“I was very bullish on the new-skier market,” he says. “I increased orders back in May because I saw what was happening in the bike industry. That new-skier market is up 700% here.”
It’s not just the shops. The ski companies are selling out too. Andre Watt, Salomon’s National Nordic Community Race Manager, echoed his sentiment. “We’re pretty much 90% sold out,” he says. Ditto Fischer. “The shelves,” Steve Reeder, Fischer’s longtime U.S. Nordic Director, says, “are just absolutely empty at this point.”
You can still get out and hit the trails safely, though. Ski trails have, like most businesses, adapted to COVID. Rentals are affordable and a fraction the cost of a day riding chairlifts. The nature of the sport allows for maximum social distancing. Where I ski just outside Ann Arbor the parking lot is always packed, yet there is room to pass skiers on the trail comfortably (and for other skiers to pass me).
There are two types of skiing: classic and skate. Classic is the traditional image of nordic skiing: kicking and gliding through the woods, a St. Bernard with a barrel around its neck in the distance. Skate skiing is more like an ice skating motion, but with poles to propel you. Generally, beginners should start with classic. People with a background in skateboarding, figure skating, alpine skiing, or other endurance sports might find themselves better suited to skating, but classic is slightly more user-friendly for beginners with less balance and athletic chops, and it’s also more tolerant of less-than perfect conditions—skating requires a groomed trail, whereas classic skiers can more easily blaze their own.
Lessons are tricky during COVID and, anyway, Liebsch recommends not even bothering the first few times out. YouTube is sufficient. “You’re going to fall over no matter what,” he says. “You don’t need to spend money on a lesson from a coach to tell you “stand up, you fell over.” Just get out there by yourself and enjoy the passing pine trees, wilting with fresh snow. But don’t be surprised if you’re soon ordering startlingly expensive waxes and binging the 1998 Winter Olympics on YouTube.
Picking out skis, boots, and poles is a complicated matrix of height, weight, preference, and price range—it’s the kind of thing you’ll want to go to a pro shop for. So we’re sticking to the best gear to keep you warm. Without overheating, that is: Because you end up working so hard, you’ll find standard winter gear is often too much. Think the kind of stuff you would use for a cold run or a bike ride, not a hike. You won’t need a whole new kit, but there are a few things you could pick up to make your new adventure more comfortable.
One time I had to stop at a Burger King after ski practice and stand underneath a hand dryer. Wind briefs, with strategically placed windproof panels, save lives.
Hestra’s gloves are light, toasty, and, cut through the wind. They’re designed to grip a pole, but they’re also great for cycling or tailgating glove—this isn’t a single-use-case purchase.
I picked this shirt up last fall for cold-weather bike commuting and camping. Little did I realize it would serve as a cozy ski piece. (Leave this at home if you’re really gonna sweat—this is for the leisurely strolls.)
An In-the-Know Beanie
I’ve been spending too much time on eBay searching for Norwegian team hats from the Lillehammer and Nagano games to no avail, so the classic Swix Gunde Beanie—with the original 1974 design still intact almost 50 years later—will have to do.
A Big, Warm Jacket
Again, you’re more likely to be too hot than too cold once you start moving….but on the coldest days, reach for the puffer.