It’s not every day you get the opportunity to be trained by an Olympic standard coach. I just hoped Alex Standen, a former GB skier and currently team coach, had got over the disappointment of just missing out on going to PyeongChang to help the British team and instead having to watch me struggle my way around a short course in Scotland.
The coach from Huntly Nordic Ski Club – which has produced three of the four GB Olympic cross-country skiers – was on hand to help at the Lecht Winter Games at the weekend, where the club was hosting a series of “come and try” events for those keen to get to grips, if that is the right word, with cross-country skiing.
After my rather pathetic attempt at the pursuit a few weeks ago, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get some tips and see if I could find some technique to improve upon!
It was the perfect day up at the Lecht 2090 ski centre, with bright skies and fresh snow turning these Cairngorm hills into a glorious winter playground. The Olympics was being streamed via a huge outdoor television screen, while other events included a display of aerial jumps onto the airbag from GB Park & Pipe, the country’s best slopestyle skiers and snowboarders.
I preferred to keep my skis on the ground, so I signed up for the lessons on first classic and then skate skiing. When the first exercise was “how to put your skis on” I knew I’d joined at the right level for me!
A short course had been set up near the car park, so once we were all strapped into our skis, we headed for the start line. This was no Olympic race, though, as another GB team member Brodie Murray introduced us to the basics of the sport.
“How do you stop?” one person tentatively asked. Essentially, fall over if all else fails seemed to be the answer!
The beauty of cross-country skiing seems to be, partly at least, that you can work a lot of it out for yourself. You’re not flying down steep mountain-sides wondering how to stop but meandering along snow-covered trails where hitting the deck should mean little more than bruised pride.
It is this concept of travelling through the landscape that attracts me to cross-country and touring skiing, rather than taking the lift up to ski back down (though I can understand the attraction of this, too).
GB team coach Alex agrees it is an accessible form of skiing, and one that isn’t that expensive to get into either, with second-hand kit readily available and no lift passes to splash out on.
After a few laps and a bit of advice from Brodie, I start to feel like I am getting the hang of the basics, controlling the speed on the downhills with the snowplough, working out when to use the V-shape for climbing the steeper slopes and even managing to turn corners without ending up on my backside.
Just as I start to feel vaguely at home on my classic skis, it’s time to change onto the skate skis, which, as I quickly discover, are an altogether different beast. Whereas the classics provide some grip when going uphill, the skate skis are like, well, skates. So if you don’t get it right, gravity wins!
Alex shows our new group how to get moving on the skates, using the V-shape and switching our weight from side to side. He then introduces the poles and we try to use them to push us off as we use the “GPS” system – glide, pole, step. He makes it sound – and look – easy but I struggle to juggle the skills needed for this specialist skill.
We managed to make it round the course a few times, though, and the downhills gave me a chance to practise my new-found skills again, albeit now with tired legs.
After a few hours on the course, the fun was summed up by a nine-year-old boy in the skate skiing group who, to the amazement of his mother, proclaimed: “This is better than playing on my iPad.”
Now that is like winning gold for any parent!
If you want to give cross-country skiing a try, there are plenty of ways to get into it. Here are just a few of them:
* Visit Huntly Nordic and Outdoor Centre for year-round skiing and roller-skiing (hnoc.nordicski.org.uk)
* Try cross-country skiing on the Clashindarroch Forest Trails, for all levels from beginner to advanced (scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/clashindarroch)
* Hire equipment at Glenmore Ski Shop (01479 861257), opposite the visitor centre near Aviemore, and experience the many trails around the area
* Take on a Nordic skiing class at the Slochd or hire equipment (www.slochd.co.uk/nordic.html)
* Go on a ski touring course with Glenmore Lodge (www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/ski-touring-courses)