Guilderland athletes trade running shoes for cross-country skis in the winter

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

From the start: Guilderland’s Steph Leclair begins her portion of the girls’ varsity cross-country skiing race in Glens Falls last Friday; her time of 13:28.8 was good enough for 36th place. Also racing for the Dutch were Erin Miceli (18th), Becca Miceli (23rd), Daria Veselov (25th), and Rachel Swyer (29th). 

GUILDERLAND — Given the similarities in name, the comparisons between cross-country skiing and cross-country running are understandable. The two endurance sports aren’t much different; cross-country skiing is an ideal cross-training alternative for the cold months of winter.

Each winter season, plenty of Guilderland runners hit the snow with skis and poles for competition. For some, cross-country skiing is their only sport, but for most, it’s a way to stay active.

Senior Nate Backus had never skied before in his life until joining the Guilderland team as a freshman. “I felt like I wasn’t active enough in the winter, so that played into my decision,” he said this week. “I immediately loved it.”

Becca Miceli, also a senior, started downhill skiing at an early age, and she remembers learning to cross-country ski in physical-education class at Guilderland Elementary; Colleen Mickle taught the class and later coached Miceli in running.

“I found the ski team when I got to high school,” said Miceli. “Most of my running friends were a year older, so I joined with them, and ended up learning a lot more.”

Cross-country skiing works many of the same muscle groups as running without pounding on the road. Participants need only two or three inches of snow, and that’s about as much as Section 2 skiers have gotten during any given race in recent years due to the inconsistency of snowfall.

Before some snow fell on Tuesday, Guilderland hosted its invitational at Crandall Park in Glens Falls on Friday. Head Coach Barb Newton said that it took “lots of shoveling” to get the course properly groomed, and the distance of the races had to be cut down to 6K for the boys and 3K for the girls.

“The conditions were fast and cold enough for the snow to hold,” Newton said of last Friday’s races. “We’ve had very difficult snow situations; it’s difficult to keep a competitive frame of mind. It’s like trying to play basketball without lines on the court or with no basketball.”

It takes balance: The Guilderland cross-country skiing team hosted its invitational last Friday at Crandall Park in Glens Falls with skiers from nine other schools. Here, Daria Veselov, who finished in 25th place for the Dutch in the varsity girls’ race with a time of 12:15.9, skis in front of teammate Erin Miceli, who finished in 18th place, the top spot for Guilderland, with a time of 11:29.8. The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Cross-country skiing is a first-rate aerobic exercise that can actually help increase an athlete’s oxygen intake beyond what running could do. On top of that, the gliding action stretches hamstrings, calves, and lower-back muscles. In one activity, flexibility, muscle fitness, and cardio respiratory endurance are enhanced. This can translate to improved performance when athletes get their running shoes back on in the spring.

Backus thought that, if he were a good runner, he would do well at skiing. “It’s different with the poles and how it works your triceps, arms, and abs — it’s hard on the entire body,” he said. “It’s so much fun going downhill, but, uphill…Oh, God.”

Miceli finds skiing “is a little bit less stressful” than running. “I prefer classic style because it’s more like running,” she said. “Skate style is more technical. More skiers prefer skate because you can go faster.”

Newton told The Enterprise that 30 of the 40 Guilderland skiers would rather compete in a skate race; the weekly Section 2 meets alternate between classical and skate styles. “Aerobically, skate is the tougher of the two,” she added. “And for classical, you have to spend time waxing the skis properly, which could affect the overall decision.”

For skate style, the skiers push off to the sides with their skis rather than straight back, and they use their poles more. It's more taxing than traditional cross-country technique, where the skis are kept parallel, and will do more to work the skiers’ quadriceps, abdominals, and lower back muscles.

For a cross-country skier to get a comparable workout to a runner, the skier must ski about twice as much time. To approximate a 10-mile run, for example, the skier has to ski for around two hours. Cross-country skiing requires the athlete’s legs to be closer together and the back to be more bent than while running; inner thighs and lower back can get particularly sore.

So, is cross-country skiing harder than cross-country running?

“It depends on the course,” Backus said. “If it’s a flatter course, it might be easier than running it. If it’s hilly, it could be much harder.”

Miceli says that it’s fun and challenging to ski competitively, but she doesn’t feel as much pressure compared to running a race on foot.

“I love running,” she said. “But, I love skiing, too.”

In pursuit: Steve Wells skis around a cone for Guilderland during the boys’ varsity cross-country race last Friday at Crandall Park in Glens Falls for the Guilderland Invitational. Wells posted a 6K time of 21:46.4 for 33rd place, and Matt Cortelyou was the top Dutch finisher in 27th place. Nate Backus (30th), Adrien Zajac (36th), and Christian Tolfa (37th) also skied in the varsity race. The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Here are Guilderland’s boys’ varsity results from last Friday’s Guilderland Invitational:

— Matt Cortelyou, 27th place, 20:23.7;

— Nate Backus, 30th, 21:02.9;

— Steve Wells, 33rd, 21:46.4;

— Adrien Zajac, 36th, 22:20.3; and

— Christian Tolfa, 37th, 22:27.0.

And here are the varsity girls’ results for Guilderland:

— Erin Miceli, 18th place, 11:29.8;

— Becca Miceli, 23rd, 12:03.8;

— Daria Veselov, 25th, 12:15.9;

— Rachel Swyer, 29th, 12:30.1; and

— Steph Leclair, 36th, 13:28.8.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.