by Sarah Tuff Dunn
Used to be, alpine skiers could laugh themselves silly making fun of the local cross-country ski lodge. The A-frame of quiet repose, with can of Swiss Miss hot cocoa on the teak wood counter. The dank carpet, wetted one too many times by snowshoes and busted toilets. And the skiers: gangly teens in high school Lycra elbowing hairy Sierra Clubbers, indignant octogenarians, and six-percent body fatters.
“Uh…nice cliché,” says Fischer spokesperson Andrew Gardner. “But the times are changing. Cross-country skiing is getting hip, and the numbers prove it.”
The SnowSports Industries of America reports the same. Since 2008, Nordic skiing in the U.S. has grown by nearly 1 million participants. You can see it at places like Jackson Ski Touring Center, near North Conway, New Hampshire, where visits have risen during the last 10 years to 35,000. The West Yellowstone Ski Foundation reports that skier numbers have increased 45 percent in the last few years. And at Colorado’s Crested Butte Nordic, organizers of the Alley Loop race have seen a 10-year participant gain of nearly 300 percent.
Chalk it up, in part, to the growing endurance sports movement, healthy lifestyle choices, and even the boom in backcountry skiing, which demands more fitness than riding lifts. At the Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area in British Columbia—like a supersized Nordic center, there’s an entire zone dedicated to backcountry skiing—“Ski touring is up nearly 100 percent,” says skier and activist Jay Gilden.
To answer the surge, Nordic centers are upgrading their facilities. The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, added a boisterous Bierhall, where big cardio skiers toast the day with a few Trösten Lagers, while others plot 25-mile backcountry routes on 2,500 acres of terrain with a 2,000-foot vertical drop.
The lodge’s programming includes the University of Vermont Winter Carnival, elite-level coaching, and skiing or snowshoeing on 65 kilometers of groomed trails and 20 miles of snowshoe trails. Crested Butte Nordic also upped its game, with 10 kilometers of new fat biking trails, 16 kilometers of dog-friendly trails, and, for the past three years, free rentals and passes for kids 17 and under. Jackson Ski Touring in New Hampshire, meanwhile, has added a $500,000 expansion, the biggest in its 44 years, with new trails and bridges at the 154-kilometer center. And planners at BC’s 9,300-acre Hankin-Evelyn have spent the past eight years developing new trails, an upgraded lookout cabin, and a new warming shelter.
One thing all of these places has in common is a desire to pair old-fashioned with the “new-fashioned.” Says Gilden, “We think of what we’re doing as a Back to the Future project.”
From the Deep Winter issue.