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XC Skiing in Rochester… and a Little Beyond

The sport seems even more popular today than it was when I growing up in the ‘70s

By Todd Etshman

On a cold snowy day in the middle of winter, the parking lot at Durand Eastman Park across from Lake Ontario in Irondequoit is full, but it’s not for golfing. It’s for cross country, also known as Nordic skiing or XC skiing.

Skiers can also be found at various other venues in the city, including Webster Park, Mendon Ponds Park and Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area in Springwater overlooking Honeoye Lake.

Those are the areas groomed by the Rochester Cross Country Ski Federation for traditional cross country skiing called classic skiing and for the more modern method of skate skiing.

The ski methods are dramatically different. For those just getting started, experts like veteran skier Kevin Marks recommends starting with classic.

“Once you get the hang of it and you want even more of a workout, you can try skate skiing,” he said.

People of all ages and abilities traverse the park utilizing their preferred type of skiing and there are many. The one thing they have in common is they have skis on and they’re not prone to staying inside when the snow flies. In fact, the more snow the better since snowmaking isn’t an option as it is at downhill venues like Bristol Mountain, which also offers cross-country skiing on top of the mountain.

Residents of our snow belt city know staying inside for months until winter passes isn’t a good idea for your health or your sanity. “Nothing’s better than cruising along on a bluebird day through beautiful scenery,” Marks said.

You can do that on snow shoes, too. But we’ll save that for another article.

RXCSF members can access current ski conditions at the various venues in our area and member dues help support the cost of purchasing and maintaining grooming equipment. A 501c (3) nonprofit founded in 2005; RXCSF has vastly improved Nordic ski conditions in the Rochester area.

Memberships start as low as $15 for a seasonal individual membership.

Nordic skiing offers a full body, cardio and strength building workout without the impact stress on knees and ankles you can get from running and for the most part, has a relatively low risk of injury.

For those who seek and like skiing challenges, cross-country skiing has that, too. A black diamond in cross-country means the same thing it does in downhill: difficult.

“I like winter escapes and being outside in the woods in winter,” said Rick VenVertloh, of Scottsville.

VenVertloh and I have been cross-country skiing together for decades since we were kids growing up in Irondequoit. Like many others, we’ve also enjoyed skiing with our families: parents, siblings, kids and spouses.

The sport seems even more popular today than it was growing up in the ‘70s.

Unfortunately, whether it’s due to global warming or just variable weather, we don’t always get the amount of snow here that we used to. Experienced skiers know to get out there as soon as it snows since it could rain or melt the next day or in the next weather pattern.

VenVertloh also likes bushwhacking or backcountry skiing in which the skier leaves groomed trails and other skiers behind on wider skis to go where they please. He uses them in places like Oatka Creek Park, which isn’t groomed.

He’s skied the backcountry in our area, the Adirondacks, the Tug Hill Plateau, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Northern Arizona, Canada and more.

The amount of snowfall at Tug Hill Plateau in northern Oswego County is always higher than measurements at the city of Rochester. WHAM meteorologist Scott Hetsko can tell you exactly why that is. The Art Roscoe XC Ski Area in Allegheny State Park is closer than the Adirondacks and has groomed trails at an elevation of 2,150’.

There are other nearby options, too. Byrncliff Resort in Varysburg has nice trails laid out through the surrounding forest. Bring a headlamp if you’re out after 5 p.m. on short winter days and some money since it’s not a public park.

Cumming Nature Center in Naples, owned by the Rochester Museum and Science Center, is another good choice that charges just a nominal fee to ski.

Ski rentals are available and they have 12 miles of groomed trails.

Wherever you go, you’re sure to find whitetailed deer running around or often just standing near the trail, unafraid of quiet, tired people trying to get back to their car.

My wife is always worried about bears although we haven’t seen one.

Allegheny State Park is where you’re more likely to see them.

Whichever spouse is faster should remember to wait up for loved ones or face the angry consequences.

See if you can out-stare a deer while you’re waiting. If you’re not too tired to look up, a snowy owl or hawk might be keeping an eye on you, too.

Variable temperatures and snow conditions affect how cross-country skis perform.

If you’re just starting out or don’t want to be bothered with esoteric cross-country ski stuff, no-wax skis make cross-country skiing quick and easy for anyone who wants to try it. If you want, you can probably add a little wax to those skis, too. Rub it in with a cork. Even experts, like Kevin Marks, use no-wax, too. At the age of 66, he’s begun training this year for a 55K ski race next year.

Like most things, cross-country ski technology keeps getting better with time. If you’re using three-pin bindings, you are most likely 55-plus.

Marks and VenVertloh know all about the technology and they’re not the only ones in an area that embraces its cross-country skiing almost as much as a town in the Adirondacks or the state of Vermont.

Featured image: Kevin and Wendy Marks pause at Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area in Springwater overlooking Honeoye Lake. Marks recommends people start slow on the slopes. “Once you get the hang of it and you want even more of a workout, you can try skate skiing,” he says.