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All the snow at once

A snowy field with trees on the outskirts
Ralph Gardner Jr.

Everything Everywhere All At Once isn’t just this year’s big winner at the Academy Awards. It’s also an apt description for the snow dump we received early this week. Not all that long ago I thought the winter would end without a single backdoor cross-country ski outing, one of my preferred forms of exercise; these days as rare as a total solar eclipse.

But after we received a few precious inches of white powder one night at the start of the month I rushed to rouse my skis, boots and poles from a deep sleep and make tracks through our woods before the snow melted completely.

After the foot or so of the white stuff we got on Monday and Tuesday I’m ready to hit the woods again. Not literally, of course. Though I have been giving serious thought to investing in a helmet. If helmets are now considered essential pieces of safety equipment for downhill skiers why should cross-country be any different?

The risks of an unplanned encounter with an oak or maple are probably even greater than they would be on the wide-open intermediate slopes I favor when I attempt the sport of downhill skiing. One reason is that you expect to gain speed traveling down a steep mountain.

Speed is a rare and precious commodity when performing Nordic skiing. When the opportunity arises, at least in our neck of the woods, it usually requires you to thread the needle between two or more large, sturdy trees. But even if I bought a helmet – I rent one on the rare occasions when I go downhill – how much added protection would it really provide?

A lightweight helmet that incorporates futuristic materials for breathability and maximized impact protection combined with an audio system – if it sounds like I’m cribbing from an outdoor retailer’s website that’s because I am – may help prevent catastrophic brain injury. But what about all the other body parts that become unintentionally involved when you wrap yourself around a tree?

But why dwell on the negative when I should be so lucky to travel faster than I typically walk. Cross-country is called skiing but it isn’t really. It’s more like hiking with planks attached to your feet. Which raises the logical question: why bother? Wouldn’t I be just as happy and probably a lot safer putting on a pair of duck boots and going for a walk in the woods?

I’m going to avoid that question mostly because I recently spent a few hundred bucks on new cross-country skis, boots and poles. My old ones dated from college and needed to be waxed every time I used them. They’d come to resemble the vintage artifacts that lend color and authenticity when used as décor at ski lodges; along with mounted moose heads and bear rugs.

When interior decorators start eying your ski equipment for its old-time charm that’s probably a sign that it’s time to upgrade. My new skis don’t need to be waxed. My lightweight aluminum Rossignol poles are adjustable. And hubris even prompted me to buy those backcountry skis with edges, as if I’m going to execute short, snappy parallel turns around those aforementioned massive perennial plants typically ornamented by branches; though at this time of year blessedly missing their characteristic leaves.

I know it’s wrong to engage in such calculations, but at my current rate of usage each outing is costing me around a hundred bucks. I plan to further amortize the equipment a couple more times before the snow melts. I’m confident that when this column airs it will already have melted. Hopefully all those who lost power will also have it restored.

I don’t keep tabs but in recent years it feels as if we’re lucky to get skiable snow twice a season. Perhaps slightly more if you’re willing to travel. We’re in the Hudson Valley, though what part of the Hudson Valley is hard to say. I know where our property is located and where we pay taxes. But when I listen to the weather report I don’t know whether it applies to me or not. I know I’m not in the Adirondacks, the Litchfield Hills, the Mohawk Valley or the Helderbergs, wherever those are. But is Columbia County the mid or Upper Hudson Valley or even the Albany area?

Wherever we are we don’t get nearly as much snow as the Catskills or the Berkshires, let alone as much as we once did. But the beauty of cross-country is that you can be flexible. It doesn’t require packing up the Prius or SUV, expensive lodging and abominably priced lift tickets. It also makes you feel virtuous in a way downhill skiing doesn’t.

I love downhill. But if you think about it downhill may the silliest and most self-indulgent sport of all time. You take a long lift ride up an otherwise innocent mountain through which forests have been razed to create trails just so you can bomb down it and feel cool.

Cross-country, on the other hand, inflicts little if any harm on the environment. It’s good exercise. And it allows you to commune with nature without fearing that some fourteen-year-old hotshot snowboarder sees you as a stand-in for a race flag while performing his or her best Mikaela Shriffrin imitation. And when you pause during a cross-country outing to catch your breath and pluck a restorative mandarin orange from your pocket it feels good simply to be alive. Here’s to more blizzards.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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