Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Excursion Article Series 02.18.09: Cross-country Skiing on Jackson Lake, or How to Fall on a Completely Flat Surface

Caption: AmberLynn follows a snowmobile trail, stab, squeak, sliiiiiiding across the Jackson Lake.

Excursion: Cross-country skiing
Where: Jackson Lake
When: When the lake is frozen, otherwise it’s called water skiing
Difficulty: Easy
Length: As far as you want to go

With sweat drops freezing to my forehead, I listened to the hypnotic sounds of my skis and poles: stab, squeak, sliiiiiide. Stab, squeak, sliiiiide. It was the only sound I could hear on the tranquil surface of Jackson Lake.

Caption: Gotta love winter.

Sadly it wasn’t the only sound I heard all day. Before we got started, my 16-month old Kael decided to pitch a fit about getting out of the car. Long and loud sounds those were. I think the ruckus was because we awoke him out of his warm car seat and immediately placed him in a smaller, colder version in a ski trailer we had borrowed from some friends for the occasion. He squirmed so much his gloves kept falling off. We almost called it quits before we even left the parking lot.

Caption: Bram had to pretend she was downhilling on the flat lake.

The only other sounds we heard were snowmobiles motoring past to find the next great ice-fishing hole. The noise wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t mind too much because of the pleasant side effect. Each snowmobile left behind it an imperfect, albeit serviceable track for my wife and I to follow across the flat expanses of the frozen lake. Where the options were to break trail on skinny skis through a foot of slightly crusty snow or follow a trail heaped up in the center forcing our skis a foot apart, we welcomed the snowmobile tracks.

Caption: That's my girls. Outdoors just the way I like them.

The noise from the toddler finally died into a resigned snore as we started onto the lake, leaving only stab, squeak, sliiiiiide to fill the silence. We started from Colter Bay, heading down what in the summer are rounded rock “beaches.” I’m convinced if all sand were as large as those rocks, coastlines wouldn’t attract nearly as much tourism.

The expansive field of the icy lake appealed to us greatly as a destination for several reasons: 1) Neither of us had cross-country skied for years, and flat sounded beautiful. 2) The views on Jackson Lake are world class. 3) We could make our own trail in any direction from the parking lot. 4) We could go as far as we wanted to go and never feel like we hadn’t made it to a destination.

Caption: Gorgeous. And the mountains aren't half bad either.

Though it was nice to have the trailer to pull Kael, I found it offered more problems than solutions for the circumstances. First, the belt tethering me to the trailer had give in it, but the poles between the belt and the trailer were rigid. So whenever I found good forward thrust on the skis, the cart would pull back a little bit on the somewhat elastic belt, it acting as a rubber band for the entire cart. The trailer would quickly overtake my pace and push me forward, making me lose my balance several times and clatter to the surface of the lake in a graceless heap. Also, the trailer all balanced on one axle, essentially using my body for the second. So when I went down, so did the boy. Amazingly, he never woke up.

Caption: Taking a break from getting beat up by the trailer to check out my mountains.

When I did stay upright, after the trailer caught up to me it would rebound back and forth off my back and stomach, stealing my momentum two or three times on each forward motion. Also, because the stance of the cart, it was almost always breaking two trails to keep moving forward. My wife was easily able to outdistance me most of the time.

Cross-country skiing is one of those sports that is cardiovascular training at its finest. I don’t think there are too many better workouts if you keep a steady pace. Because of that, it is wise to wear layers when skiing, even if it is a flat and open expanse you are skiing across. By the time we really got moving, I was really sweating in the 14-degree weather even though I had shed my hat and gloves and was down to just a light jacket mostly unzipped.

The snow on the mountains is incredible, and highlights portions of the range you might not normally notice. Wide open views of the Teton Range combined with boat-like freedom on foot make cross-country skiing on Jackson Lake a perfect winter activity. So get off those groomed roads for a change and give it a chance.

Caption: I love the shadows on this one and how it almost, but not quite entirely black and white.

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