Charles Agar " Skating with the grain |

Charles Agar " Skating with the grain

Charles Agar " Grandstanding
Grand County, Colorado

When I think of exercise, I think punishment.

It started when I played soccer and wrestled in high school. Late for practice? Five laps. And there’s me cursing the coach with every footfall and trudging along as if I were swallowing castor oil or getting my teeth drilled.

But I’ve finally found a loophole to my aversion to doing cardio just for the sake of exercise: Cross-country skate skiing.

I live an active lifestyle ” hiking, biking, skiing and boating ” but since the day I walked across the graduation dais and left varsity athletics and team sports for good, I’ve harbored this notion that I ought to get out and get super fit one day ” maybe train for a marathon or something. I think it’s “coach guilt.”

Once a year I still buy a new pair of running shoes, half-heartedly stretch for a minute or two, then go jog a few hundred yards just to remember that I hate running. I just can’t do it.

Instead I have to fool myself into exercising by doing something I enjoy, and in cross-country skiing I’ve found that perfect mix of aerobic torture and outdoor fun.

I’ve cross-country skied all my life on old classics but ever since skate skiing became the rage I’ve wanted to try it. The gear is ridiculously expensive but thanks to a friend unloading some of his old equipment and an early-season ski swap at Devil’s Thumb, I put together a skate ski setup cheap.

My early season forays into skating proved frustrating, however. I could skate just fine but found I could only go about 100 yards before I’d be doubled over with my chest heaving like an accordion and my stomach in knots.

Skating is as painful as being late for wrestling practice in high school, I thought. Then I started to skate with the grain.

In December I took part in a free weekend clinic taught by the University of Denver Nordic Team at Devil’s Thumb and got some pointers on making every glide count: efficiency. I found my stride.

So lately, when I’m not out chasing the pow in the backcountry or at the resort, I’ve been getting out on the great groomed trails at Devil’s Thumb or climbing the hilly circuit at Snow Mountain Ranch (their mountaintop chapel is a favorite “moment of Zen” spot).

But the best is the open meadow between Fraser and Winter Park. There’s nowhere to park the car and I keep waiting for a sheriff’s deputy to boot me off the land (I think the area is set aside for folks who live in the development there), but it’s the perfect track for me ” mostly flat with a gradual uphill along one side of the loop and just enough downhill on the other side so I can glide and catch my breath. I can make it all the way around without stopping now.

Some days I go out at dusk, just as the alpenglow hits the wall of the Continental Divide that rims the valley, or join my girlfriend for a moonlit ski. I love the silence when I stop ” nothing but the sound of my breath and the squeaky crunch of snow under my skis. I keep waiting for Julie Andrews to come out and start shrilling a falsetto about the hills being alive and sometimes I even hum a few bars.

The more I skate, the more efficient I’m becoming. I slow to keep my heartbeat from banging a kettledrum in my head and glide farther and faster, fooling myself into fitness.

If my high school coaches could only see me now.

” Contact Charlie at

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