Northern Minnesota is beautiful and punishing in winter. The crystalline snow crunches underfoot. Every naked birch is illuminated by the distant sun, and the silent world is drenched in white. Some days the snow is so cold that it sounds like squeaking Styrofoam. On the best subzero bluebird days, I have one clear purpose: to Nordic ski as fast and far as I can before my face freezes off.
People who live in more temperate climates think we northern Nordic types are masochistic nuts, cross-country skiing through winters that can last from October to April. I prefer to believe we’re practical, with a built-in survival compass that points toward sanity by way of burning calories and staving off cabin fever.
It’s true there’s a steep learning curve to Nordic skiing, both the centuries-old classical form where skis glide straightforward in tracks as arms pump along in synchronicity; and skate skiing, the faster technique brought to the world’s attention by Bill Koch when he glided in a V-formation to the 1982 World Cup Nordic title. When mastered, both styles provide a rush akin to human flight.