Grab your skis and head to one of the many cross-country ski trails in McHenry County.
Gliding down the trail, with arms and legs moving rhythmically, you push off your ski poles and move quickly along the snow-covered path. Soft snowflakes fall, landing on tree branches or the ground, and glisten in the winter sunlight. The silence, broken only by the slight swishing sound of skis on snow, encourages you to inhale deeply and take in the crisp cool winter air as you listen and watch for movement alongside the trail. Occasionally, you are rewarded with the sight of a deer or fox making its way across the terrain.
Originally known as Nordic skiing, cross-country skiing is one of the oldest winter sports. Scandinavians have used cross-country skis to travel over their snow-packed country for hundreds of years. Polar explorers also found cross-country skis to be efficient for their journeys. Originally, skiers used long thin boards smoothed out with hunting knives tied to their feet. Over time, skis and bindings have changed significantly.
Cross-country skis are now made of synthetic materials. They are longer and thinner than downhill skis. Bindings are attached at the toe to allow the foot to control the ski’s movement. For the past 30 years, skis have been made shorter so they are more versatile and controllable said Rick Pasturczak of Alpine Accessories in Lake in the Hills.
When purchasing cross-country ski equipment, first-time buyers too often look only at price and not quality. While prices range from $199 to $800 for a complete set of skis, boots, bindings and poles, buying a mid-range set will give you a better skiing experience. According to James Bigelow of Outdoor Recreation in Woodstock, the cost is not that great when you consider that most skiers will use their equipment for many years. Alpine Accessories and Outdoor Recreation offer rental programs that allow you to rent skis daily, weekly or for the season. Renting is a great way for beginners to become familiar with the equipment.
While many people use the excuse that it is too cold to cross-country ski, they find that the opposite is true. Once you begin skiing, you become so warm you often have to shed layers of clothing. Cross-country skiers wear several layers of lightweight clothing, which will trap warm air. Clothing should be of material that wicks moisture away from the body. A lightweight, waterproof jacket should be the outer layer. Waterproof gloves or mittens and a hat complete the outfit.
Once four inches of snow have fallen, the McHenry County Conservation District will be out grooming trails as they have for the past 20 years. In addition to the seven sites that are groomed, there are others where skiers are free to set their own tracks. According to Wendy Kummerer of the MCCD, trails range from one-half-mile beginner treks to more challenging 4- to 5-mile trails. The Hollows in Cary, Marengo Ridge in Marengo, Rush Creek in Harvard and Glacial Park in Ringwood are the most popular sites. Moraine Hills State Park in McHenry is another recommended site.
Cross-country skiing is an excellent way to stay in shape over the winter and provides a great cardiovascular workout. Skiing uses many muscle groups, as you will notice the next day and burns from 450 to more than 700 calories an hour depending on the intensity of your skiing. Skiing trails that have not been groomed, especially after a heavy snow, are a great way to increase your workout, burn more calories and have a more challenging experience.
During the winter months, when conditions are right, MCCD offers the unique experience of skiing by candlelight every Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. After an enjoyable ski, participants join the staff around a campfire for hot cocoa and treats. Approximately 75 to 100 skiers participate each week. The site changes based on snow conditions.
Cross-country skiing appeals to all ages. Families with young children and senior citizens share the trails, each skiing at their own pace. If you have equipment, there is no cost in most areas. The mistake many skiers make is waiting for perfect conditions when the light fluffy snow is falling. They miss many opportunities by not skiing anytime there is snow on the ground.
So, instead of running on a treadmill staring at television reruns, get out and enjoy the ever-changing scenery. See you on the trails. For trail conditions, contact www.MCCDistrict.org or 815-338-6223.