Cross-country skiing at an all-time high throughout Northeast Ohio
“Cross-country skiing is great if you live in a small country.” Steven Wright wrote that joke. So it’s safe to say that he doesn’t slip Nordic ski boots on, bind a couple of boards to the bottom of his feet and slide off into the snowy countryside — not even when he knows he’ll reach the border quickly.
Still, a lot of other outdoor enthusiasts apparently take part in the winter sport in the U.S., which is, Wright might note, a pretty big country.
According to the latest statistics offered by the Cross Country Ski Areas Association, 2.6 million Nordic skiers spend an average of 7.8 days skiing each snow season throughout the U.S. And this counts only the ones who visit a designated area instead of just traveling to a nearby park or sneaking onto a snow-covered golf course.
The typical cross-country skier is between 35 and 54 years old, has a college degree, and lives in a household with average annual earnings above $100,000, says the association’s statistics.
And, participating in the winter sport is pretty much split between men and women — 50.7 to 49.3 percent. In Northeast Ohio, recreational participation in Nordic skiing is at an all-time high, said Paul Motts, a ranger for Cuyahoga Valley National Park and a certified instructor for the park’s cross-country skiing programs.
“The numbers keep going up each year,” he said. “Last year was a great year. It was by far our busiest year ever.”
Motts said that 4,735 people went through the Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake Shelter, where cross-country skiing equipment and snowshoe equipment is rented.
“On a busy day, we get over 200 people and on a moderate day, we get 150 to 200 people,” he said, noting that Cuyahoga Valley has more than 20 miles of trails open to cross-country skiers. “It’s really popular.”
Part of the increasing popularity stems from the family nature of the sport, reasoned Motts.
“Parents can come out and get their kids involved in a really exciting winter activity that gets them outdoors.”
Cross-country skiing is manageable in the family budget as well, Motts estimated.
“You can get a pretty good outfit that would include boots, bindings, poles and skis for $250 to $300.”
Motts said that it’s an activity that’s easy to learn.
“If you can walk, you can cross-country ski,” said the instructor, who has been skiing for more than 40 years and instructing for more than 10 years. “It’s really not much more effort than walking, and in actuality, it’s a lot less effort than walking in any substantial amount of snow.”
There is technique to learn, of course, and the national park offers classes for all skill levels, from novice to advanced.
“As with any sport, the better technique you have, the more enjoyable it is going to be,” said Motts, who recommends beginner skiers take a class.
In the park’s “no snow” beginner class, new skiers are told about the size and type of equipment they will need to ski in Ohio, and learn about matching that equipment to their body types.
“We also go over the best way to dress for cross-country skiing,” said Motts, “and we go through a number of weight transfer and balancing techniques and rhythmic exercises, which are the fundamental skills they will need.”
The instructor said most participants in beginner classes are adults, presumably looking for an activity that will get them outdoors during the harshest of Ohio’s seasons.
“These are people who really want to be able to enjoy the winter. They want to see the wildlife and hear the silence out in the snow. They want to take advantage of what the season has to offer.”
GIVE IT A TRY
CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Winter Sports Center, Kendall Lake Shelter Truxel/Kendall Park Road, Peninsula
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays when there is 4 inches of snow.
Rental cost: $15 (full day) and $7.50 (three hours)
Conditions: Ski equipment for adults and children is rented when there is at least 6 inches of snow on the ground.
QUAIL HOLLOW STATE PARK
13480 Congress Lake Ave. NE, Lake Township
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Rental cost: Quail Hollow Volunteer Association rents skis for $7 per hour to adults, $6 per hour for Golden Buckeye Card holders, and $4 per hour for children 6 and younger. No charge for skiing with your own equipment.
Conditions: Skiing is allowed on 12 miles of trails when snow accumulation is favorable. Call park volunteers to determine conditions.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ranger Paul Motts will teach three skill-level workshops in February at Kendall Lake Shelter. Call 1-800-257-9477 to register.
Beginning: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 4; $10 with own equipment, $15 with rental.
Intermediate: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 11; $10.
Advanced: 9:30 a.m. to noon Feb. 12; $10.
In addition, Motts will teach a workshop, “Handling Hills,” from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 5 at Kendall Lake Shelter.
Cost is $10.