Why skiing uphill isn’t for the faint of heart

Sophie Oehler

When I was eight, my family went on vacation to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire.

It was great, until I got steamrolled by a snowboarder.

The pileup that followed marked the end of my eventful, although short, alpine career. Since then, I have committed to Nordic skiing.

Being a Nordic skier at UVM is like being that weird cousin at Thanksgiving. Sure, you’re part of the family, but no one really knows what you do with your time, or why.

But I like Nordic far better than Alpine. It is a rewarding challenge, pursued by only the bravest skiers.

I know it’s a weird sport. Skiers strap on skis barely wide enough to support the average human and trek through the woods for hours, until they reach the end of their strung out and frankly ridiculous adventure.

Nordic is not explosive or flashy like Alpine.

We can’t do cool tricks on our skis. We don’t throw ourselves down mountains at breakneck speed, defying common sense and gravity.

Nordic is sensible, even boring, to someone who’s unfamiliar with it. It’s a metaphor for life, almost. You go until you can’t any more, then summon your last ounce of strength and go a little farther.

In high school, my high school Nordic coach was an Olympic alternate.

She was one of my favorite coaches, but her practices were long, hard and defined by how many bruises any one of us got.

She’d take us to our local mountain, point to the topmost lift and say, “I’ll meet you up there.” And then she’d zip off into the crowd.

By the time we had finished getting our boots on, she’d be halfway up the mountain.

We got a lot of strange looks and snarky comments from the Alpine team, most of whom thought we were out of our minds to voluntarily slog up an icy mountain.

Especially when there was a perfectly good chair lift not ten feet above us.

I won’t pretend I like skiing uphill, because I don’t. But that’s not what Nordic is about. Nordic is about the work.

You earn the downhill. You bust your body to get up every hill, knowing that what goes up must come down.

You have to climb the mountains to get to the end, you have to work to get to the finish line.

Nordic teaches you the mentality of persistence. You can’t take shortcuts or back down from the climb, because you’ll never make it out of the woods.

That’s the difference between downhill and Nordic. An alpine skier can “ski the East.” A Nordic skier will conquer it.