How To Speak “Ski” in Bend, Oregon

How To Speak “Ski” in Bend, Oregon

When I first arrived in Bend, someone asked me, “Do you alpine ski?” I stared at them blankly. They barreled on, “No? Do you Nordic?” This did not help clear things up. I finally replied with the worst possible answer, “I just, um, regular, normal ski, you know downhill…” I then got a quick (and impatient) lecture about the different “normal” types of skiing. It seems people in Bend were born knowing these ski lingo distinctions. I just nodded and smiled…and died a little inside.

I clearly needed to learn to speak ski.

First, I have a confession. I’m not that outdoorsy. I love the outdoors, but I’m not much of an athlete. As a kid, growing up in Junction City, Oregon, walking to the library was my favorite sport. My pets had better hand-eye (er, hand-paw?) coordination than I did. But I did ski. I was vaguely aware of a type of hippy skiing called cross country, but it wasn’t really skiing in my mind, plus I imagined it involved eating muesli for lunch. No fun. I thought skiing was something you did on vacations and three-day weekends, and it always involved lift tickets, enormous clunky boots, greasy food in brightly lit lodges, and a colored diamond system for runs.

In college, a blown-out knee ended my skiing “career,” and sent me scurrying to warm sandy beaches for subsequent vacations. Then, five months ago, I moved to one of the the Holy Lands of winter sports, and I had to learn the distinctions and quick. Wouldn’t want to seem like a cretin. Plus, I was getting fat, sitting inside by the fire, and also because every freaking menu in town has delicious mac and cheese (I am constitutionally incapable of resisting mac and cheese, especially if there is bacon involved).

So I asked skinny, fit people what they do here in the winter (no gym, I hate the gym), and most revealed that their winter cardio of choice is Nordic skiing.

To explore this Nordic business, I went to “Learn To Ski Day” at Meissner Nordic and got on a pair of skate skis. I looked like a cartoon character on a sheet of ice. Took me like 15 minutes to figure out how to keep the skis under me, but once I could stand upright, it was fun, fun, fun, and those skinny people were right: it’s great exercise. Everyone should be required to try it.

I’m slowly dipping my toe into the ski culture of Bend, and I want to share the goodness with other beginners. If you’re visiting, or new to town (and mountain sports), you’re going to need to learn to speak ski, Bend style.I’m going to keep it simple. I could’ve spent days bugging the guys at Pine Mountain about subtle and complicated differences between the gear for the various types (ski camber for instance), but the info I’m providing here is just an overview to get you started speaking Bend ski in just a few short minutes.This list is for the uninitiated. If you’ve lived here (or some other mountain mecca) for 10 years, you know this stuff, and MUCH MORE, and you’re probably only still reading so you can point out where I got it wrong, right? Excellent. I’m always up for learning more.Okay, let’s go. There are three basic skiing categories you need to know: alpine, Nordic, and telemark.

Alpine Skiing

Alpine is the “skiing” of my childhood. You buy a lift ticket to get up to the top. You ski down groomed runs as fast as you possibly can. You don’t provide much power, you just control the speed with your big clunky boots. Your heels and toes click into the bindings. The skis have metal edges. And yes, there are usually resort lodges (with bars! Yay!).

Alpine gear (Photo credit: Bend Bulletin)

From what I understand, there is slightly different gear for backcountry/all-terrain alpine skiing (this is where I get confused), but don’t you worry your pretty little head about that for now. Just remember the alpine = resort-style downhill skiing. Got it?

Nordic Skiing

Nordic is also known as cross-country skiing. People in Bend tend to use “Nordic” over the more descriptive “cross country.” Why? Um, one less syllable? I have no idea.

This kind of skiing doesn’t require a lift ticket. You mostly use your own steam to get up gentle slopes and then cruise down the other side. Often you take trails — loops or out-and-back.

Nordic skis are skinnier than alpine skis and they don’t have a metal edge. The boots are sleeker (like a hiking boot with a steel shank), your toe clips in near the the ball of your foot, but your heel is free to move up and down.

While many ski resorts have Nordic areas, there usually aren’t dedicated ski-in lodges for the Nordic set. However, many Nordic areas, like Meissner here in Bend, have some sweet three-sided warming huts with piles of volunteer-provided wood. BYOB, matches, and everything else. And don’t forget to donate to the group that maintains the trails and chops and hauls that wood up there, capiche?

The two basic types of Nordic skiing are classic and skate.

Classic: You’ve seen someone, somewhere, do this in a snowy meadow, maybe in the movies.


In classic nordic skiing, you just swoosh straight forward one ski at a time, like a walking or running motion. The skis have a fish-scale-like texture and/or wax on the bottom so you don’t slide backwards when you’re swoosh swooshing up a baby hill. (Note: “Swooshing” is not a technical term.)

Skate: To skate ski, you push off at an angle and glide on one ski, then the next, just as if you were ice skating, only on flat, long toothpicks. Skate skis are a little skinnier than classic skis and they don’t have the scales or any wax on the bottom to prevent backward slippage.

Skate gear
Skating (Photo credit: Andy Tullis / Bend Bulletin)

My “Learn To Ski Day” instructor, Ollie, scolded me for calling it “skate skiing.” He said only newbies call it skate skiing. The cool kids call it “skating,” as in, “I’m going up to Meissner for a quick skate after work.” I am not concerned about this, I still call it skate skiing, because I am not cool, and the moment anyone sees me “skate,” they’ll know for sure I’m a newbie.

Telemark Skiing

There’s a third type of skiing (per the guys at Pine Mountain), which is telemark. It’s like a cross between alpine and Nordic.

Telemark skiing

Telemark boots and skis are more like alpine (including metal edged skis), but the binding differs since your toe clips in and you can free your heel (like Nordic), or maybe your heel is always free, I’m not clear on that detail. The wider skis and stiffer boots enable you to rage down much steeper slopes with greater control than those super-sleek Nordic skis and boots. And you do those goofy deep-knee bends when you turn. That’s all I know about telemark.

Oh, and Snowboarding…

I don’t mean to snub the snowboarders, I come from a family of boarders (my brother was half-pipe world champion in ’95, for real), but I never really got the hang of it.

Everyone knows what boarding is, right? From what I understand, the only other type of snowboarding you need to know about in Bend is splitboarding. Splitboards are used for backcountry boarding.

Splitsticks splitboards

A splitboard looks pretty much like a normal snowboard, only your board splits into two skis (mountain touring skis technically, and I have no idea what makes them “mountain touring,” sorry), so you can hike up backcountry slopes on those skis. If you’ve ever seen a snowboarder trying to bunny hop to a lift, you know this “split” feature would be pretty handy — especially when you’re trying to hike to the top of that killer bowl.

I guess some people still monoboard too, though I’ve never heard anyone talk about it in Bend. For the record, on a monoboard your feet are both facing forward on your board (not sideways, like on a snowboard) and you slalom down the hill as if you were on two skis that are glued together.

That about covers it.

Congratulations. You are now reasonably fluent in Bend ski speak. Go forth and act like a local. If anyone asks you about camber, just change the subject to locally brewed beer, quickly.

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