Despite my time spent pulling a pulk, the skills and techniques although similar to cross country are also certainly very different. With both pulk pulling and cross country skiing you are trying to build up speed as efficiently as possible. But having to drag additional 60 - 100kg’s or so of weight behind you certainly slows you down, makes you more cumbersome and changes your concept of speed. Pulk pulling uses large snow boots and bindings that clamp your foot onto the ski, kind of like a snowboarding binding. In comparison the cross country setup feels incredibly sleek and light weight. So despite having done some cross country skiing in Scotland (when the conditions allowed) it was time to get out on the slopes in the US.
We are slightly spoilt for choice in the northeast US. With a trip to Lake Placid on the cards (home to the 1983 and 1932 winter Olympic Games), we had the opportunity to have a blast round their cross country course. The conditions had been pretty warm along with a forecast of rain, so going downhill skiing was a bit less tempting. Heading over to the the venue and we soon found ourselves kitted out with all the gear. Having spent years downhill skiing the difference in weight and feel of the kit still amazes me (comfy!). Admittedly the boots we had were very much the recreational type but its much more like wearing trainers (sneakers) compared to the heavy, rigid boots for skiing or snowboarding. And the bindings only clip the very tip of your toe to the ski. After a few pointers we were out on the course doing laps of the place - imagining ourselves as Olympians flying round the course in style (albeit a fair bit slower)! Having watched the olympics and the speed with which they can go round it is going to take some time and practise to reach those levels. That said, cross country skiing is relatively easy for snow newbies to pick up and much less intimidating than facing a steep downhill slope. I really recommend it if you are ever looking for a snow sport with friends of varying levels of ski skills and fitness.
The course started in a large opening between the lodge and the old start line. There were kids, teens, grown-ups, octogenarians and even nonagenarians! flying all over the place with varying degrees of control, most of them a lot better than myself, clearly enjoying themselves and making the most of the break in the weather. We headed from the opening up towards the woods. The ice conditions in parts made for some interesting skiing as we got used to this relatively new sport. Particularly the descents, where despite being short and not very steep became quite challenging as I shot towards a tree… That said the majority was of the snow was softening up making it slower and easier for us, the woodland had protected the course from the worst of the conditions. (Tip for newbies: fresh fluffy snow or wet slushy snow are the easiest to learn on. Hard packed icy snow is great for adrenalin junkies! When in doubt call ahead and ask the lodge for advice on what time of day to go).
On the other side of the venue there was a competition taking place. Passing some sections we could hear cheers and clapping with the occasional glimpse of a racer shooting past. It certainly gave us an appreciation for the speed that you see the racers going!
After a few hours the sky began to threaten with a few splots of rain. Time to head indoors to taste our first maple steamer - a perfect warm combination of milk and local maple syrup to end. We will certainly be back for more and hopefully to try out skate skiing.