Fun in the snow.

Fun in the snow.

Most winters I complain about how central Illinois just doesn’t get enough snow to suit me.
So we’ve had 26 inches of snow this winter, as of the end of last week. And I’ve been on skis exactly once.

Right after Christmas I headed to a park near my house on my cross-country skis. It was Sunday morning quiet, just one other skiier, a couple pulling a child on a sled, and three guys riding mountain bikes through the park.

Of course, I fell (twice) on a tiny little hill. I think the folks with the sled were too far away to see me.

It was a perfect morning. I haven’t done it since, despite all the snow we keep shoveling off the driveway.

Now, watching the winter Olympics every night, I’m dying to get on skis again.

I love everything about the Olympics that happens on snow. And most of the other stuff too. Not so much the luge, though. And skeleton? I have to be reminded every four years what exactly that is. (It’s sliding headfirst on your belly on a sled, as opposed to feet first and on your back, like luge. I looked it up.)

I remember seeing snowboard cross for the first time four years ago and thinking it was the most fun event I’ve ever watched. I felt the same way last week, seeing the snowboarders flying through the air and racing through the curves, trying to pass each other without causing a pileup. Crazy.

By comparison, cross-country skiing doesn’t sound so exciting, but I love it. I think it’s the closest thing to running (my main sport) in the winter Olympics. And it is exciting. When American Johnny Spillane won silver last week in Nordic combined (cross-country skiing and ski jumping), the cross-country race came down to the wire and he finished just four-tenths of a second behind the winner.

Those skiiers put so much effort into their race, they collapse as soon as they cross the finish line. They’re tough.

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s inspired. Wild Country sold out of its stock of cross-country skis in three days in January, said store owner Steve Smith.

“I don’t ever remember a winter where we’ve had snow on the ground from the middle of December to now,” he said.

“The white stuff on the ground makes you say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Wisconsin and go skiing this weekend,’” Smith added. “One of those universal truths I learned as a child [--] snow is fun, whether you’re sledding or skiing or ice skating or having a snowball fight.”

Bob McGrew has been cross-country skiing for about 30 years. He’s skied four or five times this winter, including taking his two teenage daughters skiing at Allerton Park recently.

“When the snow is good and you have some time, it’s good exercise and it’s fun and you get outdoors where there’s no people,” said McGrew, an assistant director of Campus Recreation at the University of Illinois and head of its Adventure Center.

He also teaches cross-country skiing as part of an outdoor adventure class. The Adventure Center used to rent skis and offer cross-country ski clinics. But interest in the sport has waned over the last decade, McGrew said, with snowboarding growing in popularity.

But the youngest skiiers have moved on from snowboarding, Smith said.

“Snowboarders are now the old guys. The young kids are doing twin tip skis,” he said, explaining the skis with tips on each end allow the skiier to do better tricks.

The Olympics seem to have more of an effect on interest in sports on ice than on snow, Smith said.

“It makes little boys want to play hockey and little girls want to figure skate,” he said.

The colder weather has also helped with the sale of ice skates, he said, because people want to skate outside on frozen ponds.

Smith expects an even bigger effect on his next year’s business. People will remember all the snow this winter and be more likely to buy skis come next fall or winter.

“I hope if we have a couple years like this, it will change people’s attitudes to go outside and start playing in the snow some more,” he said.

“If we’re going to live through winter in Illinois, at least let’s have snow on the ground instead of it being brown and muddy.”

My thoughts exactly.

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