Tupper Lake cross-country lessons blend fun and skill

Kids learning to ski at cross-country trails at Tupper Lake’s golf course play Moose Juice, a game ski instructor Ken Kalil uses to improve their coordination while they try to chase down and tag each other out.
(Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Kids learning to ski at cross-country trails at Tupper Lake’s golf course play Moose Juice, a game ski instructor Ken Kalil uses to improve their coordination while they try to chase down and tag each other out. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — As the wind whipped across the rolling hills of the Tupper Lake Golf Club’s cross-country ski trails, a duck call carried over the whistling air current and everybody hopped.

Ken Kalil, a cross-country ski instructor, is the one who blew the duck call and dutifully jumped along with the 20 elementary school students he taught. The students glided across the snow drifts, some effortlessly, some after countless spills and slips. But when they heard the call, they stopped in their tracks and hopped.

This is one of the ways Kalil gets them familiar with having the long, wobbly skis on their feet.

This was the seventh lesson the kids had attended since Dec. 11, and though they were often lying in the snow, they always picked themselves up with smiles on their faces.

“It’s fun to see them improve. I mean, even in the six sessions that we’ve been doing it you can tell they’re more confident,” said Angie Snye, the town of Tupper Lake’s director of recreation and youth activities. “Even the ones that had skied before but not with the program, you can just tell that they look more comfortable and more confident.”

Kalil’s voice boomed over the frosted fairway, calling the students to meet him at the top of a hill, where he showed them the proper downhill posture and refreshed a previous lesson about “pizza stopping,” where ski tips are turned inward in the V-shape of a pizza slice.

This is his second year taking time off instructing skiers at Mount Van Hovenberg in Lake Placid to teach young Tupper Lakers one of his favorite childhood pastimes. Kalil remembers the day his mother came home with seven pairs of skis for the family, and skiing out the back door to explore the woods of Old Forge and Inlet, the town his Lebanese family helped settle in the early 20th century.

“I’d take the skis as a young kid and go off on my own. I always loved being in the woods,” Kalil said.

Now in his 40s, Kalil said cross-country skiing is a good full-body exercise for the winter and keeps him in shape for when he guides fishing expeditions and trains hunting dogs in the summer. Working with the kids is as much physical training for him as for them, he said. Seeing octogenarians take on Mount Van Hovenberg’s trails year after year, he knows he will be skiing for a while.

“It is a lifetime sport,” Kalil said. “The recreational skier and the Olympic racer all have the same goal: to make this less work. You may slow down, but you get more efficient.”

Kalil does not slow down when in Tupper Lake, though, quickly calling all the kids back up the hill for several rounds of Moose Juice, a variation of the Sharks and Minnows tag game played while on skis.

Three “moose” stood between a line of pumped-up children on skis and the safety of the finish line. At the sound of a duck call, the line advanced with fury. Snow flew, people fell, and moose were added to the herd in the next round. Poles were, wisely, not involved.

Though the rambunctious mess of skis, limbs and smiling faces may not look like training, Kalil used the game to acclimate them to moving quickly, maneuvering around obstacles and staying on their feet when the pressure is on.

“It teaches them the value of fitness,” he said. “Who cares if they end up ski racing? They remember when they did this as a young kid, and they’ll go back to it.”

Some of the competitive students do get to participate in ski races, and several plan to race in the second annual Junior Lumberjack Scramble at the course on Feb. 10.

The class is also a social opportunity for the kids as they talk with classmates while waiting for their turn to ski the hill, target friends to be the next moose and meet new friends who now have similar interests and hobbies.

“I think a lot of them might not overlap a ton at school, so it’s nice to see them forming those bonds,” Snye said.

The students of Tupper Lake also have a unique opportunity on the trails roaming the town’s golf course, learning on the only free-to-use groomed trails in the Tri-Lakes area.

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