I spent my Saturday discovering the allure of cross-country skiing in the Black Hills with the desire to offer a snapshot of the area through the activity. My company on this trip was Pam, a downhill skier. I’m always delighted when I talk someone into a new outdoor excursion with me, mainly because many of my friends know better—I occasionally bump into more adventure than I seek. Pam has only known me for a few months so it didn’t take much convincing before we found ourselves at the Big Hill Trail Network eight miles south of Spearfish where 13.6 miles of expertly groomed trail awaited our arrival.
The sheer beauty of the Black Hills never ceases to amaze me. The snow glistened brightly in stark contrast to the dark ponderosa pine. I felt the sun warming my face and a smile spread from ear to ear. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” I thought to myself, sinking into a peaceful bliss. Little did I know, my little moment of Zen would quickly vanish once my ski tips pointed downward for my first steep descent.
While I have cross-country skied a handful of times, I’m most definitely not a skier. I don’t downhill ski, water ski, jet ski, or even skee ball; however, within a couple of minutes I was able to keep my balance and almost looked like I belonged on the trail. I started to pick up speed and my confidence grew so much that on a gradual descent I pulled out my SLR camera and started snapping some photos.
Through the lens of my camera I noticed I was accelerating. “No big deal,” I thought and let the camera hang from my neck. In reality, what lay ahead was akin to a local bunny slope, but for me it might as well have been a double black diamond.
It occurred to me that skis don’t have brakes, and I didn’t have the slightest clue how to slow down! I looked ahead at Pam to try and mime her movements. Pam is quite graceful on a pair of skis so my attempts at recreating her style proved to be futile. The trees began zipping by faster as I looked for an open area to throw myself into. No dice—a beautiful aspen grove closed in and sealed my demise… and Pam’s.
“I’m sorry!” I yelled out to her. I didn’t even consider shouting a more practical, “heads up!” or “look out!” I apologized because I knew exactly what was about to happen. Much like the perfect bowling ball release hooks into that last remaining pin, Pam went tumbling down.
I opened my eyes to see our skis tangled up and gear scattered in all directions.
“You’re really good at this!” Luckily she was laughing.
From that point on, I took the lead. I continued falling but my morale never faltered.
As Pam and I neared the trailhead, I realized that after my first spill I’d hardly taken any photos. In fact, I was so busy trying to keep my bones intact that I entirely forgot about my plan to write about my day.
“What do you think I should write about this,” I asked Pam.
“How awesome you are at skiing,” she responded, unable to hide her cheeky grin. “I don’t know. What do you think about it?”
I paused a moment to reflect.
“Vast amounts of peace, quiet and concentration, punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror!”
Pam started laughing. “You’re not exactly selling it!”
At this point I realized that this “emerald isle in a sea of prairie,” doesn’t need to be sold. Thinking I can capture the essence of the Black Hills in a blog is like shooting a photo of the Grand Canyon and expecting my friends back home to feel the wonder and awe I felt descending the Bright Angel Trail. If you’ve spent any time in the Black Hills you know what I’m saying. This place sells itself.
*A big thank you to the Black Hills Nordic Ski Club and U.S. Forest Service for maintaining our ski trails!