That last ski of the season might not have set well this year.
You weren’t exactly ready. Some places enjoyed sufficient snow dumpings this winter, but on the whole, it just wasn’t enough. It ended too soon.
Certain parts of the country aren’t quite in summer mode yet. Snow has been known to make April appearances, and some ski towns recently saw a late-season blast of the white stuff.
But in Hayward, Wis., home of the American Birkebeiner and center of Midwest nordic skiing, temperatures were forecast to hit the 60s this week. That’s spring, and essentially, the end of the ski season.
Tell that to the women with Ski and Tea, a nearly 300-person club that gets females together year round to practice cross-country. While it’s dryland training in the summer, they typically meet weekly every month except March (that’s post-Birkie time following the ski marathon in late February. Many spent their Fridays off helping a local charity, Weekend Meals for Kids).
The program, which includes clinics led by Central Cross Country (CXC) members, started four years ago with about 12 women. Founders Linda Cook and Juli Lynch knew several former skiers that wanted to get back into the sport and arranged a recreational get-together. They saw two more women at the trailhead and invited them along as well.
This past winter, a two-hour “Ski and Tea with the Pros” clinic attracted more than 30 women three days before the 39th American Birkebeiner. Cook, who placed second in her 70-79 age group in the 23-kilometer Kortelopet, said two international skiers attended the seminar, which was broken up into classic and freestyle technique lessons with four elite coaches.
Two of the group’s original supporters, Audrey Weber and Maria Stuber, offered expertise as former CXC members. Both born in the Midwest, Weber skis for Go! Training, and Stuber joined the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in Vermont. She returned to Wisconsin for the Birkie and “Ski and Tea” event, bringing Craftsbury teammate Hannah Dreissigacker with her. CXC’s Carolyn Ocariz also helped fill in for teammate Caitlin Gregg, who was sick, and proceeds from the clinic went toward their training expenses.
The four leaders gave broad tips while answering specific questions, focusing on one technical aspect at a time. Participants could chose to skate or classic and watch themselves on video if they wanted. Post-workout goodies, such as hot cocoa, cookies and tea, wrapped up the afternoon social at the 00 Warming Hut in Seeley, Wis.
Today, Cook said Ski and Tea has about 60 active members with 290 newsletter members living as far as India and Alaska. After moving to the area 16 years ago, she felt there was a need for the group considering the number of interested women.
Looking around the jam-packed cabin with skiers of all ages, some in their early teens, Cook talked about how Ski and Tea had grown. In 2009, it became part of CXC and its insurance coverage. Participants have to sign a waver, and for $40 dollars, get a year’s worth of instruction and ski companionship.
“Someone described it as the modern-day quilting bee,” Cook said with a laugh. “Sweat is the best kind of therapy.”
Outside the 00 trailhead halfway on the Birkie trail, nearly 40 women stood in ski boots swinging their arms and hopping from one leg to the other during the elite coaches’ warmup. Then, they skied off into the woods for a few pointers, which were worth internalizing and practicing for the season ahead.
I took some notes, and this is what I came back with:
Ocariz on skate technique:
– Focus on the glide and holding it a little longer
– Butt forward
– Poles shoulder-width apart, not too narrow (think of standing like a boxy football player with broad shoulders)
Dreissigacker on classic technique:
– Double pole as long as possible
– Switch to striding when timing feels off, “when you feel like you’re bogging down” but “double poling is definitely faster.”
Weber on classic skiing/hills:
– Double pole on the uphills should involve lots of crunching
– Think “high and quick” on the double pole as the hill gets steeper
– When descending in the track, lean into the curve with both feet equally weighted
– Rest poles parallel on hip creases, hold grips in front of face to keep poles from sticking straight up
– “Don’t abort the track because that’s when bad things happen”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.