Dan Batwinas currently runs the cross-country ski trails at the Mount Massive Golf course in Leadville and is the President and Founder of the Leadville Cross Country Ski Council. He’s also been teaching Nordic skiing for nearly 30 years, so he knows his stuff and has some great advice for those looking to get into the sport of Nordic skiing.
Tell us about your history as a Nordic ski instructor?
“I got started as an instructor back at Tahoe Donner Nordic Center in Truckee, California. In 1990 or so I taught my first paid lesson. I instructed for one season and loved it, but it was not the right job for someone trying to feed a family of four. So I started doing it on the side as well as informally to a lot of friends. I currently teach at Gold Run Nordic as well as give private lessons and clinics at the Mount Massive Ski and Snowshoe Trails. A few years ago, I went through the USSA coaching cert program and am now a USSA 200 level cross country ski coach.”
What do you love about Nordic skiing?
“All summer long I do all sorts of things to support Nordic skiing- I run and bike, but don’t consider myself a “runner” or a “biker.” I love those things but not like I love skiing. I love how athletically good it feels. You have so many gears to choose from unlike being locked into the frame of a bicycle, and it is nowhere near the pounding of running. In the winter I am a fanatic old-aged ski racer and can bang out a marathon weekend after weekend because the pounding is just not there like with running. If you have a reasonable amount of preparation for a ski marathon, you wake up feeling good the next day. Last time I busted out a marathon on foot oh, I didn’t feel good the next day, I can assure you of that.”
What do you enjoy about instructing?
I can’t help but teach people, perhaps to the point of being annoying. When I see skiers with floppy straps death-gripping their poles out on a casual ski I try to correct them without being too intrusive and obnoxious.” He laughs, “It’s in me!”
What is the most common frustration you observe with newbies?
They aren’t sure what to do with their poles. Poles are for pushing, not for balance and my students find that out pretty quickly. I do a simple drill with them dragging the pole and drawing a line in the snow as close to their ski as they can, never lifting the basket and stabbing it out in front. So that the pole is always at an angle on both the backward and forward stroke. That’s how you push in a powerful way.
Can you give some advice to those looking to try Nordic skiing?
“I have some pretty good advice on gear. First, rent for a little while to figure out what you really like before you buy. If you enjoy a beautifully set track at a commercial Nordic center then don’t buy “do everything” skis; buy borderline racing skis that are skinny and work well in the tracks. Don’t let someone convince you that you can do skate and classic on just one ski. That sets you up for failure. Fat skis are great for shuffling in the woods but you sacrifice your experience on the Nordic trails.”
Would you say that Nordic skiing is easy or hard to pick up?
“Nordic skiing can be anything you want it to be. My ski trails at Mt. Massive are all but dead flat so we are a huge attraction to the beginner ski crowd or those looking to take it easier. If someone is out there shuffling, moving their feet 6 inches per stroke, that’s legitimate and wonderful skiing and it feels good to them. It is good for them. And it’s pretty darn easy. It is so open-ended as far as where you can take it. There are so many different styles and levels, it’s a great sport because it can take you so many places. It can be easy if you want or need it to be. As easy as a gentle shuffle in the woods.”