Skater Punk: Schultz doesn’t care if you call him a Nordork or a wood fairy – he will beat you uphill. Photo: Chris Milliman
Nathan Schultz is the heart-and-soul of the Front Range Nordic scene. He’s earned that distinction through years of devotion to the discipline, starting in the mid-80s, when he started skiing at Eldora. He soon became captain of the CU Nordic Ski Team and one of the nation’s top XC skiers, racking up accolades including a third-place finish in the 1990 Junior Nationals, two-time NCAA All-American, membership on the reputable Subaru Factory Team, winning the American Ski Marathon Series and taking a slew of top-five spots at the U.S. National Championships. He also brought Boulder Nordic Sport to town, offering a full-service operation to get people up and skiing. We checked in with Schultz to get his insight on the progression of the sport:
How did you get your start in Nordic skiing?
I skied as a kid growing up, both backcountry and alpine, but very casually. Some of my friends in high school convinced me to try the Boulder Nordic Junior Team. I was terrible at first, but I had such a good time with my friends that I stuck with it. After a few years, I started doing better in races and it became a bigger part of my life.
What other athletic disciplines are good building blocks for Nordic and, conversely, what other cardio disciplines benefit from Nordic skiing?
Most serious cross-country skiers run, ride and rollerski in the off-season, so those sports all have a lot of crossover. Cross-country skiing makes you fit, so skiers tend to be good runners, especially uphill, and many people trade the skis for the bike as well. Cross-country skiing requires a lot—full-body fitness, agility, strength—and so sports that train all of those different facets are good matches for XC ski training.
People say that Nordic skiers are the fittest of any athletes. Why?
Cross-country skiing is a hard sport. It’s a fun sport, but you can’t get around the simple physics: XC skiing uses more muscles than almost any other activity, so the load on the cardiovascular system is high. In order to succeed in ski racing, you have to have a huge capacity. XC skiing makes you fit because it’s hard.
Is it now vogue to be a Nordork?
I think it depends on where you are. If you’re among endurance athletes, it is pretty fashionable to be a “skate skier.” But pretty much everyone else on the planet thinks we’re wood fairies. Which is OK, because we know that the joke is on them.
Why would someone who is so serious about Nordic skiing live in Boulder, as opposed to somewhere with more of a tradition in the sport like New England, Minnesota, Bend, Steamboat or even Alaska?
Boulder is not a great place to be a cross-country ski racer. I was able to make it work because I had the flexibility to travel a lot, so I could train where I needed to train. But if you’re tied here for work or school, it is tough to manage the altitude and the distance to get to the ski trails. During the off-season, it’s great, but serious skiers will need to be training at lower elevations in the winter and be closer to snow so they can put in the necessary training volume.
Your shop, Boulder Nordic Sport, keeps expanding and has developed a loyal following over its relatively brief history. Tell us more.
I started BNS because I saw that the level of service and knowledge available to us racers was much higher than what shops were offering to everyone else. There was a group of us “Nordorks,” who saw that everyday people wanted more information and service to help them manage a highly technical sport. We developed our following because we provide the knowledge and support structure that enables people to enjoy the sport without being intimidated by all the tech.
All we do is XC skiing. Simply put, we share the knowledge we’ve gained after years in the sport, so our customers feel like they have a World Cup Support Staff around them. We have regular clinics at the shop, and with our new Boulder store, we are excited to expand our event calendar to build BNS into more of a community center. In addition, we run some race trips, camps and local training groups where we coach skiers. This year we have a trip to the Swedish Vasaloppet in March and a 7-day on-snow camp in New Zealand in July. We have a trailer that serves as a mobile wax cabin and store that travels around the country to the bigger races. This has been a lot of work, but it is also fun to stay involved with racing and push the limits of performance from the service side instead of the athlete side.
If someone is a total newbie, what are the easiest steps they can take to become proficient?
The best way to start is to go to a Nordic center and get a lesson. Finding a good instructor will pay off instantly and greatly reduce the amount of time required to feel comfortable skiing. If you have friends in the sport, that may skew you towards skating or classic so you can join up with them. But really, it’s best to try both disciplines with a couple of lessons and figure out what you want to do after that. •