Great snow for upcoming XC events

By Larry Walsh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rick Garstka of Munhall waxed enthusiastic while describing the quality and quantity of snow that has fallen in the Laurel Highlands since Dec. 28:

“Bonanza.” “Heaven sent.” “Phenomenal.”

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Garstka, the president of the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skiers’ Association. “The season has gotten off to a super start, the best in years.”

And downhill and cross-country skiers, snowboarders, snowtubers, snowshoers, sled-, saucer- and tray-sliders and tobogganists are reveling in it.

“We haven’t seen snowfall like this since the 2002-03 season when we received a total of 208 inches,” said Dick Barron, director of ski and snowboard operations at snow-blessed Seven Springs.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the resort had received 57 inches of natural snow since Dec. 28 and more was on the way.

“We’ll have more than 60 inches, perhaps much more, before this system moves on [this] evening,” Barron said.

Seven Springs received the most new snow of any resort in the country — 27 inches — during a 48-hour period this week, according to OnTheSnow.com.

The Web site posts snowfall information it receives from resorts. Top honors for the most new snow in 24, 48 or 72 hours usually goes to the big western resorts.

“We received a total of 78 inches for the season so far,” Barron said. “It’s wonderful.”

Garstka agrees.

“We’ve had smiles on our faces since December,” he said. “We hope to have plenty of snow for our scheduled events in January and February.”

Garstka was referring to the association’s free cross-country lessons for adults and children at Laurel Ridge State Park next weekend and Jan. 23-24, Feb. 6 and Feb. 20. It also has a Nordic Picnic Jan. 23 and the annual Pennsylvania Nordic Championship Races Feb. 7.

The lessons, also offered to those with intermediate skills, will begin at 1 p.m. in front of the rental concession. Although you don’t need to be a member of PACCSA to participate, a trail pass is necessary and can be purchased for $6.

Garstka said beginners will learn double-poling, uphill and downhill techniques and the diagonal stride. The instructors then will take them out on an easy trail to practice what they’ve just learned and will provide individual critiques along the way.

A complete set of equipment — skis, boots and poles — can be rented from the concessionaire at the park (724-455-7303). Rental equipment also is available at Thrifty Ski Rental in Donegal (724-593-6404), Route 31 Board and Ski in Somerset (1-814-443-1282) and Peak Ski and Board near Boyce Park in Plum (412-793-6600).

Be advised: It’s first-come, first-served. Get there early, especially when snow conditions are as great as they are now.

The association has a cross-country ski team — the Yellow Jackets — for children ages 5 to 12. Kids of all abilities, including beginners, are welcome. Garstka said the youngsters learn to ski by using skill sessions and games based on Cross Country Canada’s Bunnyrabbit and Jackrabbit developmental programs.

The team skis Saturdays in January and February at Laurel Ridge State Park and will make occasional trips to Kooser State Park and other locations close to Pittsburgh.

Although registration for this season has closed, parents can learn more about the team by taking their children to the free lesson sessions and/or the Nordic Picnic.

“Cross-country skiing is a great way to stay fit during the winter,” Garstka said. It can be as energetic as you want it to be — from walking pace to race speed.”

A PACCSA membership costs $6 per individual or $9 per family. For more information, go to paccsa.org.

Larry Walsh writes about recreational snowsports for the Post-Gazette.

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