Coaches Corner with Christine Fletcher
Embracing Winter through Nordic Skiing
By Christine Fletcher, Professional Triathlete and B78 Coach
As endurance athletes specializing in a multitude of activities best suited for warmer climates and sunny skies, the winter months can be some of the most challenging to endure. In order to survive the cooler temperatures and wet pavement we need more gear, moisture wicking layers and discipline to relentlessly clean our bikes. While the process of “winter riding” can be therapeutic and highly rewarding, some you may be looking to experience winter for all it has to offer. Rest assured there are many winter activities to boost your heart rate and recruit the same muscle groups used in swim, bike and run.
Despite dark cool mornings and precarious footing, Winter is still a terrific season to be consistent in the pool and head out for purposeful runs. Cycling, however, can sometimes take a back seat in favor of activities such as Skate Skiing, Snowshoeing and if time, resources and accessibility permits, Backcountry Skiing.
Skate Skiing has been my sport of choice for the past number of years. Once I invested in quality gear (good boots are essential) and learned my way around the local Nordic Trail Systems, it made it easy to pack up the car and hit the mountains a few times a week. From observation, and as most great sports do, Skate Skiing has been quickly drawing in many triathletes, cyclists and runners who live in four season climate zones.
Nordic Skiing is the umbrella term for both Skate and Classic styles of cross country skiing. Classic Skiing is done in “tracks” and keeps your legs and arms moving in a forward and backward plane. Skate Skiing is similar to ice skating but with poles and is done in the middle of the trail where “corduroy” groomed snow is best. Classic Skiing is far more cerebral where sound technique is critical for enjoyment and improvement. Classic also requires more attention to snow conditions such that the ideal wax is applied to the ski to prevent slippage and tremendous frustration. Skate technique also calls for efficient movement and appropriate wax but can still be enjoyable by the “somewhat” fit to “very” fit athlete. Better yet, your day won’t be ruined if you don’t have the ideal wax on for the snow conditions, you just may not keep up with your buddies. The learning curve for Skate Skiing is steep especially with regular practice and a few competent skiers to follow and mimic.
Whichever activity you choose, Nordic Skiing is highly aerobic, higher than running in fact, and works the entire body from arms, back, core, gluts, hamstrings, quads and calves. It transfers brilliantly to any endurance sports and makes hill climbing on a bike or on foot seem easy. Unless you can ski on a completely flat trail (impossible to find in British Columbia), it does not offer an “easy” button option. Try as you might to go for an “easy” Skate Ski considerable effort is inevitably required for most Nordic terrain. However, what goes up must come down so after a major hill climb you are sure to be rewarded with a fun and fast decent.
Winter is quickly becoming my favorite season thanks to my Nordic adventures and a close group of friends that also enjoy the awesome trails in the Callaghan Country (Whistler Olympic Park), Cypress Mountain (North Shore) and Lost Lake (Whistler). Most of my ski outings are between 90 minutes to 3+ hours. When feeling creative, I can manage to circle the trail system without ever re-tracing my original route. When possible, I aim to be one of the first skiers on the trails to christen the freshly groomed snow and connect with the environment. The best conditions are minus 5 with a crispy feel to the snow under foot. If your skis are waxed and you’re dressed appropriately, there is only one option…a heart pumping fitness building magical day.
For the competitive souls out there, Nordic Skiing offers a host of races (aka: Loppets) to choose from. Most races offer a 15km, 30km and 50km option with the 30km being the most popular distance. Both classic and skate techniques are usually offered as options and the start is very similar to a swim start…mass, chaotic and body parts flying everywhere. Appropriate seeding and a strong “kick” are helpful in order to get to the front and find your own snow.
If you have not yet tried Nordic Skiing, I encourage you to give it a glide. It will humble you at first but with perseverance and maybe a lesson, you’ll grasp it quickly and yearn for more. Maybe you’ll even sign up for a Winter Triathlon (Mountain Biking, Skate Skiing & Running)!
See you on the slopes.