When fellow MSU students hear my response after asking "where do you ski?" they are usually either confused or surprised. No, I don't get a season pass to either Big Sky or Bridger Bowl. No, I don't explore the endless back country ski terrain literally out our front door. The term 'powder day' means almost nothing to me. Lines off the side of mountains? I could care less about those too.
Why? While I did start out as a downhill skier in 7th grade, upon entering high school I made the transition to Nordic skiing and never looked back. But this is a common path for young athletes to take, especially in a state like Minnesota where the terrain heavily favors skiing across the land. Where things steer in different directions is when the Minnesota Nordic racers who come to Montana State choose their sports path through college. What I have noticed is that the most common path Minnesota Nordies take is they come to MSU thinking that they'll have a major boost to their nordic training. The altitude and mountain terrain will be just what their skiing was missing in the midwest. However, what ends up happening is they have trouble finding fellow skiers on campus, and their new friends in the residence halls mostly come from the downhill ski world. As a result, they choose social life over performance and training, and eventually make a nearly complete transition to the type of skiing that favors powder. It's a familiar storyline that plays out year after year. There is nothing wrong here, it's just what happens.
So, why did I turn out different?
There are 2 big reasons. The first is that I am a fairly stubborn person. Once I get hooked on an activity, it's difficult for me to let go of said activity. The nordic ski community across this country is small enough to feel exclusive, yet established enough to make you feel supported, and it has become a world I don't want to leave.
Another reason is priorities. Backcountry skiing is another popular hobby among the Bozeman populace, and some wonder why I haven't caught on yet. At this point I choose sports from an economic perspective, meaning whatever is most efficient and has the best cost/benefit balance is the one I will do. Backcountry skiing has expensive gear, gear which I do not currently own. On top of this, the additional certification and travel needed to make a days worth of backcountry skiing only increases this cost. I already have high-end nordic gear, and know how to use it with relative proficiency. Also, nordic is seen as a positive supplement to triathlon training during the winter because of the similar cardio demands.
Why would I spend boatloads of money on backcountry gear (when it could be spent on race and travel fees) and give up an entire day to trudging through snow way off somewhere? Why do this when I could easily take my skates or classics to nearby trails and rip around for 2-3 hours, get more productive exercise that has long-term benefits for my summer racing, and save more time for homework in the process? I don't know about you, but right now the costs of going backcountry skiing seem to far outweigh the benefits of it.
Maybe I'll throw on some wider skis again in the near future, if the opportunity presents itself. But for the time being, skating, classic striding, road biking, running, swimming and mountain biking are good enough.