Our New Favorite Pastime – Cross Country Skiing in the Black Hills

There was a time when seeing puffy flakes of snow falling from the heavens filled my soul with excitement. It meant sledding, hot chocolate, breaking out the 1980’s style snow jackets my mom kept in the closet, and of course a snow day or two. 
That doesn’t happen in South Dakota. 
I don’t generally think of myself as a whiner and complainer, but I am even sick and tired of hearing myself complain of the snow and cold this winter. So, after getting back from NC I’ve been trying my hardest to make the most of it.
Enter cross-country skiing.
Last winter our friend Becca treated us to our first cross-country skiing experience in Winter Park, Colorado.
We went over beside the river stream, and through the woods, on a nicely packed flat trail. A few snowflakes fell down on us making it seems like a picture perfect winter wonderland.

Best part was, I was a natural!

Will had mentioned going snowshoeing here in the Black Hills a few times, but I couldn’t help but think that it had to be better to wear skis and glide across the snow rather than trekking in awkward shoes. Luckily he agreed to go the skiing route. The Outdoor Rec center on base has a smorgasbord of brand new skiing equipment. It really is a sad, sad thing that more people don’t use it! 
So, outfitted with new skis and straight out of the box boots, we hit the Eagle Cliffs trail system just outside of Spearfish.  

A good portion of these trails were supposed to be groomed for cross-country skiing. Groomed in my mind meant those beautiful packed down, flat trails we had experienced in Winter Park. Groomed in SD apparently means there will *hopefully be two little tracks dug out for your skis to navigate in.

It also didn’t help that the snow was knee to waist deep in quite a few places. But nevertheless, we got on our way with the dogs (who we learned were NOT allowed on those trails) into the wild blue yonder. 
After about .85 miles (thank you Garmin) we ran into an older couple who were visiting from North Dakota and claimed the trails were great and they had already done the loop we were on twice. That sounded wonderful to us.

Except, as you can see in the picture below, we should have followed that arrow pointing to the right. Instead we followed a sign on the other side that pointed to the leftish. 

We ended up in a very hilly terrain, with no “grooming” to be seen, and snow so deep even Jim just quit moving. After spending a good 30-45 minutes trying to get down this one particular hill, once upright at the bottom we came to the agreement that we had in fact taken a wrong turn and needed to just turn around and go back the way we came. 
(By the way, backing up in long a$$ skis in time to pose before the self timer goes off on your camera is no easy task. This is the clearest pic we could get.)

By this point Jeannie was nearly frozen and completely exhausted. I had anticipated that happening and plopped her in my backpack. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what it would feel like when your pregnant, having this weight on the front side of you. Not the most secure feeling when you’re slip sliding over the snow.

Another issue we ran into was sunset. We had taken our time that morning getting to the trails, not expecting to spend hours wrestling in the snow. At the time of our turn around it was nearing 4:00 and the sun sets around 4:30 here. Thus, our casual foray in the woods became a race against the sun. ..and wind.

I had had a very strenuous week of leg workouts and was already operating on shaky stems, but adding that to the immense amount of effort I had put into skiing thus far, I had about zero muscle stability left to manage my way down the hills. Not to mention I was terrified of crashing down and squishing my beloved dog that was resting comfortably like a kangaroo on the front of me. 
At one point Will yells into the wind to hurry because the wind was covering up the trail, and something to the effect of “I’m not getting stuck out here…bleep…freezing cold…bleep…all night!”
I was already a stress ball, and that kind of put me over the edge. 

I finally resorted to taking off my skis and trying to just walk down the hills, which worked for a ways, until the last tenth of a mile or so, where the snow was nearly waist deep and every step was a struggle. Talk about some cardio! I’ll admit, I almost cried. I was so so so tired! 

2.5 hours and 3.4 miles later we finally made it back to the car. 

Unfortunately, our first trip was not the most positive experience.

But never one to be a quitter, after recovering for a few days, we decided to try again…on a different trail.
This time we tested out the Big Hill trail system, also near Spearfish. I’m happy to report that there was less snow, better marked trails, and a much easier route for us, eh hem, less experienced skiers. 
We went with trail A. Marked as easy, and a total of 2.6 miles. We took the little A1 trail around to get to it to add a little distance.

The aspen groves were just gorgeous. The weather was near 50 degrees, and the trees cut the wind to almost nothing. I didn’t bring Jeannie thinking dogs weren’t allowed and recalling our previous less than stellar experience, but I really wish I had. 

The trails were pretty flat, Jim ran to his hearts content, and Will and I really started to get the hang of our skis.

Which brings up another thing we learned. While on the Eagle Cliffs trails we both commented that we swore these skis were slicker than the ones we used in Winter Park. As it turns out, after talking to a fellow trail mate, they are! The skis we have been using are called skate skis. They are slick on the front and back parts of the bottom, and “scaled” in the middle. The idea is that you are able to glide easier and faster, but when you push down to go up a hill, the scales get traction on the snow so you can get up them.
Also, skate skis are apparently for the more experienced skier. Ha!

Due to a little mix up on the trail markers, we did still meet up with some ungroomed trail, but all in all we spent a few hours moving and sweating outside in the beautiful fresh air (something very coveted in South Dakota winters), and it was wonderful. 

If we weren’t moving to a warm locale next I would have gone straight to the store to invest in my own pair of skis. I am now a true lover of cross-country skiing!

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