To the Editor:
In 1978, I bought a cross-country ski outfit–skis, boots and poles–at a local sports store long since out of business. I paid $78. (These days a ski package costs hundreds of dollars.) Over the subsequent decades, I used those skis about a dozen times on account of no snow.
Back in 1978, Mercer County existed in a different climate. If you can believe it, there was a genuine downhill ski slope just off Route 29 on Pleasant Valley Road. That’s right, Belle Mountain. These days, it’s just a hill.
Over the years I skied, very occasionally, on cornfields, on the towpath, and, when it was really cold, on the frozen canal. Then the winters got progressively warmer or perhaps just less snowy. Until now! Yes, this winter has generated a veritable winter sports paradise although I haven’t seen any ponds frozen long enough to safely support ice skating. Nonetheless, I’ve been on my cheapo skis more this winter than in the last decades combined. And it’s been wonderful.
One of the best aspects of cross-country skiing is its rigorousness. One hour on the trail is guaranteed to generate really heavy breathing, intense perspiration, strain on every muscle and a general sense of exhilaration.It’s right up there with swimming, biking and watching rebroadcasts of great moments in professional bowling.
On the first day out this season, I only fell twice. Since it had been so long since I’d been whooshing along the trails, I had forgotten the correct way of getting up. The first time, I had to take off my skis. What an amateur. The second time I vaguely remembered about holding both poles to the side and using them to lever my way off the ground. In other outings, I didn’t need any fancy techniques because I never fell again. Actually, since I was skiing by myself, I don’t have to admit to falling. It’s like the tree falling in the forest.
One of my skiing triumphs as the Mercer County Winter Olympics embraced me was when I hit the trails on skis accompanied by a much younger and fitter friend on snowshoes. He trudged ploddingly. I glided speedily. With grotesque smugness, I said, “Whatsamatter? Can’t keep up?”
Mostly, however, my ski outings have been solitary–just me, the windswept, snow-covered fields, the bare trees, the not-quite-frozen brooks and the ever-present Hopewell Borough vultures. In that solitude, I almost stopped thinking about all the absolutely terrible, horrible, no-good very bad things going on in the world. Almost.