On nordic ski racing

The misadventures of an amateur nordic skier.

On nordic ski racing
Photo by Tom Dils / Unsplash

To the observer, nordic skiing appears elegant and peaceful; a full-body gliding motion on groomed snow over gentle hills. How hard could it be? I decided to find out by entering a nordic ski half-marathon earlier this month in the mountains of Colorado.

Elegant and gliding it was not. No amount of last-minute watching of Nordic ski race videos on YouTube was enough to save me. Where others optimized their aerodynamics and skated by with a sense of smug nonchalance, I realized early on that I needed to dedicate 60-80% of my attention to not falling over. Where others easily propelled themselves up the hills, I was forced to employ a halting crab-walk that looked like the ski version of the dance move associated with the 2006 song “Walk it Out” by Unk the rapper. The whole experience was exhausting, and I spent more time on the course than most, finishing 214 out of 244, and 17 out of 20 for my age division. It goes without saying that I didn’t buy any of the official race photos they took of me, but I did study them long enough to spot an elderly woman who appeared to be in her late 70s finishing around the same time as I. 

There is something vivifying about any attempts, however amateur, at being a weekend warrior: the chance to explore a subculture of a sport like nordic ski racing, the humbling experience of being so bad at it, and that momentary jolt of adrenaline when the starting gun fires and you're off.