I hadn’t been on cross countries since I was 12. Then, six years out of college and six hours into a keg party it seemed a good idea to go downhill on these tiny skis with no edges. “See you guys where the road meets up again below.” We pointed straight down from the parking lot and picked up speed steadily. The skis made that queer sound as they accelerated, the plastic scales on the bottom going zip, ziP, zIP, ZIP. Having no idea how to scrub speed, I kept one ski straight and put the other almost completely sideways. I looked back to see my friend Tommy doing the same and laughing madly. Emboldened, we let off the brakes a little bit and started screaming toward the berm that marked a turn in the road and the beginning of the power line run. We hit it at high speed and flew through the air, landing in ridiculously deep pow. As the lights from our friends’ cars approached we stood and waved them down, finished with our cross country ski for the night.
Strapping on freeheel gear is one of the oldest forms of winter transportation. Tahoe has it’s own legacy of telemark skiing that dates back to the mid-1800’s when Snowshoe Thompson carried mail from Placerville to Genoa. The route was a difficult 5-day trudge on 25 pound skis that were made for going across and over mountain passes. But on his return to Placerville the people said he would let the 10-foot long skis pick up speed down the hill, “swaying his balance pole to one side and the other in the manner that a soaring eagle dips its wings.” So cross country led to downhill as it does for many people today who use the sport as cross over training.
Of course, competition is bred from just about anything where humans are involved, and so Tahoe also has one of the most prestigious skate skiing races in the country. Usually attracting over 1000 entrants The Great Ski Race forces hardy souls to start at Lake Tahoe and go over Mt. Pluto then down into Truckee, a distance of 30km (almost 18.5 miles). ”I thought I’d never make it,” said Scott Bevill, a Vermonter, of the grueling 1300’ ascent that greets entrants at the start. The Great Race benefits the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team and celebrates its 34nd running on March 7.
Granlibakken has one of the most beautiful tracks for XC skiing and it’s expanding the offering to include a little manmade assistance. Cross country skiers can now ride The Big G’s surface lift to the top of the ski hill then continue up to the incredibly beautiful Paige Meadows – incidentally the site of this story’s intro. High peaks, wide meadows and picture-book serenity await – and a beer at the Granlibakken Ski Hut probably does, too….