`LIKE WALKING WITH A GLIDE' CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING HAS ITS CHARMS.
MAMMOTH LAKES - There are a lot of reasons to try cross-country skiing: It's cheaper, less intimidating, less crowded and better exercise than downhill skiing.
``It's peaceful and doable,'' one student said at a beginning class at the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. Said another: ``The big mountain would be way too fast and crowded and scary.''
It's also a family sport - you can rent a sled and pull your toddler along. With more advanced gear you can ski the backcountry without a helicopter.
Nancy Fiddler, who skied on the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team and competed in the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics, teaches cross-country skiing at Tamarack.
``It's like walking with a glide,'' Fiddler said. ``I think people come partly because they're already hikers, or like being outside. ``Sometimes we get people who are afraid or don't like downhill skiing. They hear that cross-country skiing is like walking and say, `I can do that.' ''
More women than men cross-country ski, according to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association.
That seems to be true in this class - two men and five women are learning the basics of Nordic skiing, another term for cross-country skiing.
At one time all cross-country skis were waxed according to snow conditions. But most skis are now waxless, making the process simpler.
Instructor Terence Philippe explained that ``fish scales'' one-way indentations on the bottom of our skis help the skis grip going uphill. The free-heel binding allows feet to pivot. The skis are also much lighter than the downhill variety.
We're learning the diagonal stride, or classic technique. Its name comes from the alternate movement of arms and legs, the same movement used in walking.
As we start out, machine-set tracks keep our skis pointed in the right direction and help eliminate most of the balance problems that plague beginning skiers. Off-track skiers use the diagonal stride as well.
``Kick and glide, kick and glide'' is the mantra for cross-country skiers. After the basic forward stride, we learn to coordinate the use of arms and poles. A snowplow wedge serves to control speed going downhill. More advanced cross-country skiers learn to turn using stem Christie and parallel turns.
We're getting a good workout. Skiing at a moderate pace, a 175-pound person can burn 800 calories per hour. You can adjust your effort level to stay within your comfort zone. The cost of a day's cross-country skiing is pretty comfortable, too.
An all-day trail pass at Tamarack is $19 for adults, as opposed to $60 at Mammoth Mountain. Of course there are no lifts, so getting uphill requires individual effort.
Equipment costs are lower, too. A basic package of skis, boots and poles will set you back about $225, less than the cost of most downhill ski boots alone. Daily equipment rental at Tamarack costs $18.
Wearing the right clothing for cross-country skiing is important. Most beginners overdress. The heavy parkas and bibs that down-hillers use will soon have you sweating.
Cross-country skiers use tights and windbreakers, the same as for bicycling or jogging. The idea is to retain warmth while allowing perspiration to evaporate. Layer clothing to adjust heat loss to effort, terrain, temperature and wind speed.
Modern synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from the skin. Avoid cotton, which acts as a sponge and accelerates chilling.
Don't forget a hat, as you can lose a lot of heat from your head. A headband can keep ears warm without overheating on sunny days.
And beware the sun. It's easier to burn in the snow than at the beach. Sunglasses are vital, as snow blindness can cause permanent damage to corneas.
There are many other options and equipment for off-piste skiing. Off-piste doesn't mean you're angry, it's a term for skiing away from prepared slopes and lifts.
Skate skis are the sports cars of cross-country skiing. Shorter and more maneuverable, skate skiers can glide up a hill faster than classic skiers, at the expense of a much harder workout.
Backcountry touring skiers, who make their own trail, use wider skis, some with metal edges to provide more control.
Telemark skiers turn using a bent-knee technique that helps balance when skiing with a pack. They generally ski on heavier, metal-edged skis with cable bindings that also leave the heel free for climbing.
Ski mountaineers use metal edged skis similar to downhill skis with randonnee or Alpine touring bindings. Randonnee ski bindings have two modes: lock down, which mimics downhill ski bindings, and a free heel mode for flexibility when climbing uphill.
Fabric skins attached to the bottom of the skis provide grip on the snow. Originally made from sealskin, now they are made of a one-way nap nylon fiber that allows climbing traction and forward glide.
The skins are removed and the bindings locked down for the downhill run.
WHERE TO SKI
These Sierra cross-country ski areas are generally open from December through mid-April:
--Tamarack Cross Country Ski Area at Mammoth Lakes has 28 miles of groomed track. Trail pass required. Lessons and equipment rental. (760) 934-5293 or www.tamaracklodge.com.
--Badger Pass at Yosemite National Park has 25 miles of machine-groomed cross-country ski track and 90 miles of ungroomed marked trails. No trail fees. Lessons and rentals are available. (559) 252-4848 or www.BadgerPass.com. For 24-hour ski conditions, call (209) 372-1000; for road and weather information, call (209) 372-0200.
--Rock Creek Lodge, Mammoth Lakes, has nine miles of cross-country ski trails at Rock Creek Canyon, 24 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. (877) 935-4170 orwww.rockcreeklodge.com. A state SNO park pass ($5 daily or $25 annual) is required. Equipment rental, lessons, food and lodging are available. Ski in for dinner on moonlight nights.
--Southern California cross-country ski areas are open when snow conditions permit. Only Mt. Pinos has snow at this time.
--Mt. Pinos in Ventura County has 60 miles of ungroomed trails from 7,000-9,000 feet. This is pristine forest, so there is no lodge or rentals on the mountain, although equipment rentals are available at Frazier Ski and Pack in Frazier Park by calling (661) 245-3438. Call the U.S. Forest Service district office at (661) 245-3731 for road and trail information.
--At the top of the Palm Springs Tramway is a machine packed and marked cross-country ski trail. For information, call (888) 515-TRAM or visit pstramway.com.
--Rim Nordic Ski Area in the San Bernardino Mountains on the way to Big Bear Lake has 12 miles of groomed trail. Trail pass is $15 per day for adults. Rentals and lessons. For information, call (909) 867-2600 or visit www.rimnordic.com/Services.html.
4 photos, box
(1 -- 2 -- color) Kids manage to get a sled ride behind mom and dad as the parents pull the kids via cross-country skiing at the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center in Mammoth Lakes. Along the way, the whole family can enjoy some bird-watching (inset).
(3 -- color) Nordic ski instructor Terence Philippe shows students how to get up after a fall.
(4) Several cross-country skiing classes, like the one in which these students are participating, are available at Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center in Mammoth Lakes.
Bill Becher/Special to the Daily News
WHERE TO SKI (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Feb 20, 2003|
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