Nordic Skiing at Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Sarai Reed taught me everything I know about cross-country skiing. Okay, I knew nothing before my ski lesson with her at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. But in an hour, she taught me a lot.

Devil's Thumb Ranch skiing

Sarai Reed, ski instructor extraordinaire at Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Sarai comes from a family famous throughout Grand County, Colorado, for their Nordic skiing prowess. And it shows in the way she glides over the ice, moving fast with no apparent effort.

Devil’s Thumb is a gorgeous 6,000 acre spread in Grand County. Guests could easily spend a week and never leave the property. Horseback riding, yoga classes, 60 miles of trails, a gym, spa, game room, pool—well, you get the idea. If your idea of vacation is to spend time in luxurious yet unpretentious surroundings, ringed by mountains, and not have to drive anywhere once you reach the property, it would be hard to do better.

I was there for my first ever ski lesson. When I first put the skis on, I was like a colt on ice, legs awkwardly splaying out and scared to inch my way forward. But Sarai gave me just the right amount of solid tips to get me going. We were doing classic style Nordic, which means sliding one foot straight forward, then the other. Just like that exercise I’ve done in aerobics classes called – oh, yeah, skiers.

The really beautiful thing about Nordic trails is the grooves in the sides. You can stay out in the middle of the trail, or you can slide your skis into grooves and move along like a train on tracks. This made it about five times easier for me.

Here’s the main advice Sarai gave me:

  • Bend your knees
  • Keep your weight forward
  • Shift weight all the way onto one foot, then the other
  • If you fall, fall forward onto your hands and knees. Resist the urge to stand up, which almost guarantees you’ll fall hard on your butt or back.
  • Angle your poles behind you to help push off, rather than using them like hiking sticks.
  • To get up a hill, move like you’re running rather than walking, so you don’t slide back as much.
  • You can slow yourself down a little by pressing your skis into the outside of the grooves. But the hill is still going to win.
  • Approach hills with confidence. If you tense up, you’re likelier to fall.


This last one was the hardest for me. Confidence? With these slippery things on my feet? Are you crazy? But after some resistance, and at least one exclamation of, “Oh my God, Sarai, a hill!!” I managed to get down the hill – knees bent, weight forward, praying all the while – while remaining upright.

skiing Devil's Thumb Ranch

Okay, maybe this hill doesn’t look so big now. But it did at the time! Photo by John Poimiroo

Sarai was an excellent instructor, especially considering my group of four people included newbie me, a downhill skier who hadn’t used Nordic equipment for 20 years, and two all-around athletes with plenty of recent cross-country practice. Sarai fairly divided her time between our levels, zipping back and forth between us. Even the experienced skiers said they learned from her.

I felt like Sarai gave me a wonderful start in one hour. Now I need to go out again before I forget all her tips.

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