After our 10-minute lesson, in which it became obvious that the group had a wide variety of skill levels, we set out. We had a plan to all ski the same loop, but that quickly fell apart as some skiers adapted quickly and others struggled with the heel movement, lack of edge and the technique of trying to move on skis the way one moves on skates.
Getting my glide on, as Lee and I joked, was actually pretty easy to pick up. That is, until I hit a pretty steep hill. Then I reverted to the "granny glide," which is much slower and not nearly as attractive or enjoyable, but I was moving forward.
The scenery was stunning, which would have made even the worst ski trip bearable. But skate skiing was a blast.
In fact, I had moments of feeling actually athletic, and then I saw members of the U.S. Nordic Combined team flying around the track and realized that I was letting the joy get the best of me.
But I wasn't the only one left wondering if I'd found a new passion. Snowboarder and Planet Gear employee Christopher Meves said he would give cross-country skiing another try.
"It actually feels like a nice alternative to running, very refreshing," he said smiling. "And I feel like a trooper because I didn't leave first."
Ben Napolitano with Wasatch Powder Bird Guides said he enjoyed it in large part because of the extensive cardio workout it provides.
One of the most attractive aspects of Soldier Hollow is that one can be clueless and still have an excellent time. Soldier Hollow is a Rossignol demo center, so the equipment is new and state-of-the art. And a day of skiing, including equipment rental, costs $37. It's only $9 for a trail pass for children, and a season pass for adults is just $225. Children ages 7-17 can ski for the season for $75. Soldier Hollow also has punch passes.
So it's much easier than I thought, cheaper than I imagined and offers just about the most beautiful scenery around.
Howard Peterson, the general manager of Soldier Hollow, was one of those who made sure Utah had a Nordic legacy. Originally, Salt Lake officials hoped to host the Nordic events at Little Dell.
"But that would have been temporary," said Peterson, who was in the midst of hosting a Nordic junior competition involving 600 youngsters from around the country. "That sort of defeats the purpose. We all wanted venues built that can have a lasting impact on the community."
Peterson was retired when a friend approached him and suggested he consider coming out of retirement in to help gain a permanent cross-country site. A life-long ski lover, Peterson was an easy sell.
The group met with then-Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, who agreed with the idea of finding a permanent site. At the time, Soldier Hollow was part of the Wasatch Mountain State Park, although a private developer had inquired about building a golf course.
When the group met with the Heber Valley community, the plan to build and sustain Soldier Hollow was met with "almost unanimous" approval.
A decade after hosting the 2002 cross country, Nordic combined and biathlon events, Soldier Hollow is home to world-class events year round. Peterson said they've tried to offer "something for everyone" from sheep dog competitions and the Dirty Dash running race, to tubing to biathlon and cross-country ski events.
"I think it's surpassed everybody's expectations," he said. "Seeing all of these junior skiers here, the families, the charter school, the children who ski four times a week — it's a happy noise."
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