The 15 fifth-graders took off down the trail at the Happy Jack Recreation Area. Some zipped ahead while others took a more leisurely pace. Most were on skis with the words “Nordic Rocks!” emblazoned across the top. In addition to the students, four Linford Elementary School instructors and Linford physical education teacher, Molly Garson, herded the students and made sure everyone was able to move down the trail on their own power.

Thanks to a grant proposal submitted by Laramie High School Nordic skiing head coach and Spring Creek Elementary art teacher Rebecca Watson, two sets of 30 skis each were provided to Albany County School District No.1 through the Nordic Rocks program. In addition, the school district also purchased two additional sets of 30 skis.

“They now have four sets of 30 skis available for the grade schools,” Watson said.

“The goal is to introduce youngsters to a life-long outdoor sport with gear that is simple and easy to use.”

Jesse Martin, physical education teacher at Spring Creek Elementary, has taken his class of fifth graders up to Happy Jack Recreation Area for two half days of skiing.

“It was so awesome just to watch the progress in two outings,” Martin said. “Even those who had no prior skiing experience really improved quickly.”

These skis just strap on to any pair of snow boots that a child might be wearing, similar to a snowshoe binding. They eliminate the need to also buy compatible ski boots. The students also go without ski poles, which is a common way to teach beginners how to ski.

Martin said he hopes to also use the skis at the school where the students could just play with them at a nearby park or even just on the playground.

“We could even start with them in the gym where the students put them on and just learn to move around,” Martin said. “There’s lots of potential down the road.”

The Nordic Rocks program is a three-way partnership between selected schools, communities, and High Plains Nordic Ski Education Association that creates an opportunity to teach skiing during the school day: physical education class, recess, and after-school programs. Students are able to ski right behind their school on any surface covered with a minimum of two inches of snow.

For now, the skis are used by the fifth grade classes in the various Laramie elementary schools. Fourth graders go on snowshoe outings while Nordic skiing is a special deal for fifth graders.

Back on the ski trails, the Linford School class of fifth graders spread out, forming three distinct groups. In the first group, accompanied by fifth grade teacher Mark Williams, the seven skiers look particularly comfortable and gung-ho on their skis.

When asked what they like best about cross-country skiing, one student said, “Everything.” A second one piped up with enthusiasm, “The hills! I like the hills the best.”

He wasn’t alone in his zest for going downhill. Such enthusiasm was evident at what is known as “Caution Hill.” This fairly long downhill stretch on the Upper UW ski trail can be quite fast and has the added thrill of curving through the trees. It has a worn “Caution” sign at the top that gives it its name.

At the top of the hill the young skiers form a line to wait their turn so that, should one fall – and many did – there wouldn’t be a chain reaction of kids plowing into each other. Whenever one fell her or she tended to bounce right back up, almost as if the snow was a trampoline. The kids took it in stride that wiping out was just part of the activity.

Once safely at the bottom of the hill, the kids dropped off their backpacks to the side of the trail, turned around, and scooted right back up the hill just to come down it again. Several went up and down the hill a half dozen times.

Eventually all 15 students and their instructors made it down the hill so the entire class moved a short distance down the trail to take it easy and enjoy lunch. It was a warm, sunny, and calm day and several commented that it sure beat being in a classroom.

While the Nordic Rocks skis are very basic and the bindings are a bit prone to malfunction, they provided a worthwhile half day of activity in the great outdoors for these students and their teachers.

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