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Point your tips to the woods Cross-country skiing lets you have a planking good time on the flats By Chris Woodall It's Tuesday, 5:32 p.m. It's been snowing all afternoon, starting off as a blizzard lashed up with the last vestiges of the ultra-frosty temperatures Whistler's had for the previous three-four days. As the day aged it also warmed marginally and now continuous snow falls and falls. There's a bit of a wind even so, but at least the temperature that goes with this white mess is nearer to the zero mark than to the temperature where hell freezes over. I think I'll go skiing to clear my mind. It's pitch black out right now, but that doesn't matter. I'm not going down hill but cross-country skiing. That's the beauty thing about cross-country skiing: you can do it any time you like, as long as there's snow to glide on. Prep time is less. Completion time is less. A decent zoom around the golf course or a loop of trails can open the pores in much less time than cracking your butt down a series of mountain runs. No lift lines. No manoeuvring among crowds of slope-side nitwits who might cut you off or crash into you as they careen out of control down the pitch. Parents can take their babes or infants, sitting them in sleds that mom or dad tows along behind. Skiers can take their dogs, depending on what set of trails they use. You can ski at the crack of dawn, at lunch, or in the middle of the night, especially under a moon that casts its ghostly glow on field and stream while coyotes just over the next rise sing their songs of the millennia. And this being Whistler, where the urge to give it your all in any sport you're in seems to flourish, another beauty thing about cross-country skiing is the ability to go as hard or as softly through the woods as you please. There may even be a few friends to greet you as you glide silently by. "I saw a bobcat on the trail when skiing Vimy Ridge (in the Lost Lake area) about 4 p.m.," says Cheryl Morningstar. A coyote followed her on another excursion, maybe to talk politics or chat about what goes well with a freshly killed rabbit. "Cross-country skiing is a good outdoor activity for any ability," she says. "If you can walk, you can cross-country ski." Gliders can also get as much from the sport as they want. Unlike downhill skiing or snowboarding that can put the lower body through a punishing workout but leave the upper body relatively alone, cross-country skiing requires you get the legs a-pumping and the arms a-swinging. "You have to get fit to ski, but you cross-country ski to get fit," Morningstar says. "Because everyone's into so many sports, people in Whistler want a total body workout and this does it," Morningstar says. She is certainly one of the True Believers. A member of the Whistler Nordics Cross Country Ski Club, Morningstar was a manic downhiller until she became a mother. Her priorities changed to raising son Birken from raising hell on the slopes. "I didn't have enough time to commit three hours at a time to go down hill skiing, but I could put Birken on a glider and take him cross-country skiing," she explains. Now Birken is old enough for his own set of skis and it's infant Braden's turn on the glider. It's a family affair. The Lost Lake Loop's warming hut, for example, means mom or dad can take turns looking after the little ones while the other parent rockets around a few kilometres of groomed trails. Cross-country skiing is divided into two disciplines: "classic" and "free technique" (more popularly called "skating"). Classic cross-country skiing is the entry-level style. You can shuffle along, little more than walking on the skis, as you pole your way along tracked trails or across fields. As skiers gain experience and confidence, they develop the traditional kick and glide "tick-tock" movements that send them panting through the forests or over golf courses. "When everything's working, it's as fluid a motion as you can feel," Morningstar says. While classic skis sometimes have a fish scale "tread" to give the skier some anti-slip grip, the skate version of cross-country skis is shorter and narrower than classic skis and has a smooth bottom with one or two grooves along the length of the ski. Skate skiers do just that: they work the inside edge of the skis to skate a groomed trail in a similar manner as downhillers would use their edges to skate between lifts on their way up the mountain... except cross-country skaters rip along like that for kilometres at a time. It takes more skill to be a skater and there's more physical commitment to maintaining speed to be effective. You can ramble trails up and down hill with more control than with classic because of the ski's edges. Skate ski boots have more ankle support and a sole that sits into the ski binding better for turns. Classic isn't just for greenhorns, however. While skate skiing works fine on specially-groomed trails, one of the great things about cross-country skiing is just that: going cross country. Classic style rules for the individualist who wants to boundly go where no tracks have gone before. When the snow lies deep on the golf course or open field, there's nothing so fine as the feeling of jouncing on a springy mattress as you pole-kick-glide past frozen ponds, stilled brooks and iced rapids. "There's a very different mindset with cross-country skiing," Morningstar says. "It's more laid back. There's more time to enjoy your surroundings." But there's aspects of the sport to feed the urge to compete, too. Whistler's cross-country club's main focus every year is to organize the Chateau Whistler Cup: a cross-country ski loppet for all ages and skills. This year’s event — Sunday, Feb. 22 — is the sixth annual, although as a loppet it has been cooking for 21 years. Starting at the Chateau Whistler Golf Clubhouse, competitors scramble for 30 km of the Lost Lake system of trails. There are several age categories, including an adult recreational and child's "jackrabbit" group. The Cup is one of 14 loppets staged across B.C. "About a third of participants are skaters, with the rest being classic skiers," Morningstar says. Call Whistler Nordics Cross Country Ski Club at 932-3438 for details. More informally, there are Twoonie races held weekly. Open to everyone, the races are similar in theme to the popular Loonie bicycle races held in summer months. The next two are Jan. 28 in the evening and Feb. 1 in the afternoon. Call Trudy Jones at 932-6436 for more.

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