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May 21, 2022

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New year, new gear: a primer on cross-country skiing

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Snow falls on cross-country skiers at Virginia Meissner Sno-park.
Snow falls on cross-country skiers at Virginia Meissner Sno-park. (Ryan Brennecke/Bend Bulletin/TNS) Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. — If you’re interested in giving cross-country skiing a try, there’s no reason to be intimidated.

“It’s fairly simple. It’s like walking,” Todd McGee said. “Except for when you start going downhill, then it gets tricky.”

McGee has owned Bend’s Powder House Ski & Snowboard for over 20 years in partnership with his wife, Shanda McGee. Over the years, he’s seen a thing or two, and recommends that if you’re just learning, consider taking a lesson or finding a friend who can offer a few tips.

Dan McGarigle, owner of Bend’s Pine Mountain Sports, agrees.

“While it doesn’t take a lot of technique, you want to start off with good technique,” he said.

For a successful introduction into the world of cross-country skiing, here’s where to start:

Plan to purchase a sno-park pass

Central Oregon’s vast network of sno-parks offers an impressive number of trails, as well as resources. But in order to enjoy one of the sno-parks, you must first purchase a sno-park permit. You can choose from a single-day ($4), three-day permit ($9) or an annual pass ($25). The permits are not sold at the sno-parks, and must be purchased at a sporting goods store such as Pine Mountain Sports or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Decide what type of skiing you want to try

When it comes to nordic skiing, there are three main styles: classic, backcountry and skate-skiing. Classic cross-country skis have no edges and are intended for skiing within man-made tracks. Backcountry skis tend to be a little wider and can have either a full or partial metal edge. And finally, there’s skate skiing, which is heavily focused on both speed and technique.

Introductory nordic lessons are offered at Mt. Bachelor for beginners, intermediate skiers and skate skiers, and in regard to skate-skiing, McGee said, “you definitely need to take lessons, for sure.”

If you’re not sure where to start, consider where you’d ultimately prefer to be skiing. While backcountry skis are a little heavier and add more drag, McGarigle notes that many customers prefer the versatility of backcountry touring.

Before jumping into a big purchase, consider renting gear. Powder House offers both daily and season rentals.

Prepare accordingly

McGee said the biggest mistake newcomers to the sport tend to make is failing to dress appropriately. Since cross-country skiing is such a physical sport, you’ll quickly go from sweating to freezing, depending on how much you’re exerting yourself.

“You might be chilly when you first start off, but you start working up a sweat. It’s a good workout. You want to peel, and then when you stop for lunch, you want to be able to put that clothing back on,” McGee said, emphasizing the importance of keeping warm, but being able to keep cool at the same time.

Consider the weather

If you’re waiting for the perfect bluebird day with fresh snow, chances are you may miss your opportunity.

“We probably only get four to seven of those days a year,” McGarigle said.

Generally, if it’s a cold day with fresh snow and groomed trails, that’s the perfect time to go out. Central Oregon tends to get a lot of weather, or it will be sunny without a lot of fresh snow, so don’t pass up a perfectly good opportunity to get outside on skis.

Choose your destination

If you opt for backcountry skis, there are few limits on where you can go. If there’s enough snow, you could strap on your skis right outside of your front door.

Virginia Meissner Sno-park is a favorite among locals for groomed trails. But if you are interested in venturing into ungroomed territory, here was one last secret McGarigle was willing to share.

“I love going up to Skyliners (Sno-park) at the end of Skyliner road out toward Tumalo Falls,” he said, “You avoid a lot of the traffic and issues that come with Century Drive.”

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