Snow Guide: The Other Skiing Sport
By Julie Kailus
Boulder is a good place to be for a lot of sports, but cross-country ski racing isn’t the one that usually comes to mind. However, with the Front Range’s only Nordic center and race series right up the hill at Eldora; the knowledgeable staff and well-stocked Boulder Nordic Sport store; the dedicated Boulder Nordic Club, advocating for the sport and offering training and discounts for members; and the growing Boulder Nordic Junior Racing Team, led by Boulder Center for Sports Medicine guru Adam St. Pierre—well, you might want to think again.
Cross-country ski racing comes in two forms. Classic cross-country relies on a more parallel stance to propel the skis in grooved tracks, while skate skiing requires a wider stance and weight-shifting lateral dance. Both are incredible endurance workouts and translate well for runners, hikers and mountain bikers.
It’s also a sport for all ages. “Downhill ski racing isn’t a family sport,” says St. Pierre—Mom and Dad stand at gate 6 and watch Johnny zoom by. In cross-country, kids and adults can train together, travel together and even race together in different divisions.
To get race ready, you have to start with gear. Unfortunately, “skate and classic have important differences,” says St. Pierre. “They make combi skis, but they’re not that good at either, and kids don’t have fun if skis don’t work.” You can spend upwards of $2,000 for the latest lightweight-carbon racing equipment, or you can get a solid setup with skis, poles and boots for under $1,000—or rent for a trial season. One place not to skimp is boots, says Boulder Nordic Sport manager David Chamberlain, a former elite-level cross-country racer. If they don’t fit right, racing is going to be frustrating. A snug fit is crucial and thin socks work best.
The second key is technique. Local cross-country racer and massage therapist Chris Grauch, owner of Boulder Deep Tissue, says one thing he underestimated was the upper-body effort required in classic races. “Coming from the leg-only sport of running, I was completely shocked at how much power came from the shoulders. The folks that I worked so hard to pass on the uphills came blazing by me on the flats,” he says. “Besides any cardiovascular-heavy training, I think my most helpful cross-training comes from swimming to gain upper-body strength.”
Unintimidating places to start training are Grand County’s Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Snow Mountain Ranch. “Both offer a wide variety of terrain, including plenty of flat and mildly rolling areas nice for learning and developing good technique,” Grauch says. A simple way to get a taste for the race is at Eldora’s six-week Wednesday-evening Nighthawks series.
St. Pierre notes that Eldora can be tough trekking, so come prepared for difficult terrain. His junior team trains there weekly, which makes racing in West Yellowstone or Stowe or even Steamboat a cinch. “We get really good at going uphill, and then everything else feels easy.”
Still, cross-country is not an activity for the weak. Ultimately the best thing about the sport—for newcomers and experts—is that hard work pays off, according to St. Pierre. “You get out of it what you put in.”
Snowboarder Julie Kailus has been writing about the ski industry for 15 years.
Ice Climbing Spots
By Chris Weidner
Boulder County is world-renowned for its variety of climbing throughout the year: bouldering, sport and trad climbing, multipitch, alpine, and even ice. The latter tends to be finicky, as midwinter’s cold, dry air can quickly evaporate the ice that formed during warmer melt/freeze cycles.
Even so, with some research, a flexible schedule and a little luck, avid ice enthusiasts will find plenty of local ice to sink their tools into this winter. Here are a few areas and climbs to check out:
Castle Rock, Lower and Upper Falls (WI2-WI6/M8)
Vampire Rock/Black Widow Slab (WI4-WI6/M5)
The Silk Road (WI3/M5),
First Flatiron (by far the most reliable winter route in the Flatirons) many ephemeral lines form sporadically. You have to jump on them quickly before they melt or evaporate.
Hessie Chimney, 2 pitches (WI4 M5)
For current ice conditions check out Eli Helmuth’s website www.climbinglife.com, or www.mountainproject.com.
By Emma Polachek
The first sight of snow may have you dreaming of the slopes, but a ski trip isn’t always in the cards. If you’re feeling cooped up and just need to play in the snow, grab your family, your friends, and your sleds, tubes and saucers, and head to any of these sledding locations in Boulder. Please note: Two of them are in school playgrounds, so don’t go there on school days.
Tantra Park in south Boulder. Take Broadway to Hanover, the street one stoplight south of Table Mesa. Head east on Hanover, then immediately south on Lashley. Take a left on Brookfield, follow it to the bottom of the hill, and park near the playground.
Scott Carpenter Park at the corner of Arapahoe and 30th Street. Best for small children.
Casey Middle School. The sled hill starts above the playing field at the corner of 13th and North streets. Only 25 feet high, it’s still the steepest sled hill in town.
Foothills Community Park is quite large, but the best sledding is near Sixth Street and Locust Avenue. The hill has two sleddable slopes and a small “top.”
Harlow Platts Park at 1380 Gillaspie Drive.
Meadow Glen Park at Pennsylvania Avenue, east of 55th Street.
Foothills Elementary School, 1001 Hawthorn Ave. Never a crowd.