Maria Hassett and Mark Southard skate ski at North Boulder Park last winter
Cameron Redwine / Colorado Daily
Cameron Redwine
Maria Hassett and Mark Southard skate ski at North Boulder Park last winter Cameron Redwine / Colorado Daily

When I executed a full-fledged belly flop onto hard snow, shook off the whiplash, wheezed in some of the wind that was knocked out of me and wanted to keep going, I knew I was stupidly addicted to this new sport.

Who knew you could belly flop while Nordic skiing? Not me.

It was early December at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, near Fraser. I went there to take my first skate skiing lesson because I knew the terrain there was flatter and gentler than Eldora’s, and I figured I would need every advantage I could get.

My expectations were low. I was attempting a sport that requires fitness and skill, and well, I’m a belly flopper. But I knew I might acquire a little of the latter if I took a lesson. So my friend Erika and I signed up together so we could commiserate.

Our instructor showed us both how to position our bodies upright, with our hips leading the way forward, and I glided ahead. Poor Erika was stuck. Our instructor spent the rest of the hour trying to get her gliding; he occasionally threw a new instruction at me as I skied back and forth.

What I’m thinking: Whee! I can’t believe I’m getting a free pass. I always struggle to learn sports!

What Erika is thinking: I (colorful language) hate Jenn right now.

Don’t feel too bad for Erika, though. She stuck it out, took a lesson the following weekend at Eldora and learned to glide. So the next weekend, we went out together.

You can’t escape the hills at Eldora’s Nordic Center, so I subscribed to my age-old learning method: Dive in (belly flop?) and make a real fool of yourself.

We headed up 17th Avenue, a green trail that climbs gently but steadily away from the Nordic Center. If you’re a beginner, though, 17th feels like the Mount Evans Hill Climb. We stopped approximately 17 times to catch our breath.

After skiing the (easy) Meadows Loop, we were both wobbly, struggling to find some sort of form. Suddenly, skis, poles and limbs were scattered askew on the wide trail.

The form we found: Erika, Man Of War jellyfish. Me, octopus — four limbs, each with an extra appendage, all unruly, none under my command.

“Who let the Man Of War on the trail?” Erika demanded.

“Sea creatures don’t belong on snow!” I cried.

Erika paused. “We’re really more like starfish,” she said.

Hrm. I’m lurching from ski to ski, precariously balancing my bulk on tiny feet…yes, starfish out of water.

I wanted to evolve from lurching to steazy starfish. So signed up for lessons with Peter Marshall, the head of Eldora’s Nordic Center.

At our first lesson, Peter told me a lot of cyclists and runners with “big engines” come up to Eldora and skate around fast despite their questionable technique.

“I don’t have a big engine,” I told Peter. “So I need to learn the technique.”

Peter wrangled me into shape shockingly fast. At the end of my first lesson, he had me skiing up Eldora’s bunny slope with no poles. Magic! He’s a skate sorcerer, transforming silly starfish to skier.

Christmas came and went, and I was heading back up 17th Avenue. I tried to remember everything Peter taught me, those flashes of brilliance he’d coaxed out of the starfish. But when your heart rate climbs into that anaerobic zone, it’s hard to think of anything but, how is that person pulling a child in a chariot passing me?!? And I resort to my lurching starfish technique.

Peter told me: “Don’t let 17th Avenue get in your head.”

He’s a superb teacher. But on this topic, I have selective listening.

That trail is this starfish’s new nemesis.