Since high school I had been a snowboarder, but until recently, I had never skied. Snowboarding just came easily, and my friends were ditching their skis for boards. Mostly, I liked that my legs couldn’t go in opposite directions. But after 20 years of boarding, I was a little bored. So when my wife asked if I wanted to go cross-country skiing with her, I knew it was time to give the sport a try. How hard could it be? Plus, there was no lift ticket, and ski rentals were around $20, so the start-up costs would be hard to beat. I was sure that cross-country skiers rarely, if ever, got going fast enough to get hurt. Runs were not terribly steep, and there were no double black diamonds. It was a genteel sport fit for the masses, I thought.

The groomed Nordic track was a blast. Flying down the perfectly spaced tracks that the groomer presses into both sides of the trail felt like riding a roller coaster. After a couple good laps around the wonderful, maze-like trails of Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park, we had obviously mastered the art of skiing, so we hung a left and started up an ungroomed 4.5-km spur to check out the old fire lookout atop Quartz Mountain.

Going up was the easy part. It didn’t occur to us, huffing and puffing slowly up the mountain, that downhill would be another, speedier, story. At the top, we twisted out of our skis and clambered up the ice-crusted steps of the lookout to admire a view of, well, clouds. A front had just blown in, obscuring everything except the trees around the lookout clearing. The snow-tipped subalpine firs made banners of the cloud vapor. Besides the soft moan of the wind, the only other sound was the crunch our low-cut ski boots made, mixed with our mild cursing as the knee-deep snow soaked through our socks. It was eerie and lovely.

Photo: Nick Thomas

Photo: Nick Thomas

There was only one way to get back. We pointed our skis downhill and shoved off. I had expected that the thick snow might slow us down, yet we instantly gained speed and lost control. Panic ensued. I hollered, my arms flew up in the air, a leg lifted up, and I was suddenly performing an acrobatic trick that would have scored big points had anyone been around to see me – my wife was somewhere far behind me, buried in a snowdrift. After a while of this, I decided that biffing it on the trail was better than flying off the edge. It wasn’t graceful. I slid to a halt, limbs akimbo, one ski raised vertically like a thin flag pole, the other turned sideways. All that was missing was a white flag signaling my defeat. I lay there for a minute, just breathing. I wiggled my extremities. Nothing appeared broken. I listened for my wife, who whooped faintly in the distance. I pushed myself upright, anxious to get out of the way, just as my wife appeared behind me, yelling “lookout!” A grin spread across her face, her eyes wide with exhilaration. She passed me in a blur. Then she curved to the right and stopped instantly, her entire upper half hidden under the snow bank. I heard her muffled laughter and knew she would be okay. In this manner, we made our way down, wiping out every 20 feet and laughing until tears streamed down our red cheeks. I hadn’t known the ski package would came with a bonus supply of comic relief. Our countless falls only bruised our egos. // (Nick Thomas)

Cross-Country Skiing Made Easy

The Spokane Nordic Ski Association, made up of cross-country skiers who want to pass on their passion for the sport to others, provides ski lessons and hosts events for all ages at the Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park. The fourth annual Winterfest, held Sunday, January 15, is a great way to experience cross-country skiing in a fun, family-friendly environment, with activities for all ages ranging from the novice to the experienced. The very popular $5 ski lessons per person will be back as part of Winterfest. The lessons will be offered at 9, 10:15, and 11:30 a.m., each running for 45 minutes. If you can’t make Winterfest, check out the Spokane Nordic website for more info on lessons for kids and adults (www.spokanenordic.org). Or head up to the Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park and rent skis from Fitness Fanatics at Selkirk Lodge Thursday-Monday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. (www.fitfanatics.com) and then check out on the well-groomed and signed trail system with a ski buddy or two. // (OTM)

Nick Thomas wrote about Drumheller Springs Park in September.