Coaches Jim King and Robin Morning address MMS team skiers prior to the Tannenbaum 10K. (Photo: Leonard)
And learning to do it at the same time. Leonard takes on Nordic skiing.
It happens. When you’ve lived in Mammoth long enough, there are moments when you’re just not on snow. You’re working a job, and maybe you’re like me, buried in paperwork at a desk. And maybe you long to be a tourist in town again, skiing and eating and shopping at the market, totally oblivious to the fact that people like me actually “work” here to “ski” here.
And if you’re lucky enough, you get to coach. But, when Junior Teams Director Mark Brownlie informed me a few weeks back that I was to direct the Mammoth High School Nordic Team this season, in addition to the school’s alpine and snowboard teams, I quite sarcastically thought to myself, “Great. More work.”
It wasn’t until I moved here in 2004, that I even imagined that one could equate “ski” and “work,” and the many years later I find myself trying to budget more time for the latter rather than former. Sure, I could always join the dark side of the force, ditch my multiple workplace environs, collect unemployment and become the textbook ski bum. But, I truthfully love every job I have, including the latest of directing the MHS Nordic Team. And frankly my addiction to toys and all things fun requires more income than unemployment. So, I’m plunging myself into the world of Nordic skiing, and surprisingly it’s becoming part of my lifestyle.
I’ve made one transition already, from 15 years of riding snowboards to alpine skiing (though I still like to ride about once a week as part of the roughly 150 days I log on the Mountain each winter). Now I’ve added Nordic to the mix, I think Brownlie may have been onto something. He obviously keyed in on my love for all-things-snow-sports. During the past few years, I grew to appreciate free-heel teleskiing, and got KO’d by Dr. Mike Karch’s charisma and participated in the 2010 Biathlon. Skiing and shooting are two of my favorite things, and combining the two is like a Reese’s on snow.
Last March, the day before the Biathlon, I clicked on Nordic classic skis for the first time in 20 years. After having my rear end handed to me on a platter by all three of the Mannetter boys while skiing around Shady Rest, I decided I was ready to attempt skate skiing the day of the race. What a humbling experience. What a magnificent sport! I wear, my official 2010 Biathlon shirt around town with pride!
I’m starting to really dig Nordic skiing. I’m at the Mountain five days a week for either high school alpine and snowboard practice, or ripping it with the “Skittles” (Mighty Mites) on the weekends, and I am at Tamarack only two days a week. Now, however, my strategizing has changed to figuring out ways to spend more time skiing the runs groomed by Ueli and alongside the likes of Nancy Fiddler and other Nordic competitors. I really like the people at Tamarack. I love my fellow Junior Teams coaches as well, they are my family, but I’m hooked on the intensity of Nordic skiing, something that you just can’t find on a chairlift and a downhill run.
Take my first ever “race.” After gaining an arsenal of new and growing knowledge and technique from official Mammoth Unified School District coaches Ms. Fiddler, Robin Morning and Alana Levin, I signed up for the recent Eastern Sierra Nordic Ski Association (ESNSA) Tannenbaum Classic 10K Ski Race. It was a fundraising event going to a great cause, and the first official race of the season.
The day turned out to be perfect. Sunny, blue skies up at “The Rack,” lots of big smiles on friendly, familiar faces, plenty of Mammoth Middle and High School student-athletes ready to kill it on the sticks, and some of the greatest views in the Eastside. Coming around Lake Mary the first time, I had mixed emotions when the race crew informed me that I still had to do another lap around the lake. I thought to myself, “Okay, so it’s not a 3K race. It’s another chance to see the Sherwins set as the backdrop of an ice-covered lake. Paradise.”
I was actually glad to do the second lap, and after crossing the finish line, I even did a THIRD lap. Why? I loved it so much I WANTED to!
Alana later told me I took first place in my division, which was pretty cool. Of course — full disclosure — I was the ONLY skier in my division. But I didn’t ski so much to compete, just to do it. Karch blew my doors off, and Nancy left me in a cloud of snowy ice particles. The vast majority of the middle- and high-school skiers were waiting for me at the finish area as I skied across the finish line.
The important thing is that I am learning of an entire new world of skiing, one where you learn to go uphill to earn your downhill. It’s a skiing that makes you think about how to use every breath you take and when you’re done leaves you sweating like a pig. And, one of the perks, it’s a type of skiing that allows you to eat seven chocolate chip cookies after a race!
Don’t get me wrong. I love alpine skiing. I still like snowboarding. And few things in life are more enjoyable than a good day teleskiing. But you are going to find me a lot at Tamarack this season. Nordic skiing is now part of my life’s quiver of particularly satisfying pastimes.
And it might one day soon become one of yours, too. If you haven’t yet tried Nordic skiing, or it’s been a while, get up to Tamarack this season. Check the Mammoth Mountain website for local Nordic races and events, or call Ueli and his crew at 760.934.2442, ext. 8.
When Chris Leonard isn’t fly fish guiding for Kittredge Sports during the summer months, he teaches Economics, Geography and English as a Second Language at Mammoth High School, along with directing all MHS winter snow sports, and coaching Mighty Mites.