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Find nature on cross-country skis Bristol Mountain's Nordic Center offers Zen-tinged fun, exercise

CANANDAIGUA -- A wise Zen Norwegian once said, "When the going gets cold, the cold don a Nordic sweater and head out into the wilderness to face their fear."

Well, not really, but on a recent 13-degree Saturday, there I was in the middle of the woods, layered in winter clothing, overheating and absolutely drenched following a romp around the "blue" trail of Bristol Mountain's Nordic cross-country area.

The Finger Lakes are just fabulous in winter and offer ideal One-Tank Trip opportunities like cross-country skiing. Even a total klutz like me in relatively good health can enjoy this activity that gets the juices flowing and comes without the terror of its downhill counterpart.

The Sig Other and I decided to take advantage of Bristol Mountain's cross-country special at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For $35 per person, we got equipment (skis, poles, shoes), an all-day trail pass, and a lesson with the darling Angie Cannon, who believes in the "environmental and Zen aspect of the sport" rather than a high-power athletic point of view.

Our first order of business was equipment. Cannon explained the two types of skis Bristol rents -- classic cross-country and "skate" skis, which are thinner, faster and require a different movement.

As beginners, Cannon equipped us "old school" with the wider classic skis. Arms raised, she measured us for skis (tips to wrist) and poles (to armpits). Mercifully, she didn't make us step on the scale. Instead, she eyed us up for the right "camber" (the upward curve under the ski).

"For me, cross-country skiing isn't just a means of exercise, Cannon said. "Its a way to reconnect with the natural world through a lovely rhythm that celebrates gentle movement, a calm mind, and a soulful sense of being one with the outdoors."

After showing us how to step into our skis and hold our poles, she led us to the perfectly groomed trail -- a wide path with two sets of tracks for skiers to follow and a packed area for the ski skaters or folks who prefer to ski outside the tracks.

Once we had the basic movements down, we headed to our first "hill," where Cannon showed us how to stop by "snowplowing" (bringing the tips of our skis together), and how to turn. While the gentle hills aren't too intimidating, you still move pretty fast, and these skills are necessary to maintain control and balance.

For the uphill battles she showed us two techniques -- a quick jog motion or shuffling up with skis in "V" formation, reminding us to use our poles to stop any backward sliding.

"If someone is really afraid to go downhill or is having trouble going up, I show them how to turn parallel to the hill and 'walk' down or up on the skis," Cannon said. If worse comes to worse, she advises to take the skis off and simply walk.

After a while, we got the hang of it, and Cannon reminded us to look around at the beautiful surroundings: fresh pristine snow, a unique birch tree, birds and a big blue sky.

For Cannon, cross-country is not about speed, but about living in the moment and skiing the trail at one's own pace.

"I think that people struggle with our long northern winters here, and getting out into forests and fields opens up our eyes to the presence of so much more life out and about," she said. "You can find animal tracks everywhere, hear the calls of winter songbirds, see the greening of lichen on the trees and sometimes even catch a little vitamin D in the form of sunshine, which is always a good thing!"

Our lesson came to a close and our Zen master bid us farewell, leaving us to explore another trail.

Had we been up to it, we could have skied all day into the night, as one trail is lighted. However, after about another hour of skiing on our own, we were tired, hot, but absolutely gratified by our experience.

The Bristol Mountain Nordic Center is located at 5589 S. Hill Road, Canandaigua. Since it's at the top of the mountain, you need to drive up, versus the bottom where downhill skiers can access the lifts. You can rent equipment, warm up and grab a snack in the center, but bathrooms are "nicer" port-a-potties outdoors. Cost for a cross-country trail pass is $10 (kids 7 and under are free with adult purchase); equipment rental (skis, poles, boots) is $14. In addition to cross-country, we saw downhill skiing and snowboarding. For downhill prices and information, visit www.bristolmountain.com or call (585) 374-6000.

>Eat, play, stay

If skiing doesn't appeal to everyone in your group, some could shop along Canandaigua's South Main Street. Foodies could head to the New York Wine & Culinary Center for an afternoon cooking class. Afterward, everyone could meet at the cozy Adirondack-style restaurant in the Bristol Harbour Resort for late lunch or dinner.

Whatever you decide to do, fuel up at the darling Simply Crepes Cafe, 101 S. Main St. (www.simplycrepes.com). It has great coffee and even better crepes, like the Breakfast Crepe with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar or Crepes Benedict. For dessert, try the All-American, with strawberries, blueberries and vanilla ice cream.

Here are a few places to shop along South Main:

*Upscale clothing shops. We found beautiful and unique sweaters and dressier items at Wildflowers, The Brass Zipper and The Country Ewe.

*Art galleries. Lots of local art in this little town, including at the Finger Lakes Gallery and Frame, All Things Art, Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery, with home decor items. Unfortunately, Nadal Glass on Phoenix Street off Main was closed, but the glass parrots in the window are fabulous.

*Bookstores. Judy's Bookstore had tons of wonderful kids books while The Paperback Place housed more adult titles.

*Smells and candy. We loved Wickedly Scent, a soap and candle company where we scored some delicious-smelling clove and orange hand soap. Equally delicious is the chocolate at Sweet Expressions. Pick up some chocolate-covered pretzels and giant peanut butter cups for the ride home.

The Bristol Harbour Resort & Restaurant, 5410 Seneca Point Road, has a lovely view of the lake. The fare is basic, but very tasty. Lunch is served late until 5 p.m., and then the dinner menu picks up, but still offers some sandwiches. We loved the bent wood chairs, fireplace and great bar you could hang out at and enjoy some Finger Lakes wines. We drove County Route 16 down Canandaigua Lake to Seneca Point Road. It's a great way to see the beautiful frozen lake and gawk at the gorgeous lake houses that you might not see when the leaves are on the trees.

If you'd like to stay overnight, the Bristol Harbour Resort has nice ski/stay or ski/stay & dine packages. A cross-country ski and stay is $79 per person on weekends/double occupancy ($64 Sunday through Thursday) and includes your room and ski rental. Throw in dining and it's $109 ($84.50 Sunday through Thursday) for the room, ski rental, a $55 dinner voucher, $14 breakfast voucher and bottle of Finger Lakes wine. Downhill packages start at $107. The room we checked out had a fireplace and warm Adirondack feel. Call (800) 288-8248 or visit www.bristolharbour.com for more information.

For a more upscale dinner, eat at the Culinary Center's "Taste of NY Lounge," then sample wines at the Boutique. This year, it is offering New York State beers and soon, spirits. Located at 800 S. Main St. in Canandaigua, hours now through Memorial Day are Tuesday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m. The Taste of NY Lounge & Restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. (noon on Sunday) and serves through 9 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sunday). Both are closed Mondays. Call (585) 394-7070 or visit www.nywcc.com for menus, information and class schedules.

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Directions

From Buffalo, hit the Thruway going east, take Exit 44 and follow Route 332 into Canandaigua. Ride is about 1 1/2 hours. Add 20 minutes to get to Bristol Mountain Ski Resort or Bristol Harbour Resort.

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