Nordic skiers have triple choice Options: Touring, mountaineering and track skiing offer different pleasures.

December 28, 1997|By Mike Steere | Mike Steere,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Say "cross-country" or "Nordic skiing" to an enthusiast, and you haven't said enough.

What nonskiers lump into a single sport is actually three, with people seeking different pleasures on different types of terrain.

Touring can mean going practically anywhere on snow, with or without trails. Tourers include people searching for solitude, for whom skis provide a passage to winter's deep silence. Ski mountaineers take the sport to its adventuresome limits. Going uphill, they're mountain climbers with boards on their feet. Coming down, the most daring are called extreme skiers.

The sleek, go-fast branch of the sport is track skiing on lovingly groomed, up-and-down, racing-grade trails, which allow for traditional kick-and-glide technique or the newer, faster "skating" style.

I've enjoyed touring and mountaineering, but my preference now is track skiing, which can be every bit as thrilling as downhill.

My favorite destinations contravene cross-country's wilderness image, which implies the sport is best done in some hushed, deep woods.

To me, the height of excitement is going to one of the major winter sport complexes. They cater mainly to alpine skiers, but BTC some also have superb systems of Nordic trails. A prime example is the Banff-Lake Louise area in Alberta's Canadian Rockies. Skiing is fast and steep on the racers' trails at Canmore near Banff, site of the cross-country events at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Those seeking wilderness can ski backcountry trails deep into Banff National Park. They can buy a half-day or full-day lift ticket at one of three superb alpine areas and do the downhill runs on cross-country skis to work on steep-country control and turns.

One of the soft sides of heading for a downhill area is the comfort of fine mountain resorts. My lifetime peak gustatory experience, for example, was dinner at Lake Louise's Post Hotel after a day of skiing at Canmore.

I've found the same kind of deluxe Nordic experience at Stowe in Vermont's Green Mountains, in Colorado, British Columbia and the Bavarian Alps. I look forward to skiing Jackson, N.H., and Olympics veteran Lake Placid, N.Y., both of which have excellent Nordic trail systems and downhill runs nearby. I'm eager, too, to get back to Mont Ste. Anne, Quebec.

The most unexpected dividend of Nordic skiing at a major winter resort is a sense of privacy and freedom. The rhythms of alpine skiing are so different that Nordic skiers can feel as if they're the only ones on vacation.

At 8 a.m., in a thunder of plastic boots, the downhillers hie off to the slopes, where most will stay until the lift lines close. Cross-country skiers, who can get a whole day's exercise in a few hours, needn't feel so pressed. They can loll over coffee in the morning, hit the trail, then, in the afternoon, beat the crowds to the Jacuzzis before drinks and supper.

When you go

For a list of Nordic centers and resorts, contact Cross Country Ski Areas Association, 259 Bolton Road, Winchester, N.H. 03470; 603-239-4341;

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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