Cross country skiing is fundamentally defined as the act of skiing over and through the countryside or woods. Like many winter sports, cross country skiing began as a practical and life sustaining activity in Scandinavian countries, most notably as a basic method of transportation and a way to track and hunt animals during the winter. It has also been used as a component of modern warfare as most Nordic countries typically have a cross country ski unit as part of their infantry.
Despite the fact that this practice is thought to go back to prehistoric times in Scandinavian countries, Skiing’s history in the United States is much less evolved as skiing really only caught on in the US in the 1850’s as a result of traditions brought over by Norwegian and Swedish immigrants. One in particular - a colorful and influential character named “Snowshoe” Johnson - is often credited with helping pioneer and popularize skiing in the United States.
For the purposes of the Olympics and international competitions, cross country skiing falls under the umbrella of Nordic skiing which includes other ski oriented sports such as the biathlon. Nordic skiing is distinguished from alpine skiing by not having the ski boot fixed to the ski. Cross country skiing has been a mainstay in the Winter Olympics since the inaugural Olympics in Chamonix in 1924 (the women’s event was added in 1952 in Oslo).
Historically (and not surprisingly) the Nordic events have been dominated by Norway and Sweden with only one American winning a medal in the cross country event, Bill Koch in 1976. Cross country skiing is thought to be - along with swimming - one of the best fitness activities to work both the upper and lower body as a unit, which in this era of functional fitness is a particularly attractive feature of this sport.
For those interested in learning and/or practicing this ancient sport on Long Island there is the Long Island Cross Country Ski Club. The LICCSC is very active through the winter season and utilizes a variety of venues on Long Island to train and practice including Bethpage State Park, Caleb Smith State Park in Smithtown, Muttontown Preserve in Syosset and Caumsett State Park in Lloyd’s Neck.
According to member Kim Schultze the group is a particularly resourceful bunch and willing to ski "anywhere there is a large public space." Snow is not necessarily a constant on Long Island during the winter months so the group supplements their activities by organizing day trips upstate and has even organized trips to Norway and Switzerland to practice their chosen sport.
Ms. Schultze emphasizes that the group is a great opportunity for Long Islanders to become involved with this great, old winter sport. “We have about 100 members and we welcome newcomers of all abilities and ages,” says Ms. Schultze. The group meets monthly from November-March at the Old Bethpage/Plainview Library.
Photo: Flickr | vauvau
BONUS: Curling in New York