Venture out to the OO trailhead on Tuesday Nights after dark and you’re likely to encounter a group of lively skiers practicing their skills out and about the Korte gateway. While learning and leaps of faith are taking place, there is also a lot of laughter.
This is the Trail to the Prince Haakon group—a guided ski experience geared toward new and returning recreational skiers who want to give eventing a try. The program was dreamt up by Stephanie Martin from the American Birkebeiner and Kristy Harrison from New Moon Ski Shop who wanted to offer basic instruction, advice, and moral support to skiers wanting to improve their skiing—possibly capping off their season with the Prince Haakon, a 15K event that’s part of the American Birkebeiner festivities.
Skiers get together on Tuesday evenings and work with coaches and each other to become more confident on the trails. There are also additional weekend outings as well as a training plan participants can take part in.
Stephanie explains, “[Trail to the Prince Haakon is] a chance for people to learn or improve their skiing in a non-intimidating, weekly, group setting with a goal to work towards. Success isn’t determined if participants ski the Prince Haakon in February, but rather if they finish with more confidence in skiing than they started, all the while meeting new friends along the way!”
Stephanie and Kristy felt like newer skiers are often overcome with details that can make it hard to step out of their comfort zones, “I think the trail itself can be intimidating with the hills and the distance, but breaking the trail down into manageable bites gradually over a couple of months, and with friends, helps us overcome our preconceived ideas of what we are capable of,” Stephanie says.
Originally, they thought the group would stay pretty small, but when interest started to increase, some other coaches were asked to come on board. “Luckily, New Moon came to the rescue with the manpower! Scott Smith brought his expertise and has been a huge resource for those needing to know the essentials. Joel Harrison, Dusty Dale, and Kristin Frane take folks who are interested out for skate skiing and/or longer distances. Kristy and I ski with another group attacking the hills. Reese Harrison and Nancy Bauer help also.”
New Moon Team Member Kristin Frane not only helps with on-snow training, but she created a training plan for the group to work on during their off days. “I’ve developed the training plan for the group which consists of simple bodyweight exercises. While cardio is vitally important to skiing, weight training is equally important. Cross country skiing uses every muscle group in the body. The Birkie Trail is rather tough so having strong legs, glutes. abs, arms (especially triceps), and back muscles is incredibly important,” Kristin explains.
This group has been an opportunity for Kristin and Stephanie to pay it forward. “I’m so thankful someone took the time to teach me how to ski that it’s a joy to be with others as they learn,” says Stephanie. Kristin adds, “Twelve years ago, Nancy Bauer taught me how to ski and it literally changed the trajectory of my life. Suddenly my focus was on my health, for the first time I made time for myself, and I made new friends who had the same outlook on life as me. I’m hoping others in this group might have the same experience.”
Back at the SC Johnson Family Outdoor Center, skiers check-in, divide into groups and hit the trail. Joel loves his Tuesday coaching gig with these newbies. “Sliding on the snow is a magical thing,” he muses. “It’s fun to see folks discover something that we (long-time skiers) experience every day. It’s also a learning experience for me. I’m breaking down the steps to teach and relearning it as I go.”
Kristy has a blast as well, and while these skiers aren’t quite as youthful as those she coached on the middle school ski team, they seem to be just as … shall we say … spirited. “I see a lot of nerves and get a lot of backtalk, but I also get to see these folks really step out of their comfort zone and take some chances.”
You can tell that Joel is proud of the participants. “They’ve got a lot of humor and great self-awareness as they are tackling these mini-adventures. It’s just a lot of fun to see.”
It’s easy to see that these skiers are enjoying their coaches and their time on the trail, even if improving can be challenging. One skier, Kim, writes on Facebook, “So very thankful for this group and the awesome instruction we have received.” Another, Kate, appreciates all the help, “Thank you, Nancy and all who continue to coach us! What a beautiful night on the trail! Patient coaches, you rock!!” And Tracy replies, “I am so thankful to be a part of the group!”
One of the newest newbies to the group, Amanda, heard about the program this fall and signed up as soon as she could. She had skied before but had a bad experience and hadn’t gotten back on the trail since. “I’ve owned skis for 3 years and hadn’t been on them. This program gives me the accountability I need each week to get me out on the trails.” Amanda may or may not make it to the Prince Haakon in February, but she has greatly improved her technique and her confidence on skis. “All of the coaches have been amazing explaining techniques to this southern girl. While I may not be ready to ski the race this year, I definitely am excited to call myself a skier by the end of training—that is once I go downhill and can easily stop!”
No matter whether these sassy skiers get to the “event” part of the Trail to the Prince Haakon program, it’s clear they’ve gained much more than the skills to do so. Sounds like to coaches did, too. “Skiing is meant to be fun and social, and having a group start at the same level has been so great to help develop a feeling of camaraderie,” Kristin says, “Especially in this time of isolation for a lot of people, finding ways to get together is so important!”
Good luck to all the skiers and coaches out on the trails every day helping promote nordic skiing, helpfulness, and a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for all you do! Can’t wait to see what next year brings!