When the editor of Elevation Outdoors asked me to write about being an Eldora Nordork skier I didn’t take offense at the union of “Nordic” (cross country skiing in the Scandinavian, as opposed to Alpine or downhill) and “Dork” (now taken to mean geek but really a particularly nasty Yiddish slang word for, unit, junk, schlong).
I’m proud of my nordorkery. I drive down the Eldora access road at 9:00 a.m. while those in flat brim caps drive up. I see their expressions go from concerned Are the lifts on wind hold again? to haughty Look, he’s wearing his sunglass temples outside of his tasseled hat. It’s just a Nordork. I’d wave, but it’s hard enough to steer around a snowplow and gulp a recovery shake while mildly hypothermic, fully bonked and in the gauzy throws of exercise-induced euphoria. And besides, there’s a string of frozen snot running from my jawline to my navel and my cheeks are greased with Dermatone.
You just wouldn’t understand.
I just spent much of the past two and a half hours at and above lactate threshold, which, as your handsomely paid personal trainer and spinning coach down in the dank, stanky, wife-swapping emporium you call a gym can tell you, means I just crushed myself getting in shape for pennies on your health club dollar. And oh yeah, instead of clearing your Lunesta haze on a spinning bike while watching a jiggly TV weatherman bop his head to Cher (live, kind of) on a morning show, I was flowing downhill with spindrift faceting in morning light as the Indian Peaks blushed like Victorian lovers.
Back to the fitness: If you accidentally tune in to watch America’s bevvy of gorgeous, hard bellied, women XC racers cross the finish line during the upcoming Sochi Games, know this. They aren’t rolling on the ground gasping for air like Italian soccer players for the sake of drama. They’re actually that gassed. If you went that hard on a road bike, you’d crash into the picture windows at Amante and anger the other “cyclists.” At the last Olympics, it was the American Nordic jumpers (XC racing plus big air) that had their breakout performance. This winter look to women like Kikkan Randall (who recently took second at a sprint race in Davos), Sophie Caldwell, Sadie Bjornsen and Jessie Diggins to shine. The Euros aren’t completely crazy. There’s a reason Nordic skiing is one of the most highly watched sports on the Continent. Did I mention hard bellies?
Dork? OK, I see your point. Maybe it’s the wardrobe that’s throwing you off. A few of us haven’t gotten the message that purple and green Lycra tights circa 1992 are not essential. (I’ll have you know that I wear subdued purpose built “warm ups” that are easily three times less creepy than the capris “pants” football players wear.) Could it be the fanny pack? Yes, slightly anachronistic, granted, but it’s the only way to efficiently carry my sports drink—mixed hot at home so that it’s icy cold but not frozen solid five minutes into my morning ski. And what’s with the glasses you ask? Simple: If you wear the temple pieces under your hat then cold air channels in for that dreaded ice cream headache, and as the hot air escapes it invariably fogs your polycarbonate sports shields. Embrace the XC Steeze, yo.
Dork? I spent much of my youth waxing Alpine skis for money, but nicely waxed Alpine skis are a frivolity compared to the glide exigencies of Nordic. If you aren’t gliding you might as well be snowshoeing. Hah! That’s a Nordic skiing joke.
Anyway, during daylight hours, I scan the cluttered web pages of FasterSkier.com for waxing tips from the pros. (I used to follow the equally cluttered MasterSkier.com but FasterSkier apparently closed the gap and absorbed the slower site.) It’s here that, with much searching, I can find archived articles by retired US Team coaches on the benefits of a low-cadence V2 alternate technique during open field skating. Or maybe I’ll just peruse these beauties: “For Slovakian Olympic Gold Medalist Kuzmina, More Happy Times in Canada (Exclusive Interview)”, or “The Hungry Skier: To Die For Homemade Brownies” or “The Road to Sochi Isn’t Easy for Those from Non-Skiing Nations.”
At night, you’ll find me in my basement wearing compression socks and pajamas while sprinkling fluorocarbons into my ski bases as the waxing iron warms up.
Nordic dork? OK, enough with the self-deprecation. Screw you, Elevation Outdoors. Exhausting every muscle fiber in your body as you skate ski up the ramps of Eldora’s rollicking XC terrain turns you into a NORDIC ANIMAL: Behold, I am Fenrir the Norse wolf-god ripping through life’s fetters like cobwebs.
The Nordies had this all figured out in the Viking age. To glide through the woods on snow under your own power is to embrace Idraet—a hardening of the mind and body through sometimes-harsh, always Spartan, endurance exercise out in the elements. To spend your winters only riding chairlifts on sunny days—just another hangover cure for CU kids—is a pudgy bastardization of Idraet at best.
There’s also pure joy in Idraet. When you get the wax right and your fitness and form merge, Nordic skiing drifts to the metaphysical for a short drumroll of heartbeats. But the lasting effects come from Idraet’s tempering qualities. Everything, from a day of bottomless powder skiing in Utah, to a six-hour ski tour with a heavy pack, to the stress of careers and families and money, feels puny and entirely manageable by comparison.
As I drive down from Eldo after a morning spent flying through the forest, I feel so fortified I could pillage Central Europe. Or at least the land they call Niwot.
Marc Peruzzi is the editorial director of Mountain magazine and a contributing editor to Outside magazine. In winter, you’ll find him hip-checking Yankees fans off the Eldora XC system—he gets all Masshole when he’s cold.