Ski season looked like it was getting off to a good start.
We’d gotten enough snow between late November and early December that cross country ski trails in Eau Claire County were covered in white and many had even been groomed. It wasn’t a lot of snow, and there were definitely some thin spots on the trails, but it was still early and, surely, more snow would be on the way.
As far as skiers go, I’m not one who gets too excited about early season snow. I’m partial to trails having good snow coverage before I try getting out regularly. I’ve hit enough patches of grass or gravel skiing before the sun comes up to realize my body is better off not having to absorb those collisions with the ground that result in all my vertebrae, both shoulders and at least one hip making loud popping sounds on impact.
With that said, I can use all the practice I can get when it comes to skiing. So, on Dec. 6, I set off in the dark to Lowes Creek County Park to get my first 2019 American Birkebeiner training ski in.
About a minute later, I found myself on the ground.
All it took was a few more falls, and it started to become obvious to me trail conditions weren’t quite on a level my skill could match. Thirteen minutes and 1.4 miles after setting off for my first ski of the season, I was back at the car, changing into my running shoes.
I was fine with this outcome though. Trails were close. Just a few more inches of snow, and they’d be smooth enough I’d be able to handle them. And it was still early, I thought.
Six weeks later, and that is still my only mile of skiing.
I keep a log of my running and skiing mileage, and looking back at past years’ skis has kept me from panicking about the 2019 Birkie yet. My first real good ski last year came on Jan. 14. Before that was a 0.3 mile attempt on Jan. 2 that must not have gone well. Because I was able to get ready for the 2018 Birkie after that start to the year, I still have confidence in this year. But I am getting a bit anxious.
Long-range forecasts aren’t looking great right now as far as the possibility of getting a bunch of snow goes.
The rain we’ve been getting this winter has done a number on the trails, so what started out looking promising has turned into looking like something that might work better wearing hockey skates.
On Jan. 8, looking at an unfavorable forecast and iced over, potentially dangerous trail conditions, the Chippewa Off Road Bike Association canceled the snowshoe and fat-tire bike race, the Powder Keg, they hold annually at Lowes Creek. They shared pictures of glare ice 6 feet wide covering the trails, not ideal conditions for snowshoeing or biking. But it did give me hope that, with a little snow (and by “little,” I’m probably talking half a foot), there’s still hope for those trails to see a good ski season.
And judging by my training log, skiers have dealt with worse conditions trying to participate in a winter sport in weather that seems less winter-like every year.
In fact, in January 2017, I had a decent ski at the Badger State Games in Wausau after only four skis in the month leading up to the race.
Of course that was the year the Birkie was canceled because of the lack of snow, so I don’t like comparing anything to that year. Yet.
Nate Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.