Both Dooher and Klundt says anyone can enjoy skiing but there is a slight learning curve.

"If you're new to the sport when you rent equipment at the Edgewood Golf Course, the staff can give you quick instruction," Klundt says.

Dooher also encourages lessons for those who want to improve their technique quickly.

"Like it or not, we all live here and have to deal with winter. You can either sit inside and wait for spring or get out there and enjoy it," Davis says.

Choosing a trail to ski

Not all trails will work for all skis or skill levels. Consider the weather, the trail conditions and usage before heading out.

  • First-timers and children should try any of the trails within the Fargo Park District. Dooher says these trails are great place to start when you're first learning the sport. The Fargo Park District includes five skiing sites throughout the city. Trails are groomed as needed, depending on the weather. The Fargo Park District also offers ski rentals for youth and adults. Check trail conditions at Fargoparks.com/amenities/cross-country-ski-trails.html or call (701) 499-6060 for more information.
  • Intermediate skiers can reach more scenic, less-traveled routes if they travel a short distance. "My favorite trails are at Maplelag Resort, 10 miles north of Detroit Lakes," Dooher says. "Maplelag is one of the best cross-country ski destinations in the United States and it is only an hour away. They have 64 kilometers of skate and classic trails." Skilled skiers looking to test their skills can sign up for Frostival's cross-country ski race starting at 9 a.m this Saturday at the Edgewood Golf Course, 19 Golf Course Road, Fargo. To see all of the Frostival events scheduled to celebrate winter, visit Frostival.com.
  • Experienced cross-country skiers can try a nearby stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), a year round trail first authorized by Congress in 1980. Out of the 11 National Scenic Trails, the NCT is the only one in North Dakota. The entire trial stretches more than 4,600 miles across seven northern states originating in New York state. "The Dakota Prairie Chapter (in Fargo) maintains the trail from the Red River at Abercrombie all the way to the Sheyenne River State Forest, south of Fort Ransom," Davis says. Choosing to cross-country ski this trial will take preparation, including researching what stretches will be the easiest to access, and packing extra gear. "There's a big difference from going to a park in Fargo to the Sheyenne National Grasslands where chances of anyone stumbling across you is pretty minimal," Davis says. Carry emergency equipment and as well as extra clothes. During the winter, locals can join guided trips with the Dakota Prairie Chapter. More inforamtion, including the chapter's calendar of events, can be found at Northcountrytrail.org/volunteers/local-contacts/dakota-prairie-chapter.

Celebrate Winter Trail Days

The Dakota Prairie Chapter invites locals to try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or skishoeing for free in honor of Winter Trails Day on Feb. 3. People can try the outdoor exercise from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at MB Johnson Park, 3601 11 St. North, Moorhead. Find out more information about the event on the Dakota Prairie Chapter's Facebook page, NCTinND.

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