These two skate skiers have hooked themselves to huskies and gone ski joring.
These two skate skiers have hooked themselves to huskies and gone ski joring. (Tim Jones / Special to the Berkshire Eagle)

With the exception of that accursed January thaw that took away much of our beautiful snow, this has been an absolutely fabulous winter for cross-country skiing. Whether you bought a trail pass at a cross-country ski resort with groomed trails, rental skis and a warming hut, or just headed out into the back 40 or local golf course, chances are you've had a wonderful time.

So, here's my question: What has been your ski style of choice? Skate? Straight? Or both? Skate skiing, as the name implies, means using the edges of your skis to push yourself forward, just as you would if you were on ice skates. "Straight" skiing or classic cross-country keeps both skis parallel most of the time (except when climbing steep hills or snowplowing down). With straight skis, you propel yourself forward using a "kick and glide" getting traction for the kick either from wax on the bottom of your skis or from fish-scales that lay flat when you glide the ski forward, but raise up slightly to grip the snow when you kick to propel yourself.

If you watched any of the Olympics, you got to see the best in the world at both disciplines, and chances are, you don't ski like any of them ... If you do, I'd like to get out skiing with you sometime and see what I can learn.

Most people still ski on straight skis for a couple of reasons. First, it's easier and more natural to learn. On flat terrain with fish-scale skis, you can literally just put on a pair of skis and walk along until you get comfortable with little glides.


Advertisement

At that point, you are already skiing; it's just a matter of getting better. The other reason many people choose straight skiing is that it works on ungroomed terrain -- any field, golf course or woodland trail becomes your own private ski area. Even if the snow hasn't been packed, you can pack your own set of tracks after it snows, and enjoy them until it snows again.

Skate skiing on the other hand, absolutely requires the smoothly groomed path at least 6 feet wide that you usually only find at cross-country ski areas (though you can sometimes skate on snowmobile trails when conditions are exactly right). Skate skiing is harder to learn than classic cross-country. It's almost guaranteed you're going to end up flat on your face at some point as you try to learn to skate ski. But, once you've got the basics, the "Wow! factor" of skate skiing is simply amazing. You fly, where straight skiers plod (at least by comparison). And you get an amazing workout of every muscle in your body while doing it.

With all this snow around, this is the perfect year to try one or the other, if you haven't done either. If you are already comfortable with one, it's a great time to try the other. Or, if you already do both, then remember that life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Ski joring

I've skied all my life, Alpine, cross-country, Telemark, back-country. I've raced, and done a fair amount of what most people would consider "extreme" skiing. But I've never been more wildly, adrenaline-rush, heart-poundingly out-of-control on skis than when attached to a sled dog while ski joring.

If you like skiing and like dogs, it's something you simply have to try.

I've just discovered that Marla BB of Hilltown Wilderness Adventures http://hilltownwildernessadventures.wordpress.com/ gives ski joring lessons with your dog or hers, right in the Berkshires. I've never been out ski joring with her and her dogs, but that's something I intend to rectify as soon as possible. She charges $100 for a "generous hour" of ski-joring instruction.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com