The ski lifts are not yet open when I set off on foot down the cross country ski trail for the first time. I am carrying a long pair of skis with free heel bindings. For the first 400m (1/4 mile) there is insufficient snow cover to ski. Truth be told, I am a little relieved because it means I will be in the privacy of the bush when I make my first attempt at what is, for me, a new sport: cross country skiing. I have no idea what to expect. Will I be able to stand up, stop, turn or navigate along the trails? Will there be enough snow out there given that the slopes are almost bare? I have lots of questions but will find the answers as the day goes on.
I clip in my feet and take some tentative “steps”. The snow is still icy here in the early morning on the shady side of the mountain. It’s not the ideal conditions for my first time but if I waited for conditions to be right I might never try anything new. I watched a few YouTube videos last night about cross country skiing and I try to put what I watched into action. The start of the trail is mostly uphill so I so the reverse snow plough and press my weight down on one foot then the other to force the skis to grip. It works and I am soon able to ski/walk uphill. On the flats I push forward with one leg and glide with the other. I am soon reasonably comfortable doing this.
I am taken by the beauty of the snow gums with their red, green, grey and gold bark that changes colour as it peels off. I’ve seen them in summer but their colours are amplified by the sparkling white snow. Being out here, listening to the drip of melting snow turning to water, the swish of new shrubs forcing their way through the thinning snow and the crack of trees I know I have found another sport to fall in love with like I love cycle touring, hiking and paddling.
I stop along the way to make a snowman. I just can’t help myself. I place him away from the groomed trails where he won’t get in anyone’s way. He’s not pretty but I find myself chuckling the whole time. It makes me feel like a kid again.
Things don’t always go to plan. I mean: this is my first time on cross country skis and it’s not like I have any real downhill experience either. There are downhills that are too steep for me to attempt, so I walk my way down them carrying my skis. There are sections of trail that are so icy that I fall off my skis even when I am standing still. And then there’s the point where the groomed trail and the markers go in different directions, resulting in my attempting to ski through a section where my left ski is on a lump at knee height while my right ski drops into an equally deep hole. The result is the photos above. I’m unhurt because I anticipated what was going to happen and was prepared, despite being unable to stop the stack.
It’s a tough workout, both physically and mentally. But the views and scenery make it magnificent. I can’t imagine being anywhere else and can’t believe that it was just a few days ago that I was out in the mallee.
I feel content and happy as I explore the mountain.