Trail fairies? In Grand County, real men lift their heels
Grand County, Colorado
These recent weeks have been purgatory.
It’s been too cold and snowy (and now muddy) to mountain bike or hike, but there’s not enough snow to ski backcountry. And the limited ski area openings aren’t quite worth the drive.
It’s enough to make me get a gym membership or, like a smart ski bum, go surf in Mexico until Christmas.
But on Sunday I joined a rat pack of three guys just as antsy as I was for preseason turns.
We set out on Nordic gear up the Jim Creek trail across U.S. Highway 40 from Winter Park Resort.
We talked as we paced up the gradual track, waxing poetic about last year’s powder dumps and our goals for this winter.
That’s when one guy in our group said a co-worker recently insulted him for telemark skiing, saying the sport wasn’t very manly.
Another said he had heard Nordic skiers called “trail fairies.”
To me Nordic and telemark skiing conjure images of gun-toting biathletes, hardcore distance skiers collapsing at the finish line and guys skinning up exposed ridges to drop off cliffs in that signature crouch.
I’d never heard that the free-heeling reputation was any less macho than regular alpine skiing or, for that matter, watching SportsCenter at a bar with a bunch of other dudes.
Any doubts about our collective masculinity didn’t last long, though. The gradual trail turned steep, then stopped at the base of a rocky climb through thick pine forest where we paused to regroup.
“You guys want to turn back?” our leader asked. But to me it sounded more like the “You want to see a dead body?” line from the movie “Stand By Me.”
Without hesitating, we bounded into the woods, kicking off our skis to climb over fallen trees and dropping into the snow-covered creek bed where the ice was thin and cracking in places.
We followed some old moose tracks in the snow and at one point found a stampede of prints in the creek bed. Like crime scene investigators, we followed blood trails and drag tracks that led to a dead blue heron in the underbrush. We guessed that a weasel or a fox surprised the bird and summarily ate its head off (the carcass had vanished by the time we came back down later).
Pushing on, a little more bushwhacking paid off when we burst from the woods into a wide alpine meadow at the base of James Peak ” a wall of rock and snow seemingly placed there to remind us of how small we really are. Awesome.
A quick snack, then we skied through the meadow a bit before turning and ripping it all the way down the valley. I even caught myself throwing a few tele-turns on my rickety cross-country setup, the graceful gliding punctuated now and then by the zipping sound of ski bottoms skimming across rocks and roots.
In the parking lot, worn out by the four-hour tour, it was high fives and fist bumps just like on a powder day.
I returned to the trail alone on Tuesday to watch the sunset fireworks, and though I had a good time on the Winter Park groomers on Wednesday’s opening day, I’m feeling the call of the wild.
” Charles Agar is comfortable with his Nordic-skiing masculinity and will be freeing his heel every chance he gets. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The sport of ski mountaineering is on the precipice of officially becoming an Olympic sport.