Here's the usual response when you ask whether someone's tried skate skiing:
"Oh, me? I don't skate ski. No. I don't have what it takes. Staying upright successfully is quite a feat on its own. Don't need to add planks and poles to that mix and tempt fate. Oh no."
Yet, something similar could be said about living in Alaska during the winter in the first place:
"Oh, me? I don't winter. No. I don't have what it takes. Staying upright successfully is quite a feat on its own. Don't need to add ice and darkness to that mix and tempt fate. Oh no."
If you've got what it takes to spend in a winter in Anchorage, you probably also have what it takes to at least give skate skiing a whirl. Here's the quick lowdown on what skate skiing is really all about, and why it's a great idea to try it.
It shouldn't be done
Let's think about what skate skiing really is.
First, you strap some skis to yourself by way of your toes. Yes, lightweight planks with a slippery underside meant to glide on snow are attached to you. You get two of them, one for each foot. (This comes in later when we talk about the mysterious and often elusive state known as "coordination").
Next, you get two poles, one for each hand. You strap these poles around your hands partially so that they may never, ever leave you, even if you fall haplessly down in a sad twisted pose on the snow.
Finally, to pull it all together, the act of skate skiing is quite simply to balance your weight, one leg at a time, fully on a ski as you glide in one direction, followed by balancing your weight on the opposite leg and ski to go another direction entirely, all the while making sure you move gracefully forward in constantly shifting fluid motions, for all of Anchorage to see for better or for worse.
How tremendously exciting. Also, how absolutely ridiculous. This sounds incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to master. Why would you ever want to try such a thing?
The wshhhhhhh wshhhhhhh sounds of skis gliding. The pole plants that sound like squiggles when the snow is right.
These are the sounds made by adept skate skiers as they pass me on the trail.
Still, these noises seem to convey something deeper about skate skiing -- the grace and balance of it. The noises betray the fact that, underneath these effortless-sounding noises of winter on the trails, there must be a trick to it.
After all, when my skate skiing noises are a kind of moose mating call, perhaps, I think, I might be doing something wrong.
Skate ski for freedom
Yeah, that's right. Skate skiing is the freest activity there is.
Think about it: in what other city in the United States can you hop on a trail and skate ski your little heart out? (Even freedom isn't free, though -- everyone, go donate to Nordic Ski Association Anchorage, because they are out grooming the trails while we are sleeping. Do it).
What other winter sport rewards very slight, almost minute shifts in balance by greatly -- greatly -- reducing the energy it actually takes to participate? In other words, the more you practice and the better you get, the less energy you use.
You don't have to drive anywhere, or go far, to do it. It's incredibly low-maintenance. It frees you from needing to go to the gym -- that day anyway.
Skate skiing demands grace, litheness, and strength -- and where those things are scarce or don't exist at all, skate skiing demands humility and an ability to laugh when you want to cry. What is a more perfect parable for winter in Alaska?
Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage.