New techniques in cross-country skiing; winter carnivals in full swing

Skiing is the we-try-harder sport that wants desperately to lure the unwashed masses from whatever they normally do to avoid winter. But only skiing can come up with complexities confusing enough to rival your basic income-tax long form. Example: If you have mastered all the audibles for every team in the National Football League, you may be ready to learn skiing's World Cup scoring formula (which changes every year). If you're not quite ready for that, try cross-country skiing -- so simple and pure and away from it all.

But wait! Should you use the ``classic'' diagonal stride and single-pole method (which is really using two poles, one at a time)? Or should you skate on your skis, as all cross-country ski racers who are interested in winning now do?

Of course, if you skate, you will probably use the ``V skate step,'' double pole (both at the same time, please, like you're pumping a handcar), do strength training seven days a week (so as not to collapse), obliterate any vestige of a track with your skating skis, and generally go like crazy.

But then you might be looking at far horizons and want to use the ``marathon skate.'' That would mean you are probably using one long ski (in the track) and one short ski (pushing and skating on the outside of the track, like a scooter). Don't ask me about the poles; I haven't got that far yet.

Cross-country ski racing still being the arcane pastime it is, you probably haven't heard about all of this if you're just taking up the sport. You can be grateful for that, but remember, the world has yet another revolution to add to the list. I don't think ``the skating revolution'' is communist-inspired, but it's sure doing a job on the ``classic'' and beautiful way people have skied cross-country for centuries (to say nothing about what it's doing to prepared tracks). Fortunately, it hasn't much affected recreational skiing yet.

With both ``classic'' and freestyle cross-country ski races now being conducted, maybe skiing is at about the same point swimming was when somebody discovered you could go faster doing the crawl than the breaststroke. Let's just hope nobody comes up with a cross-country backstroke! Marathoners to your marks!

We are into the citizen ski race season, of which the 50-60 kilometer marathons are the premier events. The European ``World Loppets'' attract both citizens and sanctioned racers worldwide, while the ``Great American Ski Chase'' does the same thing for eight major events and some 12,000 skiers taking part in the United States between mid-January and late March.

These races provide something of a winter spectacle: riotous colors, flapping flags, icicled mustaches. They also bring out local pride and community spirit. For the Tug Hill Tourathon (Feb. 15) at Sandy Creek, N.Y., for example, guess who spent 1,600 hours since 1982 preparing the 31-mile course over public forest lands? Not ski resort employees but primarily local skiers, volunteer enthusiasts, and supporting organizations within 25 miles of the race site. Almost sounds like Scandinavia's great ski clubs, whose volunteers maintain hundreds of miles of cross-country trails. From sleigh rides to new skis

Non-skiers looking for an excuse to enjoy a country inn's fireside should check out the winter carnival circuit now under way. The Gunstock/Winnipesaukee (N.H.) Winter Carnival (Jan. 31-Feb. 2), for example, offers snow sculptures, community skating parties, torchlight parade, fireworks, guided cross-country ski tours, broom hockey, and a dance. If sleigh rides are your weakness, Vermont has at least 15 stables offering all kinds of rides from about $25 to $100 per. The Vermont Travel Division in Montpelier -- telephone: (802) 828-3236 -- can provide a list.

Next week (Jan. 27-Feb. 2) has been designated National Learn to Ski Week, and many ski areas are offering major discounts on beginner ski packages (often $15 for rentals, lesson, and lift ticket) during that period. But in general, too many New England resorts still expect people to pay stratospheric prices for a few days of skiing. And they wonder why there are so many empty rooms midweek! Of various packages for seven major resorts cited in a recent ``Ski New England'' release, only two represent dollar values that might interest most new skiers: three midweek days and nights at Mount Snow, Vt., for $155 (including lodging, most meals, lessons, and rentals), and a five-day ski week at Smugglers' Notch, Vt., for $845 for a family of four (children 12 and under). . . .

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