The Urban Ski Movement

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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Not urban skiing exactly. … I don’t live in “urbania”, or suburbia either. But I do live in town, and don’t have the luxury of having wooded acreage or farmland outside my back door. If I did, I’d be out there cross-country skiing whenever I had the chance.

Skiing is my thing; my greatest moments of bliss in the outdoors come from cross-country. I do it all year ’round; traditional cross-country skis in winter, and roller-skis (essentially cross-country skis on wheels), the rest of the year. I don’t always have the time though, to pack up the equipment, drive to one of my favorite spots, do my thing, then pack up and drive home. That’s when I take to the streets and head through the neighborhoods, downtown, or to the beach for a bit of urban skiing. With driving conditions being as bad as they had been the past couple of weeks, the urban ski conditions have been great.

A woman unburying her car from the most recent snowfall told me, “Now, that’s the perfect transportation for this kind of weather. … Too bad you can’t carry groceries home on skis though.” I’m sure that’s where she was headed; she had that desperate “it’s snowing; I need milk and bread!” look in her eyes. I’ve thought about skiing to the grocery store, but the groceries I buy for the week would need an entire sled dog team to haul home, instead of one mere woman on skis. Whatever fits in a backpack though, I’ve carried – DVDs from the video store, books from the library, cookies from the bakery and a gallon of milk from the convenience mart to go with them. Once, I took canned goods to a friend who was preparing baskets for the food pantry at Christmas time. She is the one who coined the term “urban skiing.” Laughing, she said I should lead Urban Ski Expeditions through town for the tourists during the off-season.

She’s not alone in thinking skiing down the sidewalks and streets seems a bit odd. “Mommy! Mommy! There’s that lady coming down the sidewalk on skis again!” “Don’t look, Dear,” I imagine her mother said as I skied by, “she’ll be gone in a minute.” And there are the strange looks I receive “parking” my skis outside the video store and library. You’d think they never saw a person on skis before.

But I don’t think it’s that odd at all. People bike, roller-blade, skate-board and go for strolls down the sidewalk. What is so different about skiing down them? Of course, there is that warning painted on the sidewalks in the shopping district of downtown proper: No Skateboards, Roller blades, or Bicycles on Sidewalks. It says nothing about skis though. Even if it did, the warning is covered by snow, so I could always claim ignorance if I were pulled over for being in violation of it.

There is at least one other person in town that shares my point of view. My neighbor had a visitor close to Christmas who arrived on cross-country skis. Keith got a laugh out of that, saying it looks like my Urban Skiing Movement has finally caught on. I met the man a few days later at a holiday open house in a downtown shop. I told him what Keith said, adding I’d thought I might be the only one who “Urban Skied” around here. He said no, no – he’s been doing it all his life in this town, an activity passed on by his parents who found creative ways to make time to cross-country ski.

He grew up with five siblings, and his parents rarely had any time to breathe by themselves. Cross-country skiing was their one indulgence without the kids – he’d see the tracks going around and around the house when he’d get up in the morning. His parents woke before any of the kids, and not wanting to leave them home alone, got their bliss by skiing in the yard.

Urban skiing, like with any “adventure sport,” does come with a set of unique challenges. Tandem plowing presents a problem. One huge plow barrels down the street, followed closely by another spreading salt and cleaning up what the first plow missed. Early rising, overzealous home owners and shop-keeps fire up their snow-blowers, clearing the sidewalks before the cock even thinks about crowing. Like guests at a wedding party, they smile and wave as I ski by … except instead of rice, they throw enough ice-melt to make a dent in the polar icecap. All seem determined to turn my fun into mush.

But we reached the point earlier this week, when the streets cannot be plowed even close to bare pavement – there’s a nice thick base of compacted snow covering all but the main thoroughfares. Road salt doesn’t work when the temperatures are this low, so they don’t even bother with the salt trucks. It makes for a nice slick surface to catch the perfect slide. If only the plows wouldn’t leave those mounds of snow behind; mountain-climbing gear is more suitable equipment than skis to conquer some of them.

As much as I’d like it to, I really don’t think the Urban Ski Movement will catch on; I can’t imagine a skier trying to navigate through pedestrians or traffic on the snowy sidewalks and streets of Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago or Buffalo. But it’s movement that is the important thing; an activity that brings the kind of feeling that only being outdoors can bring. Too often we tend to hole up inside when the weather turns cold, or just fail to take time out of our busy schedules for ourselves.

We hear that time is valuable and not to be wasted. Always there seems not enough to go around. But taking time – making time if we have to – to be outdoors doing something you love doing, is equally as precious. Whether it is time snow-shoeing, hiking, an early morning walk with the dogs, photographing the beauty of the seasons … or even cross-country skiing around the house a few times, it’s time well-spent. Layers of clothing keep the body warm this time of year, but it’s getting out and enjoying yourself that warms the soul.

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