Most memorable about the skis were the skies.

Ending a night ski back at the car, I looked toward a clear starlit sky and watched my condensing breath rise, curling upon itself, through the beam of my headlamp. Just above, tiny crystalline snowflakes sparkled and danced as they reflected the light, like so many winter fireflies.

The following afternoon, while basking in the growing warmth of a returning sun, I studied two spreading contrails running perfectly parallel to each other across a dusty blue sky.

In both instances, I was on skis, enjoying the moment. Finally, favorable conditions had intersected with available time, and I was able to get out — not once but twice — to do some cross-country skiing this past weekend.

The Saturday afternoon outing had been planned for several days. But the Friday evening invitation came spur-of-the-moment from Tom, my neighbor and long-time outdoor companion.

Skiing at night can be magical when the conditions are right. And that evening, conditions were perfect.

We had decided to try a section of the new Quemahoning Trail around the lake of the same name in northern Somerset County. The temperature was in the 20s, the air was still, and the snow was powdery and picturesque.

It was an ideal place for my first ski of the season: relative flat without any tricky descents or turns.

While tracing the trail through a stand of high-limbed evergreens, our headlamps illuminated the bare trunks, which stood like so many columns in a cathedral.

For a while, deer tracks broke our trail.

Then the deer trail turned left and we had to break our own.

There was just enough snow for smooth skiing, but not so much that it was hard work to break trail. Still, we took turns doing so – more to change perspectives of leading and following than because either of us needed breathers.

It wasn’t a long outing – maybe we went three or four kilometers before returning the way we came, thereby getting the chance to glide more along the packed tracks of snow we’d created on the way out.

The next day’s outing was a very different experience. Planned several days in advance, it was a more-social event, involving eight people in total, including my wife, the host couple, three members of the Benscreek Canoe Club and one member’s 10-year-old daughter.

The site of our ski was an old farm near Ebensburg, which has been in the host’s family for more than 70 years.

We covered much of the farm’s 80 acres, including some rolling pastureland and stands of mixed hardwoods and hemlock.

The snow wasn’t nearly as friendly as the prior evening’s powder.

This was a wetter snow – the type we loved as kids for making snowballs, snowmen and snow forts – that tends to pack onto the bottoms of skis, making it harder to move.

Wax can solve that problem, but I’d forgotten mine.

This trail was a bit more challenging to ski than the prior evening’s, forcing me to find my “ski legs.”

Fortunately, basic cross-country techniques aren’t difficult and return quickly with a bit of practice.

I surprised everyone – myself included – by easily negotiating a descent with a sharp-right turn at the bottom.

Then a few minutes later, a careless ski plant dumped me, even though I was almost standing still, reminding me that skiing can be humbling.

But the day and the snow-covered landscape had every reason for pride. The unblemished pastureland reminded me of the broad swells of a rolling sea – only in waves of white rather than emerald green.

“This is beautiful,” said Mike, one of the canoe club members, as he gazed across it.

Winter certainly has its wilder side, as we experienced recently. But when the conditions are right – as they were this past weekend – there is no more spectacular time to be outside.

To respond to this column – or read other columns by Dave Hurst – visit


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