February 1, 2002
Just Skating Along,
but Not in Those Clunky Old Toe-Crushers
By JAMES GORMAN
AIRLEE, Vt. — As I stood on the frozen ice of Lake Morey, watching the skaters, who were well into the 50 kilometers they would race that morning, I kept an eye on their feet. Some of them were wearing speed skates of the sort you see in the Olympics. But others had on strange new contraptions.
They were wearing cross-country ski boots attached at the toe to narrow platforms with long blades underneath. The heels of the skaters were free, as they are in many new Olympic speed skates, and as the skaters moved, the rear of the blades would momentarily disconnect from the boot heels.
The skaters' strides were long and smooth, and, I had been told, since cross-country boots are so much more comfortable than regular skates, their feet were warm. Warm feet skating outdoors? Unthinkable.
I've always loved skating for fun. I was never a figure skater. I never played hockey or raced. But as a child, I skated outdoors every winter, on ponds in city parks, on frozen swamps in nearby woods, and one winter on a home-made rink in the backyard, made with a garden hose, snow and cold weather.
Some of my fondest memories are of the innocent pleasures of skating with my friends on Friday nights as a young adolescent. As I remember, we would form a pack, race around the park ponds out of control, buzz adults and small children, steal girls' hats and create the longest, most out of control whip possible. To make a whip, you form a line, hold hands and skate at top speed until the anchor stops dead. The rest of the line whips around him, sending skaters hurtling off to fall in snowbanks or bowl people over.
I know now that this is rude and unsafe and that children should never attempt it. At least not while I'm around. I was knocked down a few years ago by a pack of 10-year-olds. I landed on my tail bone and had to struggle to keep tears of pain from my eyes. The boys gathered round me, looking as if they thought they had permanently crippled me. "Are you O.K., Mister?" the culprit asked. I had never felt so old.
Naturally, the people who run skating rinks try to avoid this sort of accident, which may be why my children have never enjoyed skating as much as I did. At times, we have skated with them on Adirondack lakes, which is a great treat, although not without its hazards to the adults. One year, my brother-in-law fell and dislocated his shoulder. As a member of the Montshire Speedskating Club said to me as I was watching the race on Lake Morey, "Skating is a low impact sport — unless you fall."
It was memories of childhood and the pleasure of skating on those lakes that led me to Lake Morey to try out Nordic skates. Nordic or cross-country skating is like Nordic or cross-country skiing. It is popular in Europe's colder countries and involves skating long distances outside, sometimes with great numbers of people.
In the United States it is almost unknown, but it does have at least one fervent promoter, Jamie Hess, who helped organize the weekend of racing on Lake Morey.
His Nordic skating store in Norwich, Vt., is the only one he knows of in the Northeast, and I could find no indications of any other. He is president of the Montshire Skating Club in Norwich. And his Web site (www.nordicskater.com), in addition to offering all sorts of unusual Nordic skate and boot combinations for sale, is full of information on cross-country skating tours in Vermont, Canada, Austria and Sweden.
Text Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Photos Copyright 2002 Tom Ward and Andrew Love
PO Box 89, Norwich, Vermont 05055 USA ... www.nordicskater.com
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