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Landers: Nordic skiing questions deserve well-waxed answers

Brian and Anne Grow leave the groomed trails behind to enjoy some old-style cross-country gliding on skier-made tracks at Mount Spokane. (Rich Landers)
Brian and Anne Grow leave the groomed trails behind to enjoy some old-style cross-country gliding on skier-made tracks at Mount Spokane. (Rich Landers)

“I’ve been considering getting back into cross-country skiing, and I have questions,” wrote The Spokesman-Review’s Paul Turner as he focused his column this week on The Slice of life that teeters on skinny skis.

Doubtless he’ll get the usual pile of insightful answers from his readers.

Meantime, here are some answers for Paul and others with a yen to make tracks this winter from the perspective of a former snowmobiler who was turned on to cross-country skiing in 1971. I was introduced to the sport by an African-American student and former member of the Bozeman High School nordic team while we were enrolled at the University of Montana.

“Even you can do this,” I remember him telling me with a huge laugh.

It was one of the best life-lessons I learned in college, leading me to decades of expertise to answer what Paul is pondering.

Q. How much should I expect to pay for halfway decent skis?

A. I still have my original wood skis, which I’ll sell for half off or by the piece.

Q. Will I be required to change my name to something that sounds Scandinavian? Any suggestions?

A. Italians win a lot of cross-country medals, too, so no need to risk getting invited to a lutefisk dinner. Call yourself The Godfather.

Q. When I owned a seldom-used pair of new cross-country skis in the 1970s, I needed something like a dozen different waxes – not to mention tar and a blow-torch. I never really knew what I was doing. Has it  become simpler?

A. God, we miss the simple days of the ’70s, when women swooned at the scent of pine tar regardless of the sparseness of your beard. Nowadays, waxing with fluoros requires a gas mask and other precautions associated with operating a meth lab, including criminal connections to finance the addiction. But I would expect that you, Paul, with your gift for language and ability to glide through life, could wax poetic with simple paraffin.

Q. Is there après-ski in the cross-country world?

A. The bota bag worked wonders for me, but today’s top nordies prefer to slurp a packet of GU in the intimate surroundings of their Subaru.

Q. Where is the best place to ski in the Spokane area?

A. Mount Spokane for groomed amenities, but the choices are much broader if you’re willing to rough it.

Q. Is it true that if you are not sweating like a draft horse you aren’t doing it right?

A. No one will notice either way.

Q. Do you have to buy special togs?

A. Got to love a sport that has equal affection for people wearing Lycra or wool.

Q. Is cross-country skiing an activity that relentlessly mocks those who are not whippet thin?

A. Shape is not a factor for social acceptance in nordic skiing, as long as you don’t trash the groomed tracks.

Q. What is the most common injury?

A. Nordic nipple.

Q. If you find yourself listening to a bird and admiring snow-flocked boughs, does it mean you are lost in the woods?

A. It means you’ve arrived.

Q. Do cross-country skiers take “natural breaks” like bike racers?

A. Nordic skiers are among the original “do it in the woodsers.”

Q. How long does it typically take to go from total novice to not embarrassingly bad?

A. If you can walk, you can cross-country ski. Beyond that, who cares unless you’re trying to win your age group in Langlauf?

Q. What does wildlife think of cross-country skiers?

A. The more prey, the better. Even moose enjoy the role of predators during cross-country ski season.

Q. Do you know how cross-country skiers in the Olympics collapse after the finish?

A. Most people who push their limits to the extreme never get up. Nordic skiers do.

Q. What prewinter training can one do to help prepare?

A. Volunteer to clear brush from trails at Mount Spokane.

Q. Are you required to carry a rifle?

A. No, but it helps to get your fair share from the bota bag.

Q. What’s the easiest way to spot an X-country snob?

A. Wear snowshoes.

Q. Can one learn about going uphill without sustaining a groin injury for the holidays?

A. Substitute herring bone for the wishbone at Thanksgiving.

Q. When following a member of the opposite sex on a trail, is there any way to avoid staring at that person’s butt for 40 minutes?

A. Why would you want to avoid that?

Q. Is there a secret handshake?

A. Nordies don’t shake hands, especially in klister conditions.

Q. Do skiers experience postsession euphoria?

A. Yes, especially if they outskied a moose.

Q. Are you required to congratulate yourself and other skiers for not being home on the couch?

A. No, but why wouldn’t you?

Q. Can a beginner reach a point fairly soon where he or she reaps workout benefits or does that require technical proficiency?

A. The benefits of cross-country skiing begin as soon as you step into the bindings. Despite centuries of trying to improve upon it, a more thorough and entertaining workout has yet to be invented.

Q. Colder the better, right?

A. Cross-country skiers have a colorful relationship with winter weather, all of which we relish to one degree or another. Cold is good, but there’s a definite comfort zone. Beyond green is mean. Blue spells “Yahoo!”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email