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Gliding through the snow

Cross-country skiing is fun and healthy


By Matt “It’s MillerTime” Miller

Last week the state of Iowa was dumped with an average of 10.4 inches of snow. And while the winter weather has already created headaches for some, cross-country skiing enthusiasts are getting the last laugh. As the white stuff piles up, it’s creating a winter wonderland of opportunities.

“We’re off to a good start with last week’s blizzard,” said Tom Wilton, an official with the Lakeside Nordic Ski Club in Polk City. “There’s a good base on the trail right now with two to six inches of snow packed down. I heard it’s not going to be an ‘El Nino’ type of winter, which isn’t great for snow, but I’m going to be optimistic.”

While cross-country skiing is widely popular in Northern Europe, Canada, Alaska and the upper Midwest states, Iowa has a number of ski trails, too. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa has 49 cross-country ski trails covering 569.5 miles. The longest trail (68 miles) is in Stephen’s Forest in south-central Iowa. Brushy Creek, near Fort Dodge, covers 50 miles, while the Yellow River Forest, located in northeast Iowa, has a skiing trail of 45 miles.

With five miles of groomed trails, Wilton says users of the Big Creek Ski Trail use the classic or skate styles of skiing. Classic style is often used on prepared trails that have pairs of parallel groves cut into the snow. Skate skiing involves the skier pushing one ski outwardly angled so the inner edge of the ski is driven against the snow, similar to ice-skating.

“Big Creek offers both classic and skating techniques,” said Wilton, who also grooms the trail. “As long as there is about three or more inches of snow, trails are easy to make. Trails can usually be made in any type of snow, but in order to make a class track, about five inches of snow is needed.”

Today, there are a number of cross-country skiing competitions that draw national and international attention. The American Birkebeiner, approximately 32 miles, is one of the longest cross-country ski races in North America. This year’s event, which runs from Cable to Hayward, Wisc., will draw approximately 10,000 skiers. The 44th Annual Canadian Ski Marathon, 99 miles long, takes place Feb. 13-14, 2010, and runs from Lachute to Gatineau, Quebec. Approximately 2,000 skiers are expected to participate. This year’s Iowa Winter Games in Dubuque (Jan. 29-31, 2010) offer cross-country skiing competitions with races of 3.1 to 6.2 miles.

“Occasionally we have social events with skiing and refreshments,” said Wilton, of the Lakeside Nordic Ski Club. “We’re looking into having some fun races in the near future.”

As skiers glide through the snow enjoying the winter scenery, they also benefit from the workout. According to the Cross County Ski Areas Association, cross-country skiing offers a low-risk, low-impact aerobic form of exercise, and it burns more calories per hour than any other sport. Numerous medical professionals advocate it as the best cardiovascular fitness activity.

“I don’t think a workout can get much better than cross-country skiing,” said Emily Schaapveld, a Des Moines native who has been skiing for two years. “When it’s 15 to 20 degrees out, you really heat up fast on the trail. It’s a workout for the whole body.”

Wilton agrees.

“Skiing is excellent for the upper body, and it really works your core, too,” he said. “It’s not a jarring type of workout that puts pressure on your joints.”

With more snow in the coming weeks and months, Schappveld says the hobby and sport will continue to attract those seeking adventure.

“Iowa winters can be boring, but cross-country skiing has caught Iowans’ attention,” Schappveld said. CV


Caption: The Big Creek Ski Trail in Polk City opened for the 2009-10 season last week.

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