Anyone who has ever trudged any considerable distance through even marginally deep snow knows full well that traveling through a snow pack is hard work and not easily enjoyed—unless, that is, one is cross-country skiing.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]irst developed in prehistoric times as a way to travel efficiently across the vast, snowy frontiers of the Scandinavian Peninsula and surrounding areas, cross country skiing revolutionized winter transportation. By the 1850’s, the sport of cross country skiing was introduced to North America by Norwegian and Swedish immigrants. One of the most notable pioneers of the sport, the legendary Jackrabbit Johannsen, was an avid skier and advocate of cross country skiing who many attribute as being one of the first to introduce the sport to North America. Johannsen, who lived to be 111, reportedly still glided through the snowy woods on a daily basis well past the age of 100 and attributed his health to his love of skiing. It’s easy to see where he was coming from, as anyone who has ever trudged any considerable distance through marginally deep snow knows full-well that traveling through a snow pack is difficult and not easily enjoyed. Unless, that is, one has taken up the art of cross country skiing.
These days, the sport is undertaken more as a recreational activity than as a necessary means of travel. However, these two aspects are closely related and still bind the sport to its roots.
The difficulties that many hikers experience when attempting to hike to the snowy vistas and wind-swept summits of North Carolina’s highest peaks and balds during the midst of winter, the times when the snow drifts high across the trail and the cold wind whips across the open fields, are well-known and are often too daunting of a challenge for most hikers to surmount, leaving many to opt for indoor exercise.
But for avid hikers like Randy Johnson, the author of four adventure guidebooks about hiking and exploring the mountains of North Carolina, the sport of cross country skiing offers him a chance to get outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery of North Carolina’s highest peaks and ridges.
“For me, cross country skiing allows me to get into some of the most beautiful places around, places that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access,” Johnson said. “The total immersion you get in nature, particularly in the most spectacular winter locations, makes it just that much more enjoyable.”
According to Johnson, once you’ve mastered the various techniques of cross country skiing, the experience is pure joy. “If you’re one of those people who like hiking and you like physical exercise, cross country has that physical element, certainly, but there are also the other times that you’re going downhill, or you’re going across the flats and you’re striding and gliding, using different techniques, such as skating, and it becomes just a really rhythmic ski experience that’s very unique. It’s not like your typical downhill skiing experience, it’s much more diverse and all-encompassing, and that’s what I truly love about it.
“Cross country skiing is simply the best way to get out and explore the most spectacular places in the mountains of North Carolina,” he said. “People don’t realize how easy it is once you learn the technique. Not enough people appreciate just what kind of winter grandeur the Southern Appalachians have. Cross country skiing is the way to find it.”[quote float=”right”]“If we get an inch or two in town, then that’s usually enough snow to head up to the parkway,” Thompson said.[/quote] The popularity of Nordic skiing in Western North Carolina first began in the mid-1970’s according to Trent Thomas, owner of Black Dome Sports on Tunnel Road. Thomas recalls first taking an interest in Nordic skiing around that time when he would frequently travel to the Western United States as a gear salesman in the outdoor gear industry. After experiencing the joys of exploring the outdoors on skis in other locations, Thomas realized that Western North Carolina offered some great opportunities for skiing. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Thomas sold thousands of pairs of cross country skis and telemark skis through his outdoor gear shop and has been working to promote the sport as a fun winter activity ever since.
In the late ‘70s, when he first began skiing in Western North Carolina, Thomas said few people were skiing the high elevation areas despite winters that often provided months of excellent skiing possibilities at places such as Roan Mountain and areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since then, the sport has come a long way and winter days at Roan Mountain now bring skiers from all across the region looking to sample the excellent conditions and beautiful vistas that have made the area the most popular cross country skiing destination in the southeast.
“Cross country skiing is great because it gets you outside in a season when there just aren’t a whole lot of other people out there, so you can enjoy parts of our mountains where any other time of the year you are in a crowd,” Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s hard to convince people that skiing is even an option when it is 60 degrees and sunny in Asheville, but at places like Mount Mitchell and Roan Mountain, you’d be surprised at how good the conditions can be.”
Like Johnson and Thomas, Asheville resident John Thompson, who works at Black Dome as a manager, enjoys the solitude and exercise cross country skiing affords him when he is out on a snowy trail, blazing two tracks with his skis toward a wintry vista on one of his favorite mountains.
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