Two Olympic skiers walk onto the Nordic skate skiing track at Solitude Mountain Resort. One is an Olympic Nordic Skier and coach and the other an Olympic Mogul Skier, seeking to be a skate skier. Neither knows the other’s background. What are the chances of this encounter?
As I met my instructor Aram Hajiyan, I notice his tag simply stated that he was the Nordic Center Manager, which is the truth. But never did he mention during our one and a half hours together that he is also an Olympian who competed for Armenia in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. In hindsight, I think it was better I didn't know that until afterwards. The following is exactly what happened at the Solitude Nordic Center.
What Aram knew about me is that, although I am eager to learn, I am a beginner who has tried skate skiing once before. I showed up wearing half alpine gear and half gym gear along with a pom pom hat and aviator shades. For those that know Nordic skiing, let's just say that I wasn't exactly looking the part.
My first question upon stepping onto the snow was, "How do I put these things (skis) on?" Aram patiently took it from there. He even helped me figure out the pole situation as I kept putting them on the opposite hands. We started with a V1 movement, which is stepping with your right foot while pulling with your arms and torso then bringing the arms back through as you step with your left foot.
Twenty minutes into the lesson, Aram smiled and with his delightful accent kindly said, "I keep thinking that you are playing a prank on me and that you are suddenly going to tell me that you are not really a beginner." I laughed and assured him that this was not the case.
We started at the beginner loop just in front of the Nordic Center and once he had taught me the V1, V2, and V2 Alternate skate, off we went to ski some of the 20 km of trails that wind through the majestic forest lands filled with aspens, pines and open fields.
The groomed trails of Solitude are located on pristine forest land that only has ski-in/ski-out access in the winters, even for cabin owners. In the summers, the Nordic Center is used by the U.S. Forest Service to watch over the land.
There are a lot of differences between Nordic and Alpine skiing in terms of equipment and also technique. Nordic skis are much skinnier and without edges, do not have heel release bindings and you use extra long poles. I adjusted fairly quickly to all of the equipment, but it's the technique that will take me a bit longer. Where I kept getting hung up was my tendency to keep my hips and torso still while my legs did the work and my arms took over the rest. This apparently makes me appear scared and requires a lot more work. In mogul skiing we carry our hips on a fairly even plane with our legs working to absorb and extend beneath us while our torso is still and tall with quiet arms.
If I am ever to look and feel efficient on skate skis, I'll have to discard my years of mogul training.
Upon finishing my lesson, I was so excited and ready to keep going. As I was talking to Aram about coming back with a group of friends and taking more lessons from him, Solitude Marketing/Communications Manager and today's photographer, Sherri Harkin, informed us that we were both Olympians. We also happened to share one of our Olympic Games together in 2002 right in the backyard of where we are standing in this picture.
If you are an outdoor lover who is looking for a new adventure, please, please give skate skiing a try. Why not come on up to Solitude to take a lesson from an Olympian who teaches with great patience and attention to detail? Where else can you get such an incredible opportunity? Thank you, Solitude Nordic Center and Aram, for your humility and personalized instruction.
*Solitude Nordic Center is open daily 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with 20 km of groomed trails set for both classic and skating styles of Nordic skiing.
Jillian Vogtli – Vogtli is a two-time Olympian and 13-year member of the U.S. Ski Team. She is known for her extensive success in the freestyle skiing events of moguls and dual moguls, as well as being the only woman to perform the Cork 720 during the Olympic Games.