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Coach Drew McCarthy explains the finer points of skate skiing to Haley Slone and Gini Van Siclen during a Teton Nordic Ski School lesson

Teton Nordic Ski School offers wide range of XC lessons 

This winter I felt like I needed another outlet for my hamster-like energy, so I decided to try out cross-country skiing.

I was attracted to skate skiing because it seemed hard. Classic skiing looked too much like the shuffling I was accustomed to during long backcountry tours; I wanted to skim across the snow like some kind of spandexed land-dolphin. I set out to learn how to participate in this beautiful pastime, and discovered that technique is more important in skate skiing than in anything I’ve ever done. Minor adjustments in body position, weight transfer, and timing can mean the difference between agonized, sweaty flopping and effortless gliding.

As it turns out, many other people have had the same thought this season.

Fortunately, Teton Nordic Ski School, founded in 2019, was poised to help all of us newbies gracefully figure out a new sport. Founders Jan Borstelmann and Celeste Young had both been teaching or coaching Nordic skiers in the valley for years, through Grand Targhee, Teton Valley Ski Education Foundation, and just by word of mouth.

“It became really obvious that more and more people are moving into the valley, and wanting to take advantage of all these amazing tracks,” Young said.

Then Teton Valley Trails and Pathways put out a survey and many respondents said that they specifically wanted lessons to better use the groomed trails around the valley.

“TVTAP is such an amazing organization and it made perfect sense to partner with them,” Borstelmann said. “We’re mutually supportive—they provide the trails and we make a donation per person per lesson, and donate gift certificates to their fundraisers.”

It was only natural for the outfit to also have a relationship with the local shops that rent cross-country gear; Yostmark and Peaked Sports know to direct customers to Teton Nordic for lessons. The employees at Peaked even had the chance to take a skate skiing lesson early this winter in Teton Canyon.

“That was the most fun lesson of the season,” Borstelmann said. “They got a sense of what it’s like to figure out how to skate, and how to steer customers to the right gear. They asked great questions. I hope we get to do that again.”

I took a group lesson through Teton Nordic from Drew McCarthy last week at the Alta track. I was only a month into my tenure as a skate skier but already had a whole heap of engrained bad habits and misconceptions, so I wanted to start from the very beginning.

That’s exactly what we did, working first on body position off skis, then running through the most basic weight shifts and leg extensions that magically propel skate skis forward. McCarthy was patient and ready with a form correction or word of encouragement. He used to be a TVSEF XC coach with Young; that’s how he was introduced to Teton Nordic. Before moving to the valley he offered lessons in Big Sky, his first foray into teaching adults and people with a wide range of abilities. People were usually in Big Sky on vacation so he’d teach them once or twice then never see them again; now he’s excited to be able to watch skiers progress through a season.

“It’s been really gratifying working with Jan and Celeste, and it’s great too, having them as a resource if I’m struggling to reach a break-through with someone, or working with someone who has had past injuries.”

He hopes to see Teton Nordic expand to Rexburg, and is also interested in offering basic backcountry touring experiences for people to learn and explore on winter forest roads without the threat of avalanches or complex terrain.

“There’s room for us to grow in lots of different ways, even in different seasons,” Borstelmann agreed. “As we see the valley grow, and see what kinds of offerings people want to see, we can accommodate those needs.”

I left the lesson wanting much more, which is exactly what Teton Nordic’s website warns of: “To be honest, one lesson is not enough. To become proficient takes many lessons with a lot of practice time in between lessons. Most people can’t learn this sport by simply taking one lesson. Watching and imitating others is a method of learning that is useful, however it can also lead to bad technique that can be difficult to change and will impede your ability to get better.”

“There’s only so much you can do and absorb in an hour-long lesson,” Young added. “We recommend people take notes, remind each other of good form, and definitely try and practice ASAP after a lesson. We’re always happy to see students out practicing.”

Teton Nordic will continue to offer scheduled group lessons through mid-March; private lessons will be offered as long as the TVTAP tracks are groomed. To book a lesson or find rates, visit tetonxc.com.