Top XC Skiing Tips from Brian Ellison of Brian’s Bicycles & Cross-Country Skis
When Brian Ellison worked at the Highlands Lodge on Old Mammoth Road in the early ’70s, he put a sign out on the street reading “Honk for Bike Service.” That was the beginning of Brian’s Bicycles and Cross-Country Skis, long before he had a storefront and expanded to the ski business. He was a bike mechanic who also worked as a carpenter, an avid cyclist in the summer and a cross-country skier in the winter.
The county eventually wanted to know what he was doing, so the shop evolved into a licensed business with a storefront. Then he added cross-country skiing to the mix.
Now located on Chateau Road near Old Mammoth, Brian’s small shop is dedicated to cycling in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. Bike tires and tubes hang from a ceiling beam; gloves, beanies and cross-country ski clothing are on racks; and boxes of ski wax are on shelves behind the counter.
“Some years it’s good to be in the bike business, some years it’s good to be in the ski business,” says Ellison.
Wearing a denim work apron with glasses perched on his head, Brian greets customers as they walk in the door. A father wants to rent cross-country skis for his young daughter. A couple is interested in purchasing snowshoes.
“Shady Rest is a good place to go on a day like today,” he tells the father and daughter as they head out. It’s windy and snowing, and the road is closed to Tamarack Lodge because of avalanche danger.
Brian has a wealth of knowledge to share about the region and his favorite winter sports. Here are a few of his thoughts on how to get started cross-country skiing, his favorite skiing spots, and his insights on different types of cross-country ski equipment.
How to Start Cross-Country Skiing
“A lesson is always a good thing to do. At Tamarack they’ve got a great staff up there. A lesson is a good way to go, but I’ve sent hundreds of thousands of people out that don’t take a lesson and they just go out and have fun. Maybe that’s the only time they ever do it and most of them come back happy. Did they really go cross-country skiing? Do they even know what a kick or glide is? No, but they go out and have fun.
A lesson is not necessary, but if you want to evolve in the sport or have some awareness of technique, it’s a really great thing to do. In their beginning progressions, the instructors will show and tell you a lot of things maybe you don’t get right off the bat, but you are at least aware of it. When you start to ski a little bit more you think: Oh yeah, I see what they were talking about. Now I get it. So, even though in a lesson you can’t do everything you’d like to be doing, it comes in time.”
Brian's Favorite Skiing Spots
“The Lakes Basin is the epitome of Mammoth Lakes. I always say start off at Tamarack. The one thing that is a drawback for some people is they have to fork out some coin. But it is a beautiful place. The trail system is marked and mapped, and cared for better than any place else you can possibly ski anywhere in our area. It’s always the best skiing experience you’ll get; that’s number one.”
“I always send people to Tamarack first. Or I send people to Shady Rest, to the ballpark to hop on the snowmobile trails, Obsidian Domes, or the Minaret Vista, particularly if people are going up to Main Lodge to ski with other people. For all of the snowmobile trails that cross the highway—just pick the trail system and off you go. I personally never found a conflict of interest between snowmobiles and skiers. It always seems to be a fine relationship, it's courteous and works pretty well. There is a lot of terrain out there. Ski up to the Rock Creek Lodge trails, and then have dinner—that’s always a fun thing to do.”
Types of Cross-Country Ski Equipment
“Threre are three, maybe four, different genres that I deal with now in the sport. There’s light backcountry skiing: skis with a metal edge in varying widths and with varying stiffness of the boots. Then there’s what I call general touring. That’s sort of the meat and potatoes of the sport and it’s the least expensive way to get into it: You need a basic touring ski with the boots, binding and the pole. Then there’s the race end and that has two different categories: the classic—kicking, gliding, and striding; and skating. Those two don’t really cross over. You can skate on anything, but if you are going to skate as a discipline, you need to be in skate equipment.”
On Trying Cross-Country Skiing for the First Time
“Most people go out and try cross-country skiing and have a good time. They almost always say that it was an experience that was enjoyable to them and that they will probably try it again. A lot of people are realizing that you don’t have to be into just one thing. It’s just something else to do. Just because you are a snowmobiler doesn’t mean you can’t cross-country ski. Just because you are an alpine skier doesn’t mean you can’t also be a cross-country skier. People are starting to see that. They ski a little on the mountain, then if it is a busy day or a weather day, they think: What else can we do? Then they find cross-country skiing. It’s something else to add to the fun quiver. Equipment comes with the territory: paddleboards, wake boards, water skis, fishing poles, saddles—the list can go on and on. We all do a lot of things, that’s a part of being here.”
Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle...