Snow day

4 01 2013

Outdoor guides enjoy expanding their wilderness skills, learning to ski cross country along freshly fallen powder.

BY ROBIN MUNRO

For Special Publications

Published: January 2, 2013 12:00AM,Midnight, Jan. 2 dt.common.streams.StreamServer

To take advantage of the first good snowfall of the season in the Cascades, eight of us board a bus at the River House Community Center, home turf for the City of Eugene’s outdoor program, and head east for the Hoodoo Ski Area in Sisters.

En route, we stop to gas up and grab some snacks. But before departing again, Anne Borland — driving separately — pops her head in the bus to give us our first instruction of the day. Anne is a senior River House instructor and the leader of today’s cross-country ski trip.

“I want you all to share your favorite beverage, favorite song and an activity you know really well,” she says, giggling a little at the fun of engaging a group of grown-ups in an icebreaker reminiscent of summer camp.

Milk, water, coffee and a local microbrew are mentioned. Biking, hiking, yoga and skiing are among activities our group knows well.

Melinda Vega frozen mid-stride

The icebreaker succeeds in getting us to laugh and talk, but for most of the group, the ice already has been broken. Seated on the bus are seven River House guides and just one newbie skier.

Today, Anne will lead a cross-country ski training for her fellow outdoor guides, each of whom teach different sports and activities at the River House.

As seasoned instructor Salmon Norgaard-Stroich explains, “River House invests in cross-training its employees.” The River House is selective with whom it entrusts to responsibly lead community members into the wilderness. And once they’re hired, River House takes the time to equip its guides with skills in many areas.

Since joining the staff in 1996, Salmon’s knowledge and skills in all areas have, he says, improved immensely.

Gear up, stride on

Anne, a River House instructor also since 1996, is particularly well-suited to lead today’s training.

Not only is she a pro on skis, but Anne has a naturally warm, supportive teaching style. Before leaving for Hoodoo, she checks in with the one novice in the group to make sure she’s wearing the appropriate attire — synthetic long johns, a wool or fleece sweater, and rain jacket and pants on top.

Never wear cotton when skiing, she advises. When you sweat, the moisture will just sit on your skin and make you cold. River House has some clothing available to loan, but participants provide their own gear. Berg’s Ski Shop rents skis, boots and poles for $10 a day, and $5 each additional.

Upon arrival, we head for Hoodoo’s groomed Nordic ski trails. Although you have to pay to use the groomed trails, the consistent terrain they provide is more forgiving for beginners. Today’s snow at Hoodoo is thick and powdery and perfect for falling.

Melinda Vega & Aimee GogliaFortunately, the free heel on cross-country skis allows for a more natural range of motion than downhill skis, which lock your boots in place from heel to toe.

A locked-in heel does have its purpose in downhill skiing.

As Salmon puts it, “[It] prevents you from falling forward on your face. But it’s a lot more comfortable and natural to walk on cross-country skis.” The free heel also allows you to create the ankle flexion needed to propel forward in the classic cross-country motion, the “diagonal stride.”

During the lesson, Anne explains each movement like a professor of sports science — using terms such as “propulsion,” “flexion” and “extension.” But to help us translate the motion from brain to body, she uses fun, easy-to-remember imagery. To help us visualize the proper stride position — knees and ankles bent, body mass forward — Anne tells us to assume a “gorilla stance.”

Intermittently throughout the lesson, Anne also shouts “freeze frame,” commanding us to freeze in mid-diagonal stride.

And unexpectedly, the morning’s icebreaker becomes a tool to demonstrate how to carry our poles. “Don’t drop your favorite beverage!” Anne shouts as she merrily glides past, holding her poles ahead of her like a tray. To help us develop a rhythm — also key for efficient cross-country skiing — she instructs us to glide while singing our favorite song.

After a successful morning lesson, Anne has one more exercise in store. She tells us to drop our poles for a game of tag. Too busy dodging out of the way to worry if we have sufficient flexion, the exercise reinforces one key point: Don’t over-think it!

January through February, River House offers ski lessons for adults, age 16 to senior, as well as classes exclusively for seniors and youth. More advanced adult skiers also have a Level II option.

If new to skiing, you can always brave the trails on your own.

“But taking a lesson will make it so much more fun and efficient,” says Salmon, who admits he had to unlearn all of his self-taught bad habits. “You will be able to go faster, and farther.”

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