I've enjoyed a little downhill skiing. Like most Silent Sports readers, I really enjoy Nordic skiing. But for decades I never thought to put the two together. I tended to put downhill in the "non-silent" category of thrill sports.
Now I fondly remember the first time I "earned my turns" here in downstate Michigan.
A friend called me a few times as I was getting ready to go to work, saying, "Hey, we just got some great powder. Can you get away this morning? We have to hit it now before the sun warms it up. If you don't have gear I can find you some."
I thought he was a little crazy. I already enjoyed skiing as much as I thought I could. But I couldn't just drop work at a moment's notice to ski in the backwoods when, during lunch, I could hit a local trail and stride around in bliss. The new powder in the tracks would be skied-in by then and be nice and fast.
Well, he'd had good ideas before. So one morning when he called I said, "What the heck. I'll go!" He told me to hurry. I was told to meet him and some pals at a secret spot a mile in the woods and that I'd find all the ski gear I needed in the back of his truck at the trailhead. I followed his directions and trudged in with his heavy gear. When I found the dudes at the hangout at the top of the slopes, they were already covered in snow and grinning.
I dropped my pack and glided with them to the brink and plunged into a world of skiing that I thought only existed in movies and on postcards of Colorado. I'd done some telemark skiing and skied powder a couple times, so I relaxed into this wonderfully misplaced skiing. It was heaven. All it took was 10 inches of fresh snow on a base of old snow. We regrouped at the bottom hooting and hollering, then skied up the valley, then up a few switchbacks to the top again and skied some more. I noticed beers strategically placed in the snow at the top of the climb.
After an hour of exhilaration on the descents and exertion on the return climbs, we took a break. My host pulled out of his pack a still hot crockpot of venison stew and passed it around. Oh yeah. I learned then how the guys liked to come out in the fall and toss aside the deadfall to clear their lines in preparation for days like this. I knew how I liked my own autumn days taking care of local trails.
As the sun swung onto us and slowed our turns a bit, I followed the gang as they set a new track up a slope on the opposite side of the valley. It was still in the shade, so we kept on skiing still perfect powder that held in reserve.
The uphill skiing wasn't as different from usual Nordic striding. I could use good, relaxed form. When we herringboned, it was also at an easy pace. We chugged up in unison, getting a little glide in our strides, chatting, laughing and picking new lines to run.
Within a couple minutes, we were at the top, ready for more. Uphill and downhill were both restful and dynamic in their own ways. I was able to relax and bounce down the fall lines thanks to the amazing skis I was using - wider, softer and shorter than any I'd used before. I watched one of the guys ski down the trunks of fallen trees, like we were in a terrain park. I watched another do beautiful free-heel telellel turns through trees so close together.
We put those snow beers to good use. And I got home just after lunch. The skiing was free, nearby and with friends. I was totally won over. I'd just had a whole new dimension added to my winter world.
Trail skiing goes through territory, while turn skiing covers the territory. Such perfect snowfalls arrive downstate here only on a few special mornings, but often enough. Their scarcity amplifies the specialness.
Hopefully you can see how a Nordic skier could enjoy getting out in the woods for some free-spirited free heeling. And how the up'n'down of "earning your turns" might make sense for silent sports enthusiasts. If you're inclined toward downhill turning, and you'd like to experience more of the woods, and you already enjoy uphill Nordic skiing, you're almost there.
Read Jeff Potter's entire story about Midwest backcountry telemark skiing in the November 2012 issue of Silent Sports. To order back issues, call 715/369-3331. Don't miss a future issue. Subscribe online here.