A long time ago, in a house not so far away, my older brother decided to take up cross-country skiing. Before he started real lessons he decided that I, who was about 10 years old at the time, would be the perfect temporary coach. So there I stood on the mudroom porch, shouting instructions to him from a manual (yes, he actually had a manual) while he tried to master the art of the glide on our front lawn.
That was the first and last winter he strapped on those skis. It’s a good thing my mother rented. Anyway, the point here is not to poke fun at my brother (well, maybe just a little bit) but rather to take a look at skiing as transportation and recreation.
Although there’s been a dearth of snow this winter, The Hub thought it would be fun to take a look at skiing -- its history and where to go locally today.
Several issues ago, National Geographic published had a beautiful article and photo essay on the modern day Sami. Reindeer herders, the Sami may be among the first people to have skied.
Of course it’s not a title that can ever be proven. However, archeologists know that one of the oldest, and most primitive, skis came from a peat bog in Hoting, Sweden. It dates to between 2,500 or 4,500 BC.
Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, enabled northern peoples to hunt and travel.
In addition to hunting, skiing became one more means for armies to travel and fight.
During the Winter War, the Finns used ski troops to repel Russian troops and preserve their independence. That didn’t go unnoticed by Charles Minot Dole, who was then president of the National Ski Patrol. He decided the U.S. Army needed mountain troops. Dole lobbied the War Department and in 1941 the Army activated its first mountain unit, the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion, according to Fort Drum, United States Army website.
In 1943 the 10th Mountain Division came into being Camp Hale, Colo. The division first saw combat on Jan. 28, 1945 in North Apennine Mountains Italy. After World War II many 10th Mountain Division veterans went on to found ski resorts in Vermont and Colorado.
Military skiing, like Nordic skiing, has crossed over to recreational skiing. The biathlon, where athletes cross-country ski and rifle shoot, has been part of skiing championships since the 1920s.
Devil’s Den in Weston and Trout Brook Valley in Easton, Redding and Weston, Huntington State Park in Redding and the Pierrepoint State Park in Ridgefield are just a few places where novices and experts can explore the woods on skis.
Traillink.com offers a fairly comprehensive list of places to cross-country. There is the 40-mile Farmington Canal Heritage Trail; the 5-mile Housatonic-Rail-Trail in Trumbull, the 4.2-mile Housatonic Valley Rail-Trail in Monroe; the 4.3-mile Norwalk River Valley Trail and the 2.3-mile Ridgefield Rail Trail.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection also aims to promote what it calls ski touring.
“The Department of Environmental Protection wishes to encourage the expansion of ski touring as an environmentally sound form of recreation. (We use the term "ski touring" since our trail tracks are not machine-set nor groomed.) One of the oldest winter activities known to man, ski touring has enjoyed an enthusiastic revival and new growth in Connecticut during the past few years,” according to DEEP’s website.
People are encouraged to look for DEEP’s brown and white signs depicting a stylized skier, direction arrow and a degree of difficulty symbol.
The closest DEEP trail in Fairfield County is in Bethel at Collis P. Huntington State Park. The website says a network of trails covers a flat and rolling terrain.
There are many options for Fairfield County residents interested in taking up cross-country skiing. And none of them require someone shouting instructions to them.