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.
Crossing the Country in Uniform Comfort
Suited up in suitable Nordic manner at far left, Tom Upham and Patrick Mouligné stride through the birches of Sugar loaf, Maine, free and easy in their lightweight stretch fabrics.
The idea is to keep cool and dry while moving fast, then avoid chills while standing. At left, Kathy McKeany solves the problem by wearing cotton turtleneck under her knit nylon.
It figures that the Scandinavian influence would be a natural in the sport: Merete Degenkowl turns up below in hooded smock, trim knickers and the topper they call a Lapp cap.
The freedoms of cross-country are exemplified at right in lightweight suits, comfortable touring boots-no buckles!—and Nancy Ewan's easygoing version of a warmup outfit.
New Outfits for an Old Sport
The notable characteristic about cross-country skiing is that converts tend to fall upon the sport full of purist passions. There is no standing around lift line or lodge striking poses in skintight stretch pants, the scene so familiar to the Alpine branch of the game. In touring, fashion follows function and the clothing that goes with it is more serviceable than sexy. Ski tourers perspire on the move and at rest they give off steam like racehorses. The best cover for such activities are togs that look and perform like the warmup suits used in track and field; new nylon stretch knits are designed to breathe freely so that body moisture will evaporate. As a concession to cold, many manufacturers have added double layers across the seat and front of the knickers, but essentially the overall look remains simple as with the two outfits at left—a tricolored suit with zippered pockets to hold gear, and a facsimile of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Nordic suit. In skis and boots, ski tourers have clung doggedly for years to soft leathers and laminated woods, but future trends will swing inevitably, as they did in downhill, to synthetics and fiber glass to meet the demand.
Where to Buy
Starting on page 72, the red Helenca four-way stretch suit is by Hexcel ($45) at Sport Meister, East Lansing, Mich.; L.L. Bean, Freeport, Maine. The red and blue competition suit is made of nylon stretch knit ($60) by Anba of Austria. The white competition boots and all the other boots on these pages are by Bass, the gloves by B.H. Weiss. The navy and gold nylon stretch-knit outfit also is from Anba ($60)-both Anba suits are at Randy's Racquet & Ski Shop, Pittsburgh. The red Scandinavian-style tunic and knicker combo is polyester gabardine ($55) by Monika Tilley for Profile; the Lapp cap is Beconta's. The outfit is at Dave Cook Sporting Goods, Denver; Lord & Taylor, New York. The blue suit with red zippers is made of Lycra-nylon-rayon stretch by Head ($95) at Hickory & Tweed, Armonk, N.Y.; Don Thomas Sporthaus, Birmingham, Mich. The light touring boots ($34) are at Spiegel's, New York; Hudson's, Detroit. The green nylon stretch-knit knicker-suit is from Anba ($50) at Randy's Racquet & Ski Shop, Pittsburgh. Opposite: the two-piece polyester stretch-crepe suit is designed by Peter Steinebronn for Head Ski Wear in Europe ($115) at Princeton Skate & Ski, New York. The red, white and blue nylon knit suit ($33.50) by Demetre is at Gorsuch Ltd., Vail; Wilson's Sports, Rutland, Vt.
JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN