It's All on the Level
Farewell, cruel boots, buckled to depress the instep. So long, bulky parkas and fogged goggles. No more the instructive cry of "Bend ze knees!" Goodby to all that. Cross-country skiing, the sport that Americans shunned for so many years, has come on in a dramatic new wave. The skitourer is now loose upon the land, striding out to find the sanctuary that somehow got lost when too many people took to the mountaintops. It turns out that Snowshoe Thompson had the right idea back in 1856 when he began skiing the Sierra mail over a 90-mile route: yonder is pure quiet, the scenery and settings that feed the soul. And now, in a boom that began three years ago, cross-country is suddenly very In. The ski-touring population has doubled each season since 1969 until the census is currently around half a million and climbing. Sales of cross-country skis, more than 200,000 pairs in the 1972-73 season, are setting records; resorts that once catered exclusively to downhillers now offer full touring programs. In verdant New England, a chain of trails now spiderwebs from Maine to New York. Just as the real Nordics do in Oslo, Minnesotans ski their parks and frozen lakes. Even Aspen and Vail, those hotbeds of schuss, offer cross-country, and in Sun Valley, enthusiasts now ski off to cocktails and dinner, lurching home happily along a romantic, torchlit trail. Yosemite's touring school that opened to six students now draws 150 every Sunday. "I always said we would come back," says Montreal's Herman (Jack Rabbit) Smith-Johannsen, who doggedly trekked on alone while friends scoffed. "I knew people would get tired of spending so much money on downhill. Now skiing is again a sport for the whole family." And so saying, he swings out to lead the march into the brave new world. Jack Rabbit Johannsen is 98 years old.
This is more than a sport learned at mother's knee: kids like 2-year-old Joshua DuMond of Stowe, Vt. grow up to touring by jouncing along happily aboard backpacks. Mom Pat, 26, is typical of those who carry the children along.
Everybody knows that those picturesque New England farm houses were put there for cross-country backdrops, just to create a scene such as the one above in Vermont.
Not that the sport doesn't have its slapstick moments—as in Putney's whoop-de-do Washington's Birthday Race at left when everybody tries to dash over the bridge at once.
The people who turn out at Putney, more than a thousand new-born Nordics, start in a cheery cluster, then fan out for 11 miles of racing and touring. Winning doesn't really matter.
The Scandinavians call this skijoring, but at Stowe's Trapp Family Lodge it's just plain zinging along behind a horse: Lynne von Trapp up and family dog bounding in full pursuit.
Along the way, in the cross-country way, one can drop in for a stingingly cold drink—in this case the clear water of Trail Creek beside a Sun Valley course.
Dwarfed by the red giants of Yosemite, the springtime band at left discovers a silent wonderland of the sort seldom seen by skiers who insist on a downhill trail.
The end of an 11-mile course through the Granite Creek valley east of Jackson Hole, Wyo. offers the reward at right: snows open to a natural hot spring pool.