Chris Rosenblum | Nittany Nordic Cross Country Ski Club sees potential in powder

February 15, 2014 

February is a paradox: the shortest month but also the longest.

The holidays are but a dim memory. Spring sits distant on the horizon. A bunker mentality settles in, everyone holding on, slogging along, until March and the glimmerings of change come to the rescue.

Time seems to slow down, even freeze as hard as the ground, during winter’s depths. Days of gray skies and grimy slush, of digging out cars and driveways and fishtailing around curves, start blending into each other, one indistinguishable from the next.

Valentine’s Day notwithstanding, winter’s romance turns gloomy, familiarity breeding contempt. The season becomes a relentless foe, given to yanking the ground from beneath feet, carving potholes to jolt tires and springing nastier surprises.

On Friday at my home, a burst basement pipe flooded the room and show-ered hot water on books, record albums and a stereo system suddenly inside a sauna.

Who needs heat when you’re burning mad?

Fortunately, this year is providing a couple of bright spots.

The Winter Olympics add a daily burst of color and drama just when they’re needed the most, a prescription for the February blahs. You don’t have to be passionate about the games to take comfort in the buzz — the thrill of victory, agony of defeat and all that. At least somewhere, life explodes with energy.

And once in a while, you see something unforgettable that warms your heart through even the iciest days. It’s been 34 years since the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey victory over the Soviet Union, and I still remember the supernova of disbelief, amazement and joy as though the game took place last week.

Fresh snow can’t match the games for excitement. But to me, it’s just as refreshing.

Though I hate shoveling as much as the next person, we’ve been fortunate to have a clean blanket cover our community a few times this month.

Snow bestows dignity and beauty to even mundane streets. Otherwise dull fields become calendar scenes. The world, tired and crusty before, feels invigorated and full of promise.

Lee Ahern sees potential in powdery inches, and the latest batch certainly energized him.

As a Nittany Nordic Cross Country Ski Club organizer, Ahern pulled a trail groomer sled across 3 miles of trails to prepare for a cross country ski event at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Circleville Park.

Skiers from novices to experts are invited to use the trails through the park and the Haugh Family Preserve in Patton Township until 3:30 p.m. Ski instruction and sledding will be available, and all can enjoy hot cocoa and a wood-burning fireplace afterward.

“It’s a great way to beat the winter time, which can drag on a bit,’ Ahern said.

Ahern, a Penn State professor of public relations and advertising, started the club and its events three years ago. Growing up in Madison, Wis., he was accustomed to groomed tracks in municipal parks.

But when he moved to State College, he discovered local skiers didn’t have that luxury. Instead, they made do with blazing their own trails across golf courses and through state game lands.

“There was no place to ski,” Ahern said. “I said, ‘This is something the town ought to do.’ ”

People told him they tried cross-country skiing and didn’t like it.

“My reaction was, ‘Well, you didn’t have a good experience,’ ” he said.

He enlisted the support of Centre Region Parks and Recreation, Patton Township, Haugh Family Preserve Committee and corporate sponsor Appalachian Outdoors to offer the trails for convenient skiing.

During the season, club volunteers groom and otherwise maintain the trail network for smoother, faster runs.

“If you have groomed trails, you hop on your skis and go,” said Ahern, who asked hikers to walk beside, not on, groomed trails.

Eventually, Ahern hopes, the club will raise enough money to afford a power groomer pulled by a snowmobile. Until then, he’ll gladly toil in the snow, compacting a trail, to help show one path toward shaking off the winter doldrums.

“Once you find a way to do something in the snow,” he said, “it’s not something to dread.”

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter@CRosenblumNews.

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