Cross Country to Alpine Skiing

Cross Country to Alpine Skiing 

By: Gates Lloyd, Alpine Chair

When Arapahoe Basin closed last spring, I was without an option to ski at the area – any area. When my friend, Patti Banks, called to ask if I wanted to join her in skate skiing on Dillon Reservoir, I accepted quickly. I was excited to get back out on the snow – any snow – and also a bit anxious about my fitness, technical skills and the state of my (ancient) gear.

We met at the east side of the Reservoir on a crystal clear, still morning. Patti skis on a slick Rossignol crossover boot that works for classic and skating and this day she brought her skate skis – just one notch down from the top end race ski. The skis looked fast leaning on her car, all black and deep red. The rest of her kit was dialed: layers, a water bottle pack with snacks. I was a sight from the 90s: yellow and pink boots, a pair of 205 cm skate skis bought used twenty years ago, flappy shell pant and top.

I thought, “At least the snow is perfect” and it was: a thin crust soft enough that the ski edges could bite, firm enough to support both ski’s gliding. Large patches of ice exposed by the wind served as a challenge – features to look for, ski around or simply glide over. 

We took off and after a bit I settled into a rhythm – actually, more of an intermittent pattern of balanced strides and wild, arm waving recoveries. Concerns about my aged gear faded away, my breathing stabilized. I began to enjoy the sounds of the skis on the snow and the feel of the wind on my face. After a bit I became aware of Patti gliding along nearby. She gave me space, waited until I warmed up and calmed down then asked if she may offer some feedback. 

And so began my Spring ’20 ski season: mornings skiing on the Reservoir, and up on Vail Pass, Webster Pass and Peru Creek.

Skiing high country valleys on skate skis is a challenge I encourage all readers to accept. I enjoyed skiing as much as I ever have. Ever. The open terrain was marked only by tracks of elk, sheep and goats seeking water. Ptarmigan crouched behind bits of grass. The wind and the skis moving on the snow were the only sounds. I became highly aware of biases in my movement patterns, timing errors and inaccuracies in blending the fundamentals of my primary discipline. With Patti’s help, I worked through the skiing issues in turn. It was a pleasure to have the time and quiet to focus on them.

My movement focus distilled to the timing and blending of rotational and edging movements. I found a wide stance – really wide by my alpine standards – was necessary to access effective leg rotation to steer my skis. Turn shape developed and with it that sweet, sweet speed control. When I slipped into a narrow stance width, I engaged my upper body, overpowered the edges’ grip on the snow and made abrupt, Z shaped turns.

The necessary edging movements were easy, but I lacked the confidence to commit – to release the old and engage the new – with any consistency. Willows and snow mobile tracks were obstacles that interrupted both my timing and any sense of flow. With mileage – experienced in a whole new way – came a bit of confidence in my timing and accuracy. The obstacles evolved into timing aids reminiscent of stubbies on a training course. They were helpful reminders of where to flatten my skis, continue to tip and feel the transition to the new edges. The time and space Patti offered me to gain my confidence in the gear was a wonderful reminder to allow folks I ski with the same opportunity.

It’s been quite a summer. All I know about reopening a Snowsports school has been set aside. Despite everything my family, community of friends and co-workers have been through one thing has not changed – the return of the excitement to ski. It builds as the aspens turn and the days shorten. I bought new skate boots and skis over the summer. My worn flappy clothes will make it another season. The lessons learned last spring will come into play when the chairlifts open this fall. Patti and I will return to the high empty valleys when natural snow fills them. I cannot wait to ski again.

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