Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cross country skiing alive at Crystal Lake

February 10. 2014 12:03AM
By Tom Fox For The Times Leader

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HUGHESVILLE – The memories are fresh and vivid in Dottie Alford’s mind.

Now retired in Maine, the owner of the Crystal Lake Ski Center in Lycoming County fondly remembers the skiers trekking across the 1,000-acre facility.

She remembers the sights and scenes, and the laughs and smiles from people of all ages that just spent a few hours swishing and swooshing around the grounds.

“It’s an amazing area,” she said.

As the Winter Games kick off and the buzz around the Olympics fills television sets around the country, you may not see as much publicity on this particular sector of skiing.

No one will deny the impact that figure skating, hockey and downhill skiing has on the event, or the popularity or intrigue that curling has.

But one can argue that cross country skiing is one of the true life sports in the Olympics.

Neither age nor gender matter — anyone can enjoy the true grace of the sport.

“It’s such a beautiful sport,” Alford said. “When you see someone utilizing the proper techniques of cross country skiing, it’s beautiful to watch. You are just out there, enjoying nature and the environment.”

Crystal Lake, about a 60-minute commute from Wilkes-Barre, is unique in its own terms.

The facility was the first in the state to offer cross country skiing.

“We started in the early ’70s with the cross country part,” Alford said. “We had certain people that loved the sport, and really supported it. We used to teach downhill, and were pretty focused on downhill skiing, but with the new technologies, it got pretty difficult and expensive to keep up.”

The downhill trails are still groomed and cared for so that cross country skiers can explore them.

“We’ve had a few down years at the facility, but for the most part, we’ve held our own,” Alford said. “We have a dedicated base of skiers that really come out and support the facility. And we were committed to making it a great facility for everyone to use.”

While Alford won’t lie that it’s probably easier to learn cross country compared to downhill, she also understands there is a degree of difficulty.

“It is easy to learn,” she said. “But like I tell everyone, you should have some type of training or take a lesson or two at the very beginning. You will really enjoy those lessons because they will teach you techniques to become a better cross country skier. Plus, it will help to enhance your experience when you are on the course.”

It’s hard to measure the popularity of the sport, according to Alford.

In Pennsylvania, downhill skiing is probably more popular, which leads to greater facilities to learn and ski in.In Maine, cross country skiing and biathlon has a huge following.

The only true way to get involved is come out and give it a whirl.

“I guess it all depends where you are,” she said. “Our skiers were dedicated to the sport. Myself, I wish we would get more young people involved. We don’t get a lot right now. I don’t know really how we can grow our sport. I think one place where you can start is in the schools and maybe it can be promoted there. It’s really a unique sport because if you have an 8-year-old that is full of energy, you can put him on skis, teach him the basics and he’s happy as a clam because he can just go.”

With the Olympics now forefront for the greater part of February, she’s hoping viewers will take a few minutes to watch the sport.

And hopefully, it will pique some new interest.

“Cross country skiing is a great sport,” she said, “and I hope it continues to grow for years to come.”

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