What's your image of cross-country skiing? Wandering over wood and dale, dressed in some old knickers? Or is it zipping along a prepared track, the very picture of economy in motion, made even more efficient by your sleek one-piece stretch suit? Or maybe your cross-country imagery has something to do with carrying a pack and surviving in snow caves in the high country.
The truth is that all of these can be part of the fun of experiencing winter and snow on skis, dependent only on your own power and not upon mechanical lifts and double-digit lift tickets. Practically speaking, however, you have to start some place, gravitating more and more to whatever kind of cross-country most suits your style.
In a recent interview, Mike Farny, who runs the Lincoln Guide Service and Weston Ski Track outside Boston, put the whole thing into perspective for me. Said Mike:
''The most important thing about cross-country . . . is that it's a wonderful escape to really commit yourself to get from one place to another over the snow, to adventuring and real exercise and going as fast as you can safely. Then there's a sense of joy, of having terrific experiences. Kids have it and so do older people if they build up slowly. The big thing to remember is that you can push yourself, but don't compete with other people.''
People active in other sports may not need beginning lessons, he said, but for others lessons are probably a good idea, for safety's sake and mastering downhills, if for nothing else.
Mike believes that the pressures of society today force most people ''to seek support, and that means going where the crowd is.'' I think people will be looking for places with a bathroom,'' which means skiing on prepared tracks and paying a $3 to $5 trail fee for the privilege. And that's fine, for track skiing is both fun and easiest to learn on.
''I also think people should adventure,'' Mike adds, although he doubts many will. ''The sooner they do things on their own, set their own track, run on it . . . the more they will understand and love the sport.''