Stinking Wool and Speed Balls

For cross-country skiers, there's no shortage of the magic around Sandpoint

Reprinted from Sandpoint Magazine
. 529 words

By Bill Mullane

Toward the end of a long, mind-numbing day at my computer, a snowball suddenly hits my window high above the village area of Schweitzer. I know without looking that it was launched by my cross-country ski buddies who are standing there looking fast and fit and ready to rip on their Nordic skate skis.

They beckon me down to the winter playground with that agitated, addict-in-need-of-a-fix look in their eyes. In the early evening twilight of deep winter, their headlamps say "Fear not, we own the night." Leaping into my gear, I tear myself away from my responsibilities and quickly join the pack. We are soon off, feeling the need for speed and willing to work hard to get it.

We accelerate madly down the access way leading to Schweitzer's Nordic ski trails on short, lightning-fast, cross-country skate skis waxed to achieve terminal velocity. We attack the first climb using a powerful, high tempo skating stride and long, rigid, head-high poles to propel our bodies up the steep pitch.

Swiftness on the ascents is limited only by arm and leg strength, technique and cardiovascular distress. Downhill velocity is checked by nerves and the instinct for self-preservation. The combination of gut-wrenching climbs and mind-bending descents through the cold beauty of the North Idaho night creates a euphoric adrenaline/endorphin brain cocktail that makes the "runner's high" pale by comparison. Cares and worries evaporate into the black, star-studded sky as existence is reduced to the next 50 meters of trail.

The power, speed and excitement of cross-country ski skating would astonish those who still think of Nordic skiing as a slow, somber, wool-infested affair for the chronically dull. Modern advances in clothing, equipment, slope grooming and technique have added new and stimulating dimensions to the sport. But whether one seeks an adrenaline-stoked romp around the ski-skating track or a more traditional, diagonal-stride glide across a mellow meadow, nothing can match the sense of fulfillment and peace brought about by a magic cross-country slide through North Idaho's breathtakingly beautiful backcountry.

Returning to my office I feel refreshed and renewed and grateful that such exhilarating recreation lies right outside my back door. I return to my desk knowing that the next time cabin fever begins to burn and the words on my computer screen turn to alphabet soup, I'll await the sound of that snowball smashing against my window my call to wild places and riotous release.

Bill Mullane is communications manager for Schweitzer Mountain Resort and is happy to be back in North Idaho after a yearlong sabbatical in Chicago.

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COPYRIGHT 1996 by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc., of Sandpoint, Idaho. Reprinted from the Winter 1996 edition of Sandpoint Magazine. Sandpoint Magazine is published twice a year, in Winter and Summer editions, by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc. Call 1-800-880-3573 to subscribe.