Strider-Glider Program Puts Kids on XC Trails

By Tim Hauserman

Here at Lake Tahoe we get hundreds of inches of snow each year and usually the skiing is excellent between December and mid-April. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody who lives in Tahoe skis on a regular basis. Between work schedules and the high cost of skiing, many locals ski infrequently or not at all.

The increasing importance put on academics in our schools has also led to less ski time for kids. Years ago Ski-Skate Week was established to give Tahoe kids a chance to ski for a week in February, but now many Tahoe families look at Ski-Skate Week as time to vacation in warmer climes.

The Strider-Glider program at Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area in Tahoe City is bucking this trend. Now in its 12th year, this after school cross-country ski program attracts more than 200 youngsters from pre-school to 5th grade.  The concept is simple: For eight weeks children come to Strider-Gliders once a week and ski with a group of kids with similar abilities. Led by nearly 50 volunteer instructors, the students start out striding and then after a few years graduate to skating, moving up through a range of colors based on ability levels.

The goals of the program are short and sweet:  Have fun and learn to love a sport that you can do for a lifetime. The cost is only $80 and includes use of the equipment for the entire season, not just during the Strider-Glider sessions but any time. The hope is that students won’t just ski once a week, but will bring their families out to enjoy it after school or on weekends. One indication of the impact of Strider-Gliders is that the North Tahoe Middle School, which backs up to Tahoe XC’s trails, had over 50 children on the Nordic ski team last year, nearly 20% of the school’s enrollment.

A key component of Strider-Gliders success is the dedicated volunteers who spend time skiing with the kids. Renee Rintala, a Strider-Glider instructor and Incline Elementary School Teacher, believes the program provides a nice alternative to downhill skiing or snowboarding. “Strider-Gliders allows them to experience cross-country skiing and realize it is a lot of fun too,” she says. “While a lot of kids come in with an attitude that it won’t be fun they discover that they enjoy it and it’s something they can continue to pursue in middle school and high school as well.”

Many Strider-Glider instructors decide to volunteer after seeing their own children in the program, such as Steve Twomey, whose two daughters have both participated in Strider-Gliders.

“From an instructor’s point of view, it is so fun to have one day a week to hang out with these kids,” Twomey says. “You see them grow up and see them in town and they are excited to see you. I feel that we are really contributing to a revival of cross-country skiing in this community. Let’s face it, downhill is so intense, you are fighting your way through the crowds. With cross-country skiing once you get a couple hundred yards away from the lodge there is no one around.”

Success has allowed the program to continue to expand and evolve. Last year a drop-in class was established for the more advanced skating kids, giving kids who were looking for more ski time a chance to ski a second day each week.  It immediately attracted a crowd of 10-15 kids a week. The instructors showed up one day with cones, hockey sticks and a soccer ball and soon the kids were having a blast playing skate-ski hockey. This year an additional drop-in class has been established for the beginning and intermediate level skaters so they also have the option of skiing an extra day.

This year there is also another exciting addition: Biathlon. Not with bullets but with lasers.

“A few years ago I participated in the 10th Mountain Division Biathlon Race at Auburn Ski Club,” says Valli Murnane, director of the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Education Association. “I found it to be a great test of my skiing and also my ability to suddenly stop and focus on a skill that is very unfamiliar to me. It was great to see such a diversity of athletes competing at the same time, especially the kids. I thought it would be fun to offer a laser biathlon program at Tahoe Cross-Country. The great thing about the laser biathlon rifle is that there is no projectile to worry about. So that means we can use the rifles almost anywhere. Our hope is that by offering this unique event it will spark some new interest in the sport of cross country.”

This season there will be a Friday biathlon drop in class when any intermediate or advanced skater can drop in and try out biathlon.

In addition to Strider-Gliders the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Education Association runs the Free Skiing for Schools program and the Winter Discovery Center. Several times a week all winter long an elementary school class arrives at Tahoe XC and enjoys cross-country skiing for free. Many of these kids have never been on skis before. The Winter Discovery Center is a snow-based environmental education program for 3rd-5th graders which is based out of Tahoe XC’s yurt right on the trails.

Tim Hauserman wrote “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada.” Published by The Countryman Press. He teaches at Tahoe Cross-Country and directs the Strider-Glider program.