By Scott Scanlon
With the winter we’ve had in Western New York, it seems hard to imagine spring will arrive in little more than a month.
Those of you who have been swept up this week in the Winter Olympics – and want to savor the season a bit before thoughts of golf, tennis and summer road races overtake your brain – can still do something outdoors during the next few weeks that will get you primed for all of those activities, and more.
It’s easy, and reasonably inexpensive, while the snow still flies to get outside, strap on a pair of skis and hit one of the many cross-country trails that snake through our region.
“Why hate winter when you can learn to enjoy it?” said James Klein, president of the Buffalo Nordic Ski Club.
“What’s nice about this sport is that you can go as slow or as fast as you want,” said Klein, 57, of Eggertsville, who took up the sport after the Blizzard of ’77. “It’s an excellent fitness sport. Instead of just walking, you’re using your arms, so it’s a full-body workout. You burn a lot more calories.”
The club boasts more than 100 members, many of whom get together at various sites on weekends and helped Klein gather online resources at buffalonordic.org for those looking to be best prepared for this type of recreational sport. Klein also gives lessons on Sunday mornings in Delaware Park.
This has been a winter of content for Klein and his skiing kin: Conditions have been pristine far more often than during recent Buffalo winters, and when they’re not on the slopes during the next several days, club members also can get a fix of the sport by watching the Winter Olympics. Nordic skiers Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins, two U.S. women, had a chance at a medal early this morning in the 4x5K relay and have another chance Wednesday in the team sprint.
If the competition in Sochi has inspired you to cross-country ski, here are some tips Klein shared:
1. Try it first: At 10 a.m. Sunday, when there’s snow, you can meet Klein at the Rose Garden at Delaware Park for a free cross-country ski lesson. Byrncliff Resort, in Varysburg, also teaches lessons, for a fee.
“The advantage of cross-country is the equipment does not cost a fortune,” Klein said, “but it still costs at least $250 to $275 for skis, boots, poles and bindings. The advantage of renting equipment is to test it out for $20 or so. A lot of the ski shops will allow you to credit that rental fee against a purchase.” Eastern Mountain Sports in Amherst, Campus Wheel Works in Buffalo and Byrncliff rent skis.
2. Dress properly: “What’s nice about cross-country is you generate a lot of heat, so you don’t have to bundle up with a lot of clothing,” Klein said. It’s important to dress in layers. Don’t use cotton as the base layer – it’s likely to get wet, stay wet and freeze – but instead wear polypropylene clothing, or its equivalent. Add to that wool, polypro or fleece shirts or sweaters, and breathable, waterproof pants and a jacket capable of withstanding wind. Wool or synthetic socks, hats and gloves also are best. “That keeps you warm and dry,” Klein said. Cotton, flannel, silk and down are generally no-nos.
3. Bring the right gear: “Energy and body heat can be retained by eating and drinking snacks brought onto a trail,” Klein said. Other items for a day ski trip include a day pack made for hiking or skiing; water, stored not to freeze; a cellphone, compass or GPS; sunscreen and sunglasses; extra clothes, hats and mittens; and a flashlight and first aid kit.
4. Use good etiquette: Ski in a way you can avoid other skiers and help beginners embrace the sport, Klein said. If you stop to snap photos or take a break, step off the trail. Don’t walk in the trail tracks. Stay right if there’s an oncoming skier. Let fellow skiers know on which side you are passing by calling out “track right” or “track left” before you’re directly behind them. Respect trail markings and private property. Leave no trace; if you carry it in, carry it out.
5. Know all your options: There literally are hundreds of open spaces to go, but the best are those used by other skiers who’ve already blazed a well-worn trail that can make your experience faster, smoother and more enjoyable. See Klein’s top 10 local sites on the map on this page.
On the Web: See video of Klein in Delaware Park at video.buffalonews.com