Ski trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Ski trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Out of the Office: Skiing doesn’t have to be perfect to be good

“You know,” he said, “we used to groom the ski trails by packing them down with snowshoes.”

‘One thing I definitely miss about Anchorage are the groomed cross country ski trails,” read the text.

It was sent by an acquaintance who was down from the big city skiing Tsalteshi Trails. I call this person an acquaintance because you don’t lob an insult like that at someone who reveres the grooming crew at Tsalteshi and expect to remain a friend.

What the acquaintance was getting at, of course, was the quality of the grooming.

As former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf said of Brett Favre’s status among NFL quarterbacks, if the Anchorage area isn’t one of the best cross-country ski meccas in the United States, it would not take long to call the roll.

The population base and that population’s affinity for skiing give the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage the funds to operate extremely expensive PistenBullys. According to NSAA, the big cats groom 50% to 80% more kilometers per hour than the snowmachines in use at Tsalteshi.

Former Seward ski coach Luke Rosier relocated to Anchorage for the 2018-19 winter and talked about the difference the big groomers can make after winning the 40K in the 2019 Tour of Tsalteshi.

“Crappy conditions in Anchorage are like some of the better days in Seward,” he said.

I love perfect trails as much as the next person, but they were not the sport I grew up with in Southeast Wisconsin. (I know I’m dating myself. Kids, Southeast Wisconsin once had winters).

There, we would ski snowmachine-groomed trails all winter to get ready for the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country skiing race in North America. According to the Birkie website, the event honors two Norwegian warrior soldiers skiing the infant Prince Haakon to safety during the Norwegian civil war in 1206.

I’m pretty sure the soldiers weren’t skiing trails groomed by PistenBullys, or even snowmachines, for that matter.

Sadly, that idea of the essence of skiing being tackling whatever conditions came my way gradually wore off with my youthful enthusiasm.

In the mid-2010s, I was grumbling through an ungroomed ski at Tsalteshi when I lightly complained to Alan Boraas, the late ski guru and Kenai Peninsula College anthropology professor, and was abruptly set straight by his patient, wry and pointed wit.

“You know,” he said, “we used to groom the ski trails by packing them down with snowshoes.”

Since then, I’ve done my best to relish whatever conditions come my way. My main frustrations have come from insisting on getting too modern — using modern skis with pointy tips ill-suited to a fluffier groom, and using modern ski technique ill-suited to sinking in a few inches with each stride.

The Norwegian warrior soldiers had nice, curled ski tips, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t ripping a powerful V2.

When I remind myself the challenge and fun comes from adjusting to conditions, not having the PistenBully adjust them for you, I’m usually in for a good ski.

Or as my friend put it in a text an hour and a half later, “It wasn’t too bad really. I definitely get spoiled up there, no doubt about it.”

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