Ski or Bike? The Hardwood Dilemma

By Melanie Chambers.

“Oh, and if you want more hills, there’s a downhill called the Eliminator – I crashed on that one.” This coming from the guy who works at Hardwood Ski & Bike and most likely has skied every weekend since he was able to stand. Standing at the precipice of the Eliminator, it reminds me of a skateboarding half pipe. I keep skiing: eliminate the Eliminator, Chambers.

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I continue along my trail called Sochi. You see all the cross-country trails at Hardwood are named after an Olympic hosting city – Lillehammer, Salt Lake City, Vancouver. Since I haven’t skied in a long time, I thought a 12 km Sochi was appropriate – it’s also revealing that Jack Sasseville, the president and general manager of Hardwood, is in Sochi as a ski commentator for CBC.

Driving up from Toronto, only an hour drive, I add another hour onto my trip because I drive past the entrance three times; it’s not my fault – the sign is hidden behind a snowbank. You’d think this place is new for me, but it’s not. For the past 10 years, I’ve been coming to Hardwood as a mountain biker. And if you live in Ontario, this place is mountain bike mecca.

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This is my first time in the winter, as a skier.

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At 3 pm the sun is slightly low, but it’s bright and the thought of getting a winter suntan is thrilling. After this cold winter, I can’t gulp enough fresh air to make up for months inside. Up until this ski, I wanted to escape Canada. Running? Impossible. Even a walk to the car meant frozen nose hairs. I’m skiing alone so I decide to put on some tunes and slip slide away.

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My skis are tucked into a crisp carved-out trough, classic style. I’ve never skied such pristine tracks. Beside me, room to skate-ski. Have you ever skate skied? Well, first I suggest working out to the peak of your fitness level for a few months, eat well, and get good sleep, no booze. Then, and only then, try it. But you will fail. Not only does it knock the wind out of you, it requires finesse and balance. Lean into your quad, glide and push off with your poles. Lean, glide, and push. I last five minutes. Heaving bent over, I slide my skis back into the grooves.

By this time the tree shadows have stretched across the snow. Picture time and recovery. A sign reads: shortcut to lodge. Should I? No, no girl. Mush mush.

A team of skate skiers zoom past me – imagine the sound of motorcycles at high speed. One after the other. Sign: Homerun. I recognize this from mountain biking — the end is near. Tuck the poles, squat and glide into home base. Whatever I needed to stop the stress, and believe that life is worth a damn, this feeling was it.

Back in the lodge, after a hot chocolate, and watching an Olympic skier crash seconds before the finish line (wow — I had no idea that is how you’re supposed to move), I decide to stay to do what I do best: mountain bike. My tank is empty but I can’t miss up the opportunity to ride a winterized mountain bike whose tires resemble black tobogganing tubes.

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Fat-tire mountain biking is for the mountain biker who can’t let go. Riding over little hills trying to get air — almost impossible (think hydroplane!) – the tires make a squishy sound crunching the snow; it’s not fast but the cadence of the pedals, familiar and fluid, is dreamy.

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After a bath, glass of wine, parsnip soup and hotel TV, I can barely keep my eyes open. It’s 8 pm. But wow: so good.

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