Climate Change Threatens Nordic Skiing– One of the World’s Oldest Forms of Exercise
“The ski is even older than the wheel…Together with the hammer, the knife and the axe, the ski is one of the few Stone Age implements handed down to us in their original form.”— Roland Hunford, Two Planks and a Passion: The Dramatic History of Skiing
There was abundant enthusiasm on display at the Craftsbury Cross-Country Ski Marathon in Craftsbury, Vermont this January, and obvious concern about the future of the event and of one of the world’s oldest sports, Nordic skiing.
Prior to 2023, the Craftsbury Marathon had not been held for three years – two cancellations due to COVID and in 2022 for lack of snow. Until the Monday before this year’s event, Director Ollie Burruss was again unsure there’d be enough snow along the course. But late night grooming of last minute snow, plus a reduction in course length, allowed 400+ skiers to participate in the classic (traditional “straight head” skiing) race and skate skiing (think hockey skating with skis) event held on consecutive days.
Jim Fredericks, one of the founders of Nordic skiing at The Craftsbury Outdoor Center, has been waxing his skis for decades through numerous injuries and recent cardiovascular challenges. But despite these limitations, he’s never enjoyed the sport more.
“When I was much younger, “ Fredericks reflects, “it was all about power, strength, charging over the hill. Now it’s a little more smelling of the roses.”
In recent years, Fredericks, like other avid skiers, has been heading north from New England into Canada for the longer season and somewhat more dependable snow. “There’s a new lodge in Canada at Camp Mercier three times the size of this lodge here at Craftsbury,” he describes. “You go out on the trails and it’s all boreal forest and no steep hills, just long gradual hills with beautiful views.”
But even Canadian ski facilities, Alpine and Nordic, have been struggling in recent years, leading to efforts to “farm snow” when it does fall (meaning collecting and distributing) and saving snow over the summer where possible.
All outdoor winter sports are threatened by climate change. But the large areas required for Nordic skiing place this tradition at particular risk. Yet this risk comes just as the COVID epidemic greatly increased interest in this low budget, high octane form of socially distant but readily social exercise.
Rewards and Challenges of “Uphill” Skiing
Two Craftsbury participants of particular note are 17-year old Siri Dunn and 79-year old John Brodhead. Siri comes from a family of avid skiers, Nordic and Alpine, whose competitive skiing was curtailed by lingering cases of Lyme Disease the past seven years. She credits recreational cross country as helping her pull through the challenge of chronic illness, both mentally and physically.
John Brodhead, another major player in the Craftsbury Center’s development, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a decade ago but is not letting that debilitating condition limit his ski time. In fact, with the support of his doctors, John is working to slow down the progression of Parkinsons through the aerobic therapy of cross country. He’s also looking forward to turning 80 next year and competing in an older age bracket at the World Cross-Country Championships in Italy.
More to come from Siri, John and other Nordic skiers in Season Two of MBO.
Considering Cross-Country? Some Further Reading
This article from Shape summarizes the significant health benefits associated with cross country skiing, from strengthening muscles throughout the entire body, to increasing cardiovascular health, to improving mental health. Cross Country Skiing can be a low cost, social sport that has a low impact on joints and bones- making it an ideal for people of any age. The two studies below are cited in this Shape article.
A Comparison between Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing and Indoor Cycling on Cardiorespiratory and Metabolic Response
This study compared the cardiorespiratory and metabolic response between alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and indoor cycling. It found that cross country skiing was the most effective activity in achieving high energy expenditure and oxygen uptake, while requiring less demanding activity for the legs compared to alpine skiing.
This study explored the holistic health benefits of exercising outdoors, specifically near forests. It found that exposure to forests boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases the ability to focus (even in children with ADHD), accelerates recovery from surgery/illness, increases overall energy levels, and improves sleep.
Nordic Ski Associations
Nearing its half century mark, Craftsbury is a non-profit training and recreational center for the sports of Nordic Skiing, Biathlon, Sculling, Running and Cycling in Central Vermont. The Center includes cabin & dormitory accommodations, family style meals and first class athletic and recreational facilities.
The New England Nordic Skiing Association is the umbrella organization for 60 New England cross-country ski clubs. NENSA sponsors 5 cross-country ski marathons each winter (including Craftsbury), among dozens of other events for all ages and abilities.
The New York State Ski Racing Association-Nordic works in conjunction with state and national governing bodies to support the development of Nordic Skisport in New York State. NYSSRA currently supports programs and races for the disciplines of Biathlon, Cross Country Skiing and Ski Orienteering.
American Cross Country Skiers (AXCS) is the U.S. national membership association for adult XC skiers (aka “masters”). AXCS serves master skiers with a range of education, promotion and communication programs. It is the officially recognized USA representative organization within the World Masters Association.
National Nordic Foundation is a grassroots organization whose mission is to raise money to support the development of Nordic athletes across America.
Nordiq Canada is the nation’s governing body of cross-country and para nordic skiing with over 80,000 members, including athletes, coaches, officials and skiers.
My Body Odyssey received an Arcturus (silver-level) honor in the category of Health, Fitness & Wellness podcasts from the annual Vega Digital Awards for its first season. We are so grateful to our production team, our guests, and our listeners for this recognition!
Season Two Enters Production
MBO will be checking up on season one protagonists as they face new challenges this year. Iron Woman Diane has qualified for the World Triathlon Championships in Kona, an event that few athletes with type one diabetes have taken on. We’ll check in with her as she begins a rigorous 6 months of training, and blood sugar monitoring, this spring.
Ultimate Mark has put aside Ultimate Disc and gone back to his first athletic love, soccer, as a much sought after goalie in the NYC Cosmopolitan League. And Yogi Jess is back to doing handstands – not normally advised for those with thoracic outlet syndrome. But Jess has beaten the conventional medical wisdom beforet. We’ll get the next chapter from these and other Odyssians in Season Two.
Call for Season Two Protagonists
Know anyone with a health issue who loves to be active and benefits from activity, yet walks a fine line in pursuing their active lifestyle?
Such as those with long COVID, for one prevalent example. Not yet a well understood condition. And it seems there’s a lot of individual variation on long COVID and exercise: some people experiencing consistent setbacks from too much activity; others benefiting from careful increases.
MBO is working to produce an episode on long COVID in season two. We’re also profiling protagonists battling cancer, cardiac challenges, and other chronic conditions and behavioral issues who benefit from striking the right balance on physical activity and exercise. Please let us know if you, a friend, or family member have an odyssey to share that’s unique, inspiring and informative.
Call for Boston Marathoners
Know anyone running Boston this year with a medical challenge more daunting than Heartbreak Hill? MBO is seeking to profile marathoners for a season two episode on their personal challenges and the exhilaration of completing the world’s oldest and most prestigious road race.
Call for Editorial Odysseys
Fluent Knowledge is expanding its website content to include contributed articles on health related topics, a section we’re calling Fluent Wellness. Know anyone with a deep background in healthcare who writes fluently on health-related issues? We are keenly interested in the “exercise as medicine” theme. But adjacent themes and topics are also highly valued, such as new insights on sleep, meditation, relaxation, diet, media management etc. To pitch an article, email firstname.lastname@example.org. More info to come at http://www.fluentknowledge.com.