Two Roads Diverged in a Wood at the North Creek Ski Bowl
By Jaime Collins, Content and Communications Manager
Skiers love to ski. Cross-country (Nordic) skiers are often especially wild about their sport because they are, by necessity, people with a lot of energy.
For some, the sport is about competition. For many of us, including myself, we strap on our skis to escape into nature. Either way, with our heels free and wearing fewer, lighter layers than almost anyone else would on a cold winter day, we set out to raise our heart rates and push ourselves.
On one nearly perfect winter day recently, I had the chance to explore the trails at the Gore Mountain Nordic Center. Awaiting me just outside the hamlet of North Creek, a short walk from the historic train station where passengers arrived in the 1930s and 1940s on the snow train to spend weekends skiing, was the North Creek Ski Bowl.
I could see from the parking lot the trails were freshly groomed that Thursday afternoon. I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready for a new adventure. And that, for me, is exactly what I look for with the combination of extra time, snow, and energy to burn.
Inside the Joe Minder Lodge was plenty of space, a warm fireplace, and a friendly customer service person named Julia, who furnished me with a map and helpful details about the trails. Though the snow was fresh and soft, I got good glide on my skate skis that day and ventured into the unknown in the direction Julia recommended.
Inside the Joe Minder Lodge is a wall decorated with plaques and posters illuminating historical facts. There you’ll find, among other honorees, a short history of the Lodge’s namesake, Joe Minder. Joe first began skiing at just seven years old, and except for his Army Engineer years, he never stopped. Captured in the Philippines in May 1942 with thousands of other American soldiers, Joe was held prisoner for three years during World War II and endured brutal conditions. After the war and healing from the trauma he’d experienced, Joe married Hazel Allen and raised a family in North Creek. During those years, skiing was a form of therapy for Joe. The Lodge was dedicated in memory of Joe Minder on July 6, 2013.
It had been a while since I skied unfamiliar trails, but I was eager to discover what the Ski Bowl had to offer. And it did not disappoint. The trail led me up a gentle incline and turned into a healthy forest of pine, birch, and maple trees for about a half kilometer before offering up a fork in the trail. Standing there with this choice to make, I was reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” It’s a poem whose essential lines are at least familiar to most and one that is routinely mis-titled as “The Road Less Traveled.”
It’s natural to mistake the author’s intent in that prose, and it is thought by almost all who hear those lines that Frost is inspiring readers’ individualism and adventure by encouraging them to “take the road less traveled.” But the poem is really a complex way to point out the simple necessity of choosing. And that while we may go all out rationalizing a choice, we often still have no idea where our choice will lead.
So at this moment at the Ski Bowl, I had a decision in front of me. I could take the trail to my right with the moderately challenging climb. Or I could choose the trail on my left with the steeper climb. One disappeared over the hill, and the other rose high and turned a corner and vanished into the woods. I chose the latter.
In part, I made my choice because my new friend Julia at the Lodge told me that direction turned into a trail named Oslo, which is, of course, also the name of the capital city of Norway. As proud as I am of my distant Norwegian heritage (the land where Nordic skiing gets its name), I couldn’t resist.
So up the hill to Oslo I went.
I was not disappointed. The trail began with a good, hard climb that got longer after it turned the corner into the woods. Then it got steeper, too. I like to treat trails like this as interval training – a series of good hard efforts with short breaks to lower my heart rate in between. I climb hard. Rest on my poles for a few moments. Then climb hard again. This is precisely why our clothing choices are vital in Nordic skiing. I know I’m going to sweat hard, and I want to stay warm without overheating. So, I wear a few light layers with one exceptionally good moisture wicking one at the base to keep me warm even when I’m really wet.
What I wear is important here only because with the right clothing, I never have to think about anything but skiing. I just move forward and marvel at the views, nature, and the forest around me. With light snow falling that day, I was in a giant outdoor snow globe, and the views at the Ski Bowl were what my heart always yearns for when I venture into the wilds. If it hadn’t been for the clouds obscuring some of the landscape, the scenery would have been even more spectacular.
On top of the hill, Oslo delivered more fun. Turns and rolling terrain with trees and views in every direction. All the things that enrich my soul when I’m out on skis. As the Oslo trail doubled back on itself, I continued on the Three-Pin, trail which eventually also doubled back and rejoined Oslo. At one point it also crossed paths with a wide swath of alpine skiing terrain with a chair lift on one side.
Normally, skiing alpine slopes on Nordic skis would be treacherous business. I’ve done it, and it’s not fun. The thin plastic lengths with free heels render my legs almost totally uncontrollable beneath me. But here at the Ski Bowl, the quality of the grooming made me choose differently. And down this well-traveled path I went, gliding all the way down a big alpine hill to the base. It’s not every day we get to just let go on Nordic skis and fly like that. That alone was worth the climb up Oslo.
But I wasn’t done yet. I had energy yet to burn. As I stood considering my options, a kind ski patroller came by to chat, and through that friendly conversation, I learned a lot more about the options in and around the Ski Bowl. He told me about all the spectacular backcountry trails that start and end there. And he told me about another Nordic trail called the Friendship Loop.
Like a good friend should be, the climb up the Friendship Loop was pleasant. Not nearly as daunting as it appeared from below. And the route around and back down through the woods offered me more of everything I really love about cross-country skiing.
It was with some reluctance then that I returned to the Lodge. With happy legs and a happy heart, I changed out of my gear and said my goodbyes to Julia, letting her know I’d be back.
As my good friends and family know, when the opportunity presents itself, I like more than anything to get in some good alpine runs and good Nordic skiing both on the same day. For me, that’s the best of all worlds. And here at the Ski Bowl, a few minutes away from New York State’s most expansive ski terrain at Gore Mountain, the opportunity is too good to resist. Now, I can’t wait for next time. Winter is too short not to enjoy every last bit of it, and I have a few more trails to explore at the Gore Mountain Nordic Center. And fortunately, just like March last year, this month is turning into a good one.