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Tim Jones column: First cross country day at Gunstock

  • Slow climb: Marilyn Donnelly and Bill Gunn ease up a long, gentle climb on the  trails at Gunstock Nordic Center in Gilford, N.H. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Slow climb: Marilyn Donnelly and Bill Gunn ease up a long, gentle climb on the trails at Gunstock Nordic Center in Gilford, N.H. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Passing zone: A skate skier in full training mode blows past  Marilyn Donnelly and Bill Gunn on a long, gentle climb on the Nordic trails at Gunstock Nordic Center in Gilford, N.H. Nordic skiing can be as aerobic as you want it to be. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Passing zone: A skate skier in full training mode blows past Marilyn Donnelly and Bill Gunn on a long, gentle climb on the Nordic trails at Gunstock Nordic Center in Gilford, N.H. Nordic skiing can be as aerobic as you want it to be. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • The slopes at Gunstock Ski Area were cold, windy and very busy on the Saturday after Christmas, but at the Nordic Center, the snow was perfectly groomed, the trails were empty and the exercise kept you warm. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    The slopes at Gunstock Ski Area were cold, windy and very busy on the Saturday after Christmas, but at the Nordic Center, the snow was perfectly groomed, the trails were empty and the exercise kept you warm. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Skater: The trails at Gunstock Nordic were well covered and perfectly groomed for both skate skiing and classic in tracks. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Skater: The trails at Gunstock Nordic were well covered and perfectly groomed for both skate skiing and classic in tracks. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Slow climb: Marilyn Donnelly and Bill Gunn ease up a long, gentle climb on the  trails at Gunstock Nordic Center in Gilford, N.H. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Passing zone: A skate skier in full training mode blows past  Marilyn Donnelly and Bill Gunn on a long, gentle climb on the Nordic trails at Gunstock Nordic Center in Gilford, N.H. Nordic skiing can be as aerobic as you want it to be. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • The slopes at Gunstock Ski Area were cold, windy and very busy on the Saturday after Christmas, but at the Nordic Center, the snow was perfectly groomed, the trails were empty and the exercise kept you warm. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Skater: The trails at Gunstock Nordic were well covered and perfectly groomed for both skate skiing and classic in tracks. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

I don’t know about you, but last year’s non-winter left me craving cross-country skiing. There was enough snow at Alpine ski areas for some decent turns (at least until the mid-March meltdown), and the mountains were still there to climb. We even had some good ice to skate on later in February for a few days. But in all of last winter, I only got four good days on my cross-country skis, and had to travel all the way to Greenville, Maine, to get that.

This year’s been different. And the change is very welcome. The Saturday after Christmas was cold and windy following a couple of pretty good snowstorms. My sweetheart, Marilyn, and I met a friend of ours, Bill Gunn, at the Gunstock Nordic Center (800-486-7862 x193, gunstock.com) in Gilford for our first X-C outing of the year. It was Bill’s first time on skis on a newly installed hip, so the plan was to take our time and sort of ease into the season. Cross-country is a real workout if you want it … but it doesn’t have to be.

This was also the first time ever Nordic skiing at Gunstock for the three of us. Not sure why … I know I’ve skied the Alpine area at Gunstock many, many times but had never tried the Nordic.

It’s interesting to note that this was a very busy holiday Saturday for most ski areas

(many New England areas set all-time records last week) and Gunstock was no exception. We got there just as the first lift was scheduled to turn and two parking lots were already filled and a third was well on its way to filling. But I’ll be willing to bet the combination of cold winds and high-speed lifts kept the lift lines to a minimum. The base lodge was likely hopping.

By contrast, the Nordic Center was quiet, with a nice fire going in the woodstove, and benches to change your boots. Nothing hectic, nothing frenetic – except maybe the cold wind blowing outside. We were cold as we got out onto the trails and put on our skis. But the nice thing about cross-country skiing is that you warm up quickly, even on a cold, windy day.

Gunstock Nordic Center has a lovely trail system. They had about 30 kilometers of trails groomed, mainly novice and intermediate terrain, and the way the winds had brought in the snow during the post-Christmas storms, the higher trails had a bit more coverage. So that’s where we headed, following the groomer that laid down fresh tracks for classic skiing. As we puttered along, a number of skate skiers went flying by us, obviously enjoying their high-aerobic experience as much as we were enjoying our mellower one.

We slid along, talking and laughing, moving just fast enough to keep the heart pumping and ourselves warm as we slowly worked our way up a long, gradual hill through snowy woodlands, sometimes with a pond to our left. The trails are well marked. We passed a number of black diamond (expert) trails, but chose instead to stick to the more gradual blues and greens – this was our first outing of the season, after all.

After all that gradual climbing, we did get to swoop down one long hill back toward the base of the Alpine area. As the old song says, we were laughing all the way. After about two hours of exploring, we found ourselves back at the Nordic Center and ready to go in and warm up. The fire felt awfully good.

We could have taken a break for lunch and gone back out, but two hours was just enough to remind our thigh muscles what we expected of them. They’ll be ready for more the next time.

The weather looks cold and dry for the next week or 10 days and the snow we have isn’t going anywhere. All we need is a few of the “nor’inchers” forecast to buff up the surface and keep building on the base we already have. All indications are, it’s going to be a great winter for cross-country skiing.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Winter Trails Day

Jan. 12 is Winter Trails Day, which is celebrated across the country.

In New Hampshire, Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center (466-2333, greatglentrails.com) in Pinkham Notch is offering trail passes, rentals and a 45-minute introductory cross-country clinic (by reservation) free to first-time Nordic skiers and snowshoers. Hours are 1-4 p.m.

From 1-4 p.m. (registration begins at 12:30), the Nordic Center at the Mount Washington Resort (278-3322, mountwashingtonresort.com) in Bretton Woods is offering free rentals on a first-come first-served basis plus an introduction to cross-country skiing throughout the afternoon.

In Massachusetts, Canterbury Farms (413-623-0100, canterbury-farms.com) in Becket offers a one-hour group lesson, free ski rentals and trail pass for the first 10 new skiers (never skied before) to pre-register. Lessons will be at noon and 2 p.m. Notchview Reservation (413-684-0148, notchview.org) in Windsor is offering free rentals and lessons for newcomers and half-price trail passes to everyone.

Hilltop Orchards (800-833-6274, hilltoporchards.com) in Richmond, Mass., will offer free 30-minute clinics for first-timers (limit six per session): Snowshoeing clinics include rental and instruction (10 a.m./1 p.m./3 p.m.); cross-country skiing includes rental and instructions (ages 12 and older) at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. If guests wish to stay and ski the remainder of the day, they pay only $10 including rental and trail fee. Preregistration is required; first-come, first-served. Call Holly at 413-281-2028 or email hollyallsports@gmail.com for information/questions.

In Vermont, there are events at Blueberry Hill Inn (802-247-6735, blueberryhillinn.com) in Goshen, Grafton Ponds Recreation Center (800- 843-1801, graftonponds.com), Ole’s Cross Country Ski Center (877-863-3001, olesxc.com) in Warren, Rickert Nordic Center (802-443-2744, rikertnordic.com) in Ripton, Smugglers Notch Nordic and Snowshoe Center (800-451-8752, smuggs.com) in Jeffersonville, and Strafford Nordic Center (802-765-4309, straffordnordicskiing.com) all have free or reduced-price events.

Family events at Great Glen

On Jan. 13, Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center will host the TD Bank Kids Ski Fest. This is a great opportunity for kids and families to enjoy a day of winter fun. Presented in conjunction with the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA), the Kid’s Ski Fest is geared toward elementary to middle school kids. No preregistration is necessary and all activities and rentals for kids are free with a trail pass. Trail passes for participating kids and adults will be $5 ($19 regularly). Rentals for participating parents will be $10.

The schedule is:

9 a.m.-1 p.m.: registration opens, rental equipment pickup

9:30-10 a.m.: first-time skiers’ mini-lesson (how to put on equipment, turn skis, snowplow and get up from a fall)

10:15-10:40: games on skis, morning session

11: classic team sprint relays, cross age groups (grades 1-9), teams picked randomly

Noon: lollipop race (preschool up to grade 2)

12:30-1 p.m.: lunch break

1-1:30: first-time skiers’ mini-lesson session 2

1:45-2:15: games on skis, afternoon session

2:15: ski tour to the Great Angel cabin

2-3: treats at Great Angel

All day: Steve’s awesome obstacle course (on skis), trails tracker, snow tubing, trail skiing.

For more information, call Great Glen Trails at 466-3988, visit greatglentrails.com and look under family programs, or visit the New England Nordic Ski Association website atnensa.net.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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