Ken and Sirkka Harstad grew up learning to love cross-country skiing, and started the Buffalo Nordic Ski Club in 1982 – during the height of the sport’s popularity in this country.
The couple, Buffalo immigrants from Norway and Finland, respectively, set up a sign-up sheet on a clipboard at the Parkside Lodge in Delaware Park and the club grew from there. It’s membership has fluctuated from 100 to 200 members, often based on how much snow fell on Western New York the previous winter.
James Klein hopes for big numbers next winter – and would be happy to see some during the tail end of this snow season, which has left a deeper blanket of his favorite precipitation than in most recent years.
“Before this year, I was afraid that one of these years I was going to be arrested for fraud, for running a ski club when there’s no snow,” said Klein, a printing estimator and part-time photographer whose Buffalography booth is a mainstay at the Allentown Art Festival each June.
Klein has been club president for more than 20 years. This year, membership hovers at about 100 folks ranging in age from their 20s into their 80s; some join as a family.
“They want to join something that’s not all that expensive and will help keep ‘em in shape,” Klein said.
Individual membership costs $15 a person; it costs $30 for a family of two or more. Membership includes lessons and participation in weekend ski outings, as well as an invitation to an annual dinner and access to three or four overnight cross-country tours, often at group rates. Club members also receive a $2 discount on trail fees at Byrncliff Resort in Varysburg, considered among the top places in the region to cross-country ski.
“One of the advantages of joining our club is that we have a whole schedule of activities and you tend to go a lot more places because they’ve all been scheduled for you,” Klein said. “All you have to do is meet at our car pool site (at 8:45 a.m. weekends), at Union Road and Main Street in Williamsville, and away you go. People who live closer to where we’re going can meet us at the location.”
The group plans a trip today to Sprague Brook Park, on Sunday to Hunters Creek Park and next weekend to Chestnut Ridge and Emery parks.
Extended trips this winter included weekend visits to Lake Placid, Allegany State Park, and Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario.
Most club members are classic-style “in the tracks” skiers, Klein said, as opposed to freestylers.
“That’s a different discipline, it’s different equipment,” he said. “You have to be in great shape to be a ‘skater.’ I know how to skate, but I’ll do it for maybe 100 yards and then get back in the tracks where I belong.”
Both styles are represented in the Olympics.
If you’re thinking about cross-country skiing, “this is a good year to try it,” Klein said. “If you don’t feel up to cross-country skiing, you can try snow shoeing. That’s still a good activity where you’re walking with ski poles, so you get a bit more of an aerobic workout with your arms.”
Those looking for more information on the club can visit buffalonordic.org. The website has a list of nearly 75 trail locations across the state, several of which have web links, along with other valuable information.
Other places to go online for trail maps and more sites in a wider area include Trails.com and crosscountryskinewyork.com.
All will help give you a chance to experience what Klein has done on many recent weekends.
“A gorgeous, sunny winter day. I live for that,” he said. “It’s just so beautiful.”