For me it is hard to leave the North Country at any time of year — I always feel that I am missing out on something.
But last weekend, even though the lake was forming perfect skating ice, I went to New York City for some out-of-the-ordinary winter fun.
Each year in January the New York City Parks Department hosts Winterjam, an extravaganza of winter activities brought to Central Park from all over the state. The purpose of the event is to give New York City residents the chance to see what winter sports are all about and try them first-hand. Ultimately the event helps promote communities and facilities that offer winter activities.
I traveled to Winterjam with a group of staff members from the Olympic Regional Development Authority to showcase what the ORDA venues in the Lake Placid area have to offer. We carried about 100 pairs of cross-country skis, poles and boots to Central Park from Mount Van Hoevenberg’s cross-country ski center and set up a miniature course for Winterjam participants to try.
Winterjam lasts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., but the anticipation began early in the morning as dog-walkers and early runners saw the impromptu ski center being set up. During the day literally thousands of people of all ages came to try skiing for the first time ever. Despite the single-digit temperature and some big gusts of wind, the cold-hardy waited for their turn to ski for 15 to 20 minutes on a snow field provided by snow machines Gore Mountain brought down for the event.
This year there was about 6 inches of natural snow, but other years Winterjam’s man-made snow is the only snow New York City residents see. One boy was hosting his birthday party at Winterjam and his four pals all donned skis and learned to kick and glide in no time.
In the cross-country area we had 40 volunteers, most of whom had never skied. Before the day got started they had a chance to try our gear for themselves. Their excitement and satisfaction brought home the impact of the event. NYC Parks staff who usually have to shovel or plow snow but don’t have the gear to play in it were among the first to try the skinny skis and “sticks” (as poles are often called by people using them for the first time).
After a day assisting skiers and talking about cross-country skiing, it was obvious how many people would love to learn to ski. Most people at Winterjam did not realize that there are different skis for alpine racing, ski jumping and cross-country skiing. They did not know that ski touring isn’t always downhill. Most did not know that cross-country skiing is an Olympic event. Very few had heard of biathlon.
The Olympics remind me how inspiring the snow and ice can be and how the fun of winter can become the fuel of dreams. I am proud of the local kids who started on backyard snow banks and local trails and are now elite athletes, making history in Sochi this week. Twenty-five New Yorkers are on the U.S. Olympic team; nine are from the North Country.
Many snowy, cold winters have made these athletes strong. Although the cold has been bitter lately, there may be a young person — from the North Country or from New York City — who faces it with defiance, and who decides to partner with the snow and cold to become a champion.
Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at email@example.com.