In the week leading up the the first session of the Ski Cubs youth xc-ski program on January 16th, I was intermittently wringing my hands, checking weather reports for Bolton Valley Nordic Center, and tweaking the plan for the first day in case we ended up getting the projected sleet and freezing rain this past Saturday. As I started to wind my way up the Bolton Valley Access Road I was mentally preparing for some indoor activities because it looked like we were in for a rainy and icy start to Ski Cubs. But then, as I drove higher the rain started to turn to snow, and soon I was enveloped in a world of heavy snowflakes! This was good… I figured that some snow, mixed with some rain was preferable to no snow at all. But the snow gods must have taken pity on my apprehensive thoughts because for the duration of Ski Cubs the snow didn’t stop falling. Lawns that were brown just the day before were covered by soft snow – creating perfect conditions for those getting out for the first time this season, or ever!
After our volunteer instructors and chaperones helped outfit the 27 eager skiers who came from 5 burlington-area organizations, the flood gates were opened and everyone streamed outside to get their skis on the real deal. It was no surprise that every last person gravitated to the small hills surrounding the practice field… it is a well known fact that skiers are magnetically drawn to any hilltop, regardless of the size, so they can then bomb down it. After a 5-minute free-for-all we entrusted the kids with the two most important pearls of cross-country skiing wisdom. 1) Everyone falls on cross country skis, all the time, without grace, regardless of how ‘good’ they may be, and 2) learning how to get up efficiently takes a certain amount of technique paired with endless practice. And practice we did. Some took to the task of falling with theatrical vigor, some became frustrated with the tangle of gear, while still others kept a stiff upper lip as they doggedly figured out how to use their gear and bodies advantageously when getting up. It wasn’t long before everyone was thoroughly covered in snow and entirely FINISHED with the art of falling.
So I let them loose and they dispersed along various trails where instructors and chaperones subtly provided hints and encouraged exploration of the area for over an hour. Despite snow that was verging on rain, this was clearly everybody’s favorite part of the day. And I get it. Having the freedom to learn something organically and with little organized instruction is, for many people, one of the most rewarding and tangible approaches. I look forward to the coming weeks where I will have the opportunity to see all of these kids gain confidence and skills on cross country skis. Until then I will ponder some favorite responses to questions asked in a pre-season survey:
What I hope to learn at Ski Cubs… How to go uphill on skis
Skiing is… So so so fun
Winter in Vermont is… cold + awesome
Skiing is… awesome + cold
What I hope to learn at Ski Cubs… More skiing skills
Skiing is… Fun, good exercise
What I hope to learn at Ski Cubs… How to glide on snow
Skiing is… ?