Sam Bauman: The pleasures of cross country skiing for seniors

I've been downhill skiing for more than 50 years, and despite the toll of age I still enjoy the rush that a fast run gives me. However, there are not a lot of 80-plus seniors on the downhill ski runs around us.

But there's another kind of skiing that seniors who walk comfortably can enjoy, and that's cross country skiing. It's a different world from the fancy downhill stuff. It's safer, costs less and offers outdoor activity when many hiking trails are snowbound. And it brings one in contact with Nature in ways otherwise missed.

As always, it's wise to check with your doctor before taking up X-C, but since you pretty well decide how strenuous to make it X-C is pretty safe.

The levels of cross country skiing are as varied as are downhill. Beginner, intermediate, advanced covers everybody. And you don't have to pay $80 a day to ride a chairlift. When there's snow on the ground any park such as Riverside or Washoe Park is open to try X-C, you may have to cut your own trails but that's part of the fun.

You will seldom run into a crowd out there; cross-country skiing can be a wonderful, solitary way to see the world from a different perspective.

You need a varied wardrobe so you can dress in layers, removing outer parts as your warm up. Long underwear is a must, I enjoy silks. And waterproof pants as well; you may get caught in a snowstorm and in tricky moments take a fall. But getting up on cross country skis is a lot easier than on the heavy downhill skis. And falls are usually rare. You don't need the bulky gloves of downhill for X-C; gloves can be thinner and more flexible. A good cap is a must as well as ski goggles (although regular dark glasses will do the trick). In other words, dress so you can adjust things as the day goes on.

Equipment is pretty basic and hasn't changed in years. Skis are longer than downhills, narrower and bindings allow the heel to rise freely. And prices are probably a third of downhills, no need to go for the expensive, racing kinds. X-C skis have ridges across the bases, raised so the ski moves forward on snow easily but catching when the ski needs to stay in place. Waxing used to be important but these days one wax job will last most of the season, depending on mileage. Wax is easy to apply and it doesn't have to be the expensive racing wax. Along with the skis you'll need X-C boots - low cut and flexible and again much less expensive than downhills.

Poles are a requirement to go with the X-C technique. They are longer than those used for downhill and have smaller baskets that in the past. Many are made of bamboo instead of plastic and inexpensive.

You should be able to buy the gear for under $250.

To really learn how to X-C, it would be nice if you can find an experienced friend. Since Spooner X-C has closed, the closest place for professional instruction is the Truckee Meadows where Northstar California offers teaching. Check Northstar on the Net.

But you can do it yourself. Just look it up on Google and you'll get the idea. You slide one ski forward on snow, press down so the ridges grip the snow and bring up the other ski. Throw the poles strapped to your wrists one at a time ahead and as they come parallel with the hips push yourself forward. It's not complicated and is a very natural movement. You stay forward all the time.

X-C is lots of fun when you get a group together so that you can take turns cutting a trail through untracked snow. Even in deep snow the skis rarely sink in too deep to slow progress. And perhaps best of all is having a picnic in the snow. A backpack or two can hold all the makings and often a large rock above the snow is a fine place to lunch and perhaps share a bottle of red wine. Sparingly, of course.

Alzheimer's in fiction

Canadian prize-winning author Alice Munro has long been noted for the empathy she illustrates in her short stories. In "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Marriage" (Vintage Contemporaries, $14,324 pages) she has written a touching story, "When the Bear Comes Over the Mountain," about a marriage that comes to an end as dementia takes the woman to an assisted living situation. There she meets a man who kindles a kind of love in her, to her husband's dismay.

It's a complex tale but it illustrates the problems that arise when dementia strikes. She writes knowingly about dementia and its effects. It's a good read for caregivers and anyone else involved with dementia.


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