March is an iffy time to plan a cross-country skiing outing at Mount Hood. Chances of rain are up. So when I called Greg Moreno at Mount Hood Adventure to confirm my guided trip, he figured I’d called to cancel. And I’ll admit I was kind of hoping he’d say no, it’s too rainy, let’s reschedule. But Greg is up for skiing, rain or shine. And I do live in Portland. Who’s afraid of a little rain?
So I made the trip up the mountain on a soggy Wednesday afternoon. It was a quiet day in Government Camp, and Mount Hood Adventure – which has recently moved into a bigger storefront – was empty. While Greg finished up a phone call I took a moment to look around the shop. They have great deals on women’s snow pants and again I thought hmm, I could try on these cute purple pants and do some shopping instead of getting soaked. Plus I was a little nervous because this would only be my second time on skis and the less-than-ideal conditions weren’t going to help.
But Greg hung up and it was time to try on ski boots and measure for the right length of ski poles. Ladies, be prepared to answer a question that’s considered rude in most other circumstances: How much do you weigh? Lying will only result in improper equipment.
Once I had my gear, Greg and I drove separately to nearby Trillium Lake, a popular spot for cross-country skiing. The trail starts with a long downhill. I decided to walk down and affix my skis once we got to flat ground. My first time on skis was two months ago, so I wanted to review before heading down any slopes.
The loop around Trillium Lake is generally groomed twice a week, but the combination of lots of snow and about six inches of rain on top meant it was kind of bumpy. Also, there was no set track – the slots your skis fit in for classic cross country – which I’d relied on once before. On the upside, we saw absolutely nobody else during our 90 minutes on this usually well-populated trail.
How to ski
Greg emphasized that there are ski instructors, and there are guides. He’s a guide who knows how to do all sorts of winter sports and can name every tree and identify all the tracks in the forest. But he’s not a certified instructor so he wasn’t giving me an official lesson, only tips.
His tips were excellent. Here’s how to ski, according to Greg:
- Pick your favorite ape. “How about orangutan?” he suggested because of my red hair. Let your arms be heavy like an ape and keep your hands below your navel, poles dragging behind. If your poles are in front and too upright, you run the risk of poking your eye or knocking out a tooth if you fall.
- Learn to pizza. If you want to stop while going downhill, bring your dominant foot forward, V-ing your feet like a pizza slice.
- Plan your falls. Pick a butt cheek to fall on, and fall towards some soft snow. Do this before you fly off the trail and into a tree.
- When you do fall, arrange your skis properly before trying to get up. For instance, if you’re in the middle of a downhill slope, face your skis diagonally uphill, then get on your knees, then use your poles to push yourself up to standing. If they’re facing downhill, you’ll probably take off again before you’re ready.
- When skiing uphill, if you find yourself sliding backwards, try the herringbone. This means turning your skis out in a V while your ankles are angling inwards toward the snow. Dig your edges in for traction. Effective, if a little hard on the knees.
After we’d been out there a little while, I felt comfortable on the flats and uphill and only a little nervous on the downhill. I fell four times – three by accident and once because I was going downhill pretty fast and wasn’t sure I could avoid some upcoming trees – and learned that the snow is really soft and didn’t hurt at all. However, once I was sprawled on the snow my skis seemed about ten-feet long, so getting up was a challenge.
Maybe halfway through, Greg asked, “Did you forget it’s raining?” And I totally had. I was so focused on trying to ski, I didn’t even notice how drenched my clothes were. Greg was a joy to be with – patient, cheerful and obviously in love with the woods. He can tell you the history of the area, point out a snowshoe hare or coyote track, and discuss differences between moss on Douglas firs.
Other places to cross-country ski on Mount Hood
Mount Hood is best known for downhill skiing, but has several good places for cross country, too. Beginners will do best on groomed trails. Here are a few top places:
- Teacup Lake, 12 kilometers to trails, one mile north of Mount Hood Meadows
- Mount Hood Meadows Nordic Center – 15 kilometers, has set track, too. You can rent skis onsite.
- Cooper Spur Nordic Center – 6.5 kilometers, set track, rentals available.
Outdoorsy, sporty people might prefer to just rent skis and mess around with them. People like me, who have had more artistic than athletic lifestyles, will benefit from a guide like Greg at Mount Hood Adventure or an instructor at one of the Nordic centers.