Sunday, March 07, 2010
Cross-country skiers spending 'a secret winter's day' in the snow [with video]
An unusually white winter has meant disruptions for many but a thrilling time for cross-country skiers. They're spending this chilly season outdoors with friends.
MATT GENTRY The Roanoke Times
Ben Dymond (left) and Amy Villamagna take a cross-country ski tour of the Mountain Lake Conservancy property in Giles County. Dymond says the snow has helped him improve his skiing. He also said the trails at Mountain Lake provide a "great venue to practice the sport."
MATT GENTRY The Roanoke Times
Emily Woodall (center), managing director at Mountain Lake Conservancy & Hotel, talks with fellow cross-country skiers overlooking the New River Valley during a tour of the property in Giles County.
A group of six skiers took advantage of the 18-plus inches of snow that lay on the ground Feb. 13 at Mountain Lake Conservancy & Hotel.
Among the group were Emily Woodall, Ben Dymond, Amy Villamagna, Dan Evans, Jeremy Hutchins and Andy Jensen.
"Our group is not an organized group," Woodall said. "We're just friends with similar interests who decided to get together for a ski day at Mountain Lake. We all happen to cross-country ski or are learning how to."
The group met at a New Year's function to ring in 2009. Since then, the members have done their best to pencil in outdoor group activities and recreation in Blacksburg and the surrounding mountains.
Woodall, managing director at Mountain Lake, handles trails. She works with others to help preserve the ecosystem.
In her free time, she enjoys gliding over 22 miles of trails situated above 4,000 feet in elevation.
"When our group gets together to ski, there is a wide variety of skill levels and types of skis/skiers out on the trail," Woodall said. "We're all there for the same reason -- to have a great time and enjoy the wilderness and nature that you will find at Mountain Lake."
Dymond said the snow has helped him improve his skiing. He also said the trails at Mountain Lake provide a "great venue to practice the sport."
Woodall and Dymond both said favorable skiing conditions consist of a base layer of 4 to 5 inches of snow with some fresh powder on top.
Perfect conditions would be 10 inches or more with flurries for atmosphere. Typically, temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees provide the best conditions.
A little sunshine never hurts, but too much can make the snow sticky.
"A second important factor in the perfect day of skiing is good company," Dymond said.
"Skiing around with friends makes the day better -- having people to chat with at water and food breaks, or having a good laugh after someone ends up in the snow make the day more enjoyable."
"Skiing is an individual sport, but it is so much more enjoyable when you're out with a group of people," she said.
"It provides a chance to get out, enjoy nature and take advantage of the wonderful winter that Mother Nature has provided us."
Woodall said she also enjoys the element of team unity.
When skiing down a difficult section of a course, she said, it's important to have others cheering you on.
To be successful in the sport, the skiers must be physically fit and have enough practice.
"It helps to have a strong endurance level and if you're able to be outside in cold temperatures for an extended period of time," Woodall said.
Dymond said aerobic fitness helps a skier because the sport is a workout for the entire body.
Villamagna added that the sport allows you to "let go of time, and, of course, fall on your rump a few times."
Woodall said cross-country skis, boots and poles are available for rent from ski supply stores in the area. Along with the equipment, Woodall advises skiers to dress in layers.
The sport also keeps skiers in touch with nature. Woodall enjoys identifying tracks belonging to the neighborhood creatures that share the terrain.
"It relieves stress," she said. "It's quiet and serene."
Dymond also praised cross-country skiing for its peace and solitude.
Lately, the skiers have been venturing out every weekend, as long as the snow permits. Each Mountain Lake outing typically lasts two to four hours, during which time the group manages to ski the majority of the trails.
Stables, a trail known as a family favorite, offers gentle, open hills that are good for children.
White Dot Trail connects with Upper Doe Run and empties onto the golf course for a nice downhill glide.
Some routes, such as Upper Jungle Trail, test the skills of advanced skiers, while others, such as Lower Jungle Trail, are better for beginners.
Woodall likes how cross-country skiing allows one to travel up and down the terrain, whereas downhill skiing does not. She said she feels rewarded when gliding down a hill after working hard to climb it.
Although Mountain Lake Conservancy has not been promoted since 1986, Woodall said, several locals have "spent many a secret winter's day sliding through our woods."
As a result, the sport is being spread by word of mouth on the mountain.
"We want to spread awareness to the surrounding region beyond about Mountain Lake and our beautiful mountaintop wilderness," Woodall said.
"Our mission at Mountain Lake," she continued, "is to provide a retreat from the everyday world where individuals, families and groups can pause, recreate, reflect, and re-educate using the natural environment and scenic areas for a tool for cleansing the spirit, finding purpose and perspective and reconnecting with basic values, principles, and goals for one's life."
While Mountain Lake continues to promote its mission, winter lovers take advantage of what the conservancy has to offer.
"If we keep having winters like this," said Woodall, "winter sports such as cross-country skiing will become more popular in this area."
Once Mother Nature puts a halt to the wintry weather, Woodall's group plans to enjoy other outdoor activities such as hiking, running and mountain biking.
Until then, Woodall wouldn't mind a few more flurries: "We are ecstatic about the snowfall, and have our fingers crossed for more."