I Learned How to Skate Ski and You Can Too
My First Year at Royal Gorge
I finally joined the skinny ski club and I’m OBSESSED. Before last year, I was certain that I’d be a diehard downhiller at Sugar Bowl for life, alas, last December I found myself gliding into the fabulous world of skate skiing at Royal Gorge. Now I’m a proud owner of a combo pass and I’m living out my wildest winter dreams on Donner Summit. Sometimes I even get to do both in the same day.
A couple of reasons why I decided to learn to skate last year:
1. It’s incredible exercise
I can keep my cardio up all winter without using a treadmill, the most boring invention on the planet. Pro-tip: you burn so many calories skate skiing that you get to wear a fannypack to store all your extra snacks.
2. My border collie needs the aforementioned exercise more than I do.
There are 11.7km of groomed dog-friendly trails around Van Norden Meadow. Every day my dog gets to go skate skiing is the best day of her life.
3. The landscape is unreal.
Where do I start? It’s the largest cross country resort in America so there’s a lot to see. There’s an amazing view of Sugar Bowl from the meadow, you can skate to Point Mariah to see the massive canyon where the American River starts, you can hoof it all the way up to the top of Rowton Peak and gaze over the Sierra Crest, and of course— simple pleasures, skating through snowy woods is always a winner.
4. It’s a great alternative if the ski resort conditions aren’t perfect.
Hard pack groomer at the resort? Ideal skating conditions. Skiing and skating are the ying and yang of winter sports.
We covered the nice stuff, now let’s get real.
My first day of skate skiing was, in full transparency, a slippery slam fest. It would be better classified as a comedy show for my fellow cross country skiers. But don’t worry, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Furthermore, I’ll be the first to tell you that the challenging start was worth it.
Step #1: There’s a bit of a learning curve
I learned that my proficiency on downhill skis does NOT immediately translate to a mastery of skate skis. On day 1 I asked myself many times, “Where are the metal edges? How do they get these skis SO slippery? How am I supposed to propel myself forward with these floppy bindings and squishy boots?”
I watched skaters twice my senior glide effortlessly past me shouting friendly “hello-how-are-ya’s.” Everyone else was a lot less sweaty than me. It turns out that just because you can downhill ski/run/you’re-an-athlete doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging to try skating for the first time. The experience was humbling to say the least… but the sun was out, the trees were snowy, and it was a lot of fun!
Step #2: It’s time to do the work, how do I get better at this?
Take a Lesson
I spent at least three days wobble-wiggling through the motions before I finally booked a lesson with a professional Royal Gorge instructor. My instructor broke everything down into simple steps and showed me a series of the techniques to use on different types of terrain. We practiced drills that helped improve my single leg glide and error-corrected some bad habits I had fallen into while learning on my own. The lesson was an hour long, cost $60, and set me off on the right foot. In hindsight, I would have started here in the first place.
Personally, I believe the evenings I spent watching YouTube clips of old Olympic races, drinking wine, and yelling at the computer screen were an important part of my early skate ski training. Maybe it was the professional lesson that I finally ponied up and paid for. Either way, it’s called manifesting.
This is the fun part. Starting to skate ski is challenging in every way— it’s as mental as it is physical. While my brain was working out how this strange side-to-side movement could propel me forward, every muscles in my body was working out too. Especially the tiny weird shin muscles I didn’t realize I had, those got really sore at first. If you like a challenge and you’re prepared to be humbled, you’ll love learning to skate as much as I did.
Step #3: Where do we go from here?
Only time will tell… I’m still a diehard downhiller, but I’ve grown to appreciate my slippery skinny skis and the calm of the trails. This winter if I’m not out slashing pow at Sugar Bowl, you can find me skating around Royal Gorge to explore all the places on the trail map that I haven’t gotten to yet. Devil’s Peak anyone? If you’re learning to skate this season like I did last year, remember to be humble, don’t be afraid to fall, and eat a lot of snacks. I’m still pretty new at this to be dolling out advice but I think skate skiing is a good example of where “the journey is in the destination.” I can’t wait to get skating again this winter and keep improving. Hope to see you out there too!
P.S. if you had a lot of questions (I did) Here are some handy FAQ for you:
Q: What should I know if I’m a beginner?
Royal Gorge has two parking areas, one at Van Norden Meadow and one at Summit Station. If you need rentals or a day ticket, plan to go to Summit Station first. In total Royal Gorge has 27 beginner trails with stunning views of the Northern Sierra and Van Norden Meadow.
Q: What winter sports can I do at Royal Gorge?
You can choose between classic cross-country (where you shuffling your skis straight ahead) and skate skiing (skis move laterally like ice skates). Most beginners start out with classic skiing, but if you want to go big and start with skating, why not!? There are also great snowshoeing trails at Royal Gorge.
Q: Can I rent gear?
Yes! Royal Gorge has state-of-the-art equipment rentals are available daily. You can rent one type of equipment package (skate, classic or snowshoe) and trade it in same day for a different type. Book in advance and, on the day of your arrival, rental gear can be picked up at Summit Station.
Q: Can I take a lesson?
There are group or private lessons available at Royal Gorge with experienced instructors. Lessons are available daily but sell out, be sure to book in advance.
Q: Where should I go if I’m learning?
There is a great practice area right in front of Summit Station. There are plenty of short flat loops that start and finish here as well. The Van Norden Meadow is also beginner-friendly.
Q: What do you wear for cross-country skiing?
Dress in non-cotton layers that move easily and wick sweat.
Q: Can I bring my dog?
Yes! Park at Van Norden Meadow and enjoy the 11.7km of dog trials. See trail map and on-trail signage for details.