Backyard Olympics: Serenity on the snow
This is the second of a three-part series – Backyard Olympics – to feature nearby locations to learn the basics of the Olympic sports. The series will conclude Feb. 26.
This installment focuses on Nordic skiing events, which include: biathlon (cross-country skiing and target shooting) cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross country skiing).
As Nina McLeod was teaching me to stay centered on my feet above the skis – “The skis aren’t in control of what you do, you are in control of what you do,” she reminded me more than once – she also was giving me a lesson in appreciating the outdoors.
“You can see the tracks of all the different animals in the snow,” she pointed out, “squirrels, birds, coyotes.”
As we rounded a corner, she signaled me to watch for a tree to my left.
“It’s my favorite tree up here,” she explained. “It looks like a little family with the branches all growing together.”
We stopped next to the tree to admire it, then resumed the cross country ski lesson at Spooner Summit, where she’s been teaching 10 years.
McLeod got on her first pair of skis at age 2 in her native Norway. Her step-father, Sigmund Ruud, and his brothers Birger and Asbjørn, dominated ski jumping in the 1920s and 1930s, with Sigmund winning a silver medal in the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
She followed in her family’s ski tracks, making a life of teaching Nordic skiing. She’s taught 40 years in places around the world.
“I like to teach people to ski,” she said. “It’s a part of my life, and I want to see other people enjoy it the way I do.”
She said it brings a sense of freedom and develops fitness.
“You feel good. You stay healthy. It brings you out in nature,” she said. “It’s a combination that almost can’t be described.”
When it comes to Nordic skiing, there are two primary techniques – classic and skating.
I took a lesson in classic, where the skis are kept in a parallel position and propelled from front to back. The skating technique involves pushing one ski outward with the ski angled so that the inner edge is driven against the snow. Weight is transferred completely from one ski to the next, resembling speed skating.
Either form, McLeod said, requires instruction to begin.
“When you start off with no lesson, you tense up,” she explained. “You do a lot of wrong moves. It’s so important to take a lesson, get some pointers and you can build up from there.”
Although there are some universal tips, she said, she treats each student as an individual.
“Everyone walks differently, moves differently,” she said. “Every person is a new challenge for a teacher. It’s very important for me to give my students trust that what I ask them to do will work.
“I feel like I have to be a psychiatrist sometimes.”
And the serenity of being out on the snowy trails at Spooner, she said, is good for the psyche.
“It’s just a wonderful experience to be out on cross-country skis. Listen to the wind in the trees.”