Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cross country skiing at Capital Hills

I'm hesitating a little about writing this see, I am concerned about my little piece of heaven being overrun by enthusiastic but challenged skiers, thus making my own forays less idyllic. I'm basically a sharer, though, so here is a little secret for you: the best free, winter outdoor activity in the city of Albany is cross country skiing at Capital Hills. Heck - don't tell Mayor Jennings but, if I were asked, I would even pay for access to the gorgeousness that is that golf course on a snowy day. It is that beautiful.
Into the wild white yonder

Now you know that I like to think of myself as a bit of an athlete - and I have the scars to prove it. When I initially tried cross-country skiing, under a bit of duress if I remember correctly, I totally thought I would hate it. Being out in the snow gliding along didn't really appeal to me. I had bad memories of a "learn to ski" day at a downhill place near where I grew up (think too much partying and not enough waterproof clothing), and was decidedly not enthusiastic about swooshing along through the woods. The reality though was, that with the appropriate attire and a supportive ski partner/teacher, I finished my introductory country ski experience feeling as if I had truly found my sport. It was genuine love and I've never lost my enthusiasm - and really, how many things can you say that about?
Snow is merely frozen water to Cassidy Lilly

That year, probably about 15 years ago, I got my first pair of cross country skis and I've never looked back. Other than to see where my dog was, that is. I honed my skills at the golf course over the years and have come to take for granted the stunning hilly-ness that is the new course. This is not terrain for those afraid of hills for either up or down hill adventures. It is a challenging course, made more interesting by the nearly complete lack of grooming. You're on your own here and it is frequently necessary to break your own path on the virgin "trail." But, hey, you trailblazer, you can do it!

I got out there recently with a friend who had never experienced the golf course on skis. His enthusiasm and repeated exclamation of "glorious!!" reminded me anew of the amazing gift we outdoor enthusiasts have in the nearby public golf course. There is ample parking, a restaurant for those inclined to have a bite to eat or a drink (the smell of their wood burning fireplace smells enticing without the added aroma of chicken wings), and there are uncountable trails to explore. I've been skiing there with as much frequency as the weather and my life allow for years and I still explore new trails to make my way from my starting point back around to the clubhouse. My latest discovery was the Heineken Trail, marked by Heineken cans stakes at both ends as well as cans nailed onto trees.  As proof that Albany (and its cross-country skiing community) are comfortingly small, I ran into (not literally, I reserve that for my snowboarding escapades) a man skiing, Collin Campbell.  He claims to have marked that very trail, along with a Budweiser trail which I have not yet located, and has plans for a Coors trail also.  Just what I like - something to look forward to!  
In the middle of the city, yet in the middle of no where

A couple of suggestions for the novice: ski with a friend. This place is big and not well marked; it is best to travel with a companion in case you experience any difficulties. Along the same vein, carry a cell phone with you for both the ability to communicate as well as to orient yourself, assuming you have one of those cool mapping apps. If you don't have a virtual compass, listen for the sounds of the Thruway and remember that it runs East/West. You'll figure it out. And, lastly, go and go often. Cross country skiing truly makes the winter something not just to tolerate, but instead a season to gleefully anticipate.

Additional places to cross country ski:
Pine Ridge 
Lapland Lake
Garnet Hill
Cross country skiing near Albany

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