Salt Lake City resident Kurt Wagner was out for a nice day of skiing at Round Valley when his solitude was broken by the swishing sound of skate skiers zipping past him.
Wagner, an endurance mountain bike racer, wasn’t accustomed to getting left in the dust, or ski tracks as it was.
So he decided if you can’t beat them, join them.
Wagner, a long-time classic skier, is taking up skate skiing for the first time this year.
"I don’t like being passed, and the idea of more speed got me," he said. "I’m only a month into my skate ski experience and so far the faster speed has eluded me. It’s a lot harder than I expected it to be."
Wagner plans to stick with the sport because he enjoys the challenge and workout.
He isn’t alone. More and more people are forgoing their classic gear in favor of skate tracks. The increasing number of groomed trails such as White Pine in Park City, Millcreek Canyon and Mountain Dell give enthusiasts plenty of options while improvements in equipment make the sport more affordable and user friendly.
Patrick Coffey, a manager at White Pine Touring, said skate skiing is the "in" thing.
"You don’t have to worry about preparing the skis," he said. "It’s a faster mode of transportation overall, and it’s more stable equipment."
Besides, when done right, skate skiing looks cool with skiers sitting slightly back, skis out wide and cruising over freshly groomed tracks at a strong pace.
As for the classic skiers? They’re the ones normally off to the side of widely groomed tracks, plodding along.
But while skate skiing might be the hot version of the sport at the moment, those who participate in cross country skiing say both have their positives and negatives.
Skate skiers have the advantage of cranking at a good pace on groomed trails, but classic skiers have the flexibility of breaking trail and heading into parts unknown.
It’s that appeal of new adventure that has Wagner believing he’ll always keep his cross country skis.
"I feel a stronger connection classic skiing with more than 35 years of experience and lots of good memories," he said. "Nothing better than riding a single set of tracks on a thin trail in the woods in northern Wisconsin."
Skate skiers may think they have an advantage in caloric output, but that isn’t necessarily true. Those looking to use skate skiing as a great cross-training option for running, cycling and other sports can’t go wrong with either, enthusiasts say.
A 170-pound person burns approximately 870 calories an hour cross country skiing, according to healthstatus.com. No distinction is made between the sports, but Wagner and Coffey believe none needs to be made.
There might be more of a learning curve for skate skiing, Coffey said, but they become more efficient, therefore burning less calories, once the skier has the motion down.
"One isn’t going to work you harder than the other," he said. "You are going to go as hard as you are going to go in either one."
Skate skiing does require more balance and outer leg and ankle strength, while classic skiing really works the quad and glute muscles.
So which version of the sport is best? The answer ultimately is whichever version strikes your fancy.
"In the biking world, I would compare classic to skate skiing, as I would mountain single track to road riding," Wagner said. "I’ve had some pretty good days doing either and can’t imagine giving up one or the other."
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