I shuffled along the snowy carriage road, my skis gliding not quite gracefully. Yet, as the sun sank behind the mountains of Acadia National Park, I felt like a phantom, quietly sailing along the edge of Eagle Lake, my breath clouding in the deepening cold.
Moving through a winter landscape on cross-country skis is a peaceful type of dance — even if you’re an off-balance novice like me. I first tried the activity years ago, but I haven’t skied often enough to break out of that beginner status.
It’s no matter. Cross-country skiing is the type of activity that is fun right from the get-go, if you start on easy trails.
When enough snow falls on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park is the ideal ski spot for beginners and experts alike. The park is home to a network of 45 miles of carriage roads, and many are designated for grooming by volunteers of the Acadia Winter Trails Association (when conditions and time permit).
Several of the ski routes in Acadia form loops, with some more challenging than others. If you’re just starting out, I suggest studying a trail map with contour lines so you can avoid any major hills. At least that’s what I do.
As someone who hikes a lot, I don’t mind going uphill in skis. It’s flying downhill that scares me. I’m still learning how to control my speed. I’m also working on my overall form so that I’m gliding more than shuffling. So, on a recent skiing adventure in Acadia National Park, I decided to stop skiers who I passed and ask them for advice. Their answers were enlightening and encouraging.
A few inches of especially fluffy snow had fallen the night before. I was dying to get outside all day, but I had work to do. So when I found myself with a few free hours in the afternoon, I raced to the park. I didn’t have much time before sundown, so I packed extra clothes and a headlamp, then selected a short, easy route: along Eagle Lake to Bubble Pond.
The first people I met were snowshoers. I waved and tried not to wobble too much as I swished past them.
“Have fun!” one of them called out — the first bit of good advice that I received that day.
For a stretch, I was alone. I crossed a bridge over a gurgling brook, then another. Shadows lengthened, stretching across the white, smooth surface of the frozen lake. The forest was quiet, aside from the swish of my skis and the plunk of my poles biting into the snow.
Then my first fellow skier appeared. Stopped in the middle of the trail, she kept looking back as if waiting for someone to come around the bend. So I took the opportunity to pester her for advice.
“You have to kick,” she advised. “And you actually use your arms a lot, to push off.”
By “kick,” she meant a down-and-back pushing action of the foot against the ski. I’d learned that before, but it was a good reminder. Classic cross-country skiing, which is on parallel tracks, is all about kicking and gliding.
One thing that’s challenging for me about cross-country skiing is the steady rhythm and uniformity of it. It’s just glide, kick, glide, kick. Straight forward. Unless you come to a turn or a hill.
As a hiker, I’m used to a bit more chaos. Hiking is more like: big step, little step, teeter, hop, duck, leap, scrabble and grab onto that tree limb for assistance.
The next skier I came across was an older gentleman who, when I asked for advice, told me to “stay young.” He also assured me that if I was out there on the trails, I wouldn’t be a novice for long. Improving, quite simply, takes time and practice.
Upon reaching Bubble Pond, I careened down a side trail to the shore to enjoy the view of Cadillac and Pemetic mountains, one on each side. I would have thought the view would have been of The Bubbles, two mountains that are a bit to the west. But they’re actually visible from Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond.
The moon peeked through tree branches as I retraced my tracks to Eagle Lake. Along the way, I came across one final skier, and he was moving fast. Wearing skate skis, he operated outside the parallel tracks laid by classic skiers. Instead, he moved side to side, pushing out with each step.
“You look like you know how to ski,” I called out.
He slowed to a stop, and I immediately felt bad about interrupting him, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask him for advice. He told me that he’d learned skate skiing about 15 years ago, and he really enjoys it. It takes some time to learn the technique, he said, but once you do, it’s like riding a bike, you’ll always remember how to do it.
I asked him if he had any advice for classic skiing, and he said that it’s all about building momentum. He also said to “keep balanced over your skis.”
Carrying a backpack full of camera gear, I was finding that last bit of advice to be difficult to follow. Every once in a while, I’d lean back too far and nearly fall over. Maintaining your balance on skis is certainly more challenging than when just wearing hiking boots or snowshoes.
As we spoke, a park ranger on a snowmobile stopped to ask us how our day was going. He was probably checking to see if we both intended to be out there that late. The light was fading fast.
So we parted ways and I hustled back to the parking lot. To my surprise, several vehicles were still parked. I guess I’m just one of the many people who enjoy skiing after work in Acadia, even if that means wearing a headlamp to light the way.