TANYA CAYLOR: Cross country skiing a fun way to burn calories

Though Parkview Clinical Laboratory microbiologists Jane Tourney, left, and Angela Dulcet had tried cross country skiing on their own before, they learned more about the sport by participating in a Jan. 6 clinic at Fox Island. (By Tanya Caylor for The News-Sentinel)
Fox Island County Park manager Ron Zartman explains how to buy and care for cross country skis during a Jan. 6 clinic at the park. A clinic is also scheduled Jan. 20 at Metea County Park. (By Tanya Caylor for The News-Sentinel)
Fox Island County Park manager Ron Zartman demonstrates how to walk up hill on cross country skis during a Jan. 6 clinic at the park. (By Tanya Caylor for The News-Sentinel)
Though retirees Pam and Doug Barcalow have undertaken various adventures such as kayaking in the Atlantic Ocean, they had never tried cross country skiing before participating in a Jan. 6 clinic at Fox Island. (By Tanya Caylor for The News-Sentinel)

While many Allen County residents were complaining about the arctic weather of early January, Ron Zartman was thrilled.

It had been awhile since the park manager at Fox Island had been able to go cross-country skiing on the trails there. But this year, he said, “I skied every day between Christmas and New Year’s – sometimes twice a day.”

“You used to be able to reliably ski in Fort Wayne,” Zartman told a group assembled for a Jan. 6 cross country ski clinic at the park. But increasingly mild winters over the years since he took up the sport 40 years ago, during the Blizzard of ’78, have sent him farther and farther north into Michigan in search of good ski conditions.

“Last year we didn’t have a single ski rental here,” he said.

Though temperatures were in the single digits the morning of the clinic, there were plenty of skiers out on the trails in addition to the dozen or so rookies Zartman was instructing.

“Isn’t it weird when 4 degrees feels warm?” Zartman joked, referring to a stretch of below-zero days earlier that week.

We knew from our preliminary classroom session inside the Nature Center that colder temperatures require a different type of ski wax, but since everyone in our group was using park-owned rental skis, we didn’t have to worry about that.

Zartman had told us about the importance of hikers staying off the designated ski trails so they don’t trample the grooves cut into the snow by other skiers. When we got out on the trail, we quickly saw what he meant: Gliding along the pre-existing grooves was much easier than forging your own path through the snow. It really did feel a little bit like moving along a human-powered railroad track.

The key to skiing, Zartman had told us, was to shift all your weight from one foot to the other. Basic forward movement really was about that simple. But in the early going, at least, it was entirely possible to feel perfectly at ease one moment and find yourself sprawled in the snow the next. At one point, I fell while simply standing in one spot.

Because your boots are attached to your skis via a locking mechanism, getting up is tricky. Zartman advised rolling onto your back and raising both legs in the air so your skis don’t get entangled. From there, we learned to roll to the side and then position ourselves over our feet in a kind of crouch. It took quite a bit of practice. Luckily, most of us fell several times so we had ample opportunity to work on this maneuver.

The hardest thing to learn was going uphill. At first, it took several attempts to make it up a laughably small incline without sliding back two feet for every foot of progress.

Zartman advised pointing our toes out and stomping up the hill in a kind of duck walk, while punching our ski poles into the snow behind us. We did better on a slightly higher rise midway into our trail session, and by the time we reached a legitimate hill at our turnaround spot, most of us were able to climb without fear if not actual confidence.

Downhill was easier, thanks to gravity and the “snowplow” technique, in which you keep your ski tips together in a “V” shape while bending your knees for balance. Only one member of our group made it down the hill without falling, but by then almost everybody was able to get back up in a minute or less, which felt like amazing progress.

By the time we made it back to the Nature Center, my daughter and I were hooked. This was an awfully fun way to burn more than 400 calories an hour. Though I doubt we invest in a pair of skis, given the uncertainty of snow around here most years, we plan to return to Fox Island – which rents skis for $6 an hour – the next time it snows.


When: 10 a.m.-noon Jan. 20

Where: Metea County Park

Cost: $10 includes ski rental and practice session (weather permitting), or voucher for future ski rental. Learn how equipment works, ski prep and maintenance, basic beginner techniques.

To register: Call Bob Dispenza at 449-8619 or email bdispenza@ allencountyparks.org

To check ski conditions at both Fox Island and Metea, visit:


Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about post fat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at tischcaylor@gmail.com. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.