I am early 50s, good physical condition except for chronically bad ankles (too much basketball), have been a downhill skier since early 20s now interested in taking up cross country. I fear that because of my ankles and age I am not a good candidate. For those old-timers out there, what do you think? I have a house in Canaan Valley so I assume White Grass is the place to learn.
I haven't tried cross country skiing yet, but at 64 I'm a diehard downhiller, certified inline skate instructor, and novice mountain biker. I really don't see how cross country would be that bad on you. I say go for it.
Generally one thing about cross-country boots is that they don't offer the same ankle support that downhill boots do. Inherently cross-country boots are made to be more flexible...so you are going to loose a good deal of ankle support...depending on how "bad" your ankles are you might want to consider a crosscountry boot with a bit more support than traditional boots, maybe even plastic or a hybrid...they even make some plastic boots that offer more support but are still flexible(i.e garmont's excursion I think???)...having said all that just go over to white grass be sure to mention your ankles and I'm sure they will do the best they can to accomodate you and get you out having a good time....of course what do I know...I'm a snowboarder...damn snowboarders....I once taught a beginner snowboard lesson to a 76 year old grandmother...I don't think she was gonna hit any jumps or anything like that but she had a blast and was all smiles!!!
I'm probably a few years older than you and am finally going to start XC skiing and snow shoeing this year.I think it's what Warren Miller says...if you don't do it now, you'll only be another year older when you do. (or something like that) It's a lifestyle thing, I think.
dmh are you more interested in cross country/ touring or learning to telemark? I'm late (very late) forties, spent my first day on telemark skis late last season. I expected to be sore, legs & knees but was suprised that i was most sore in my but-tocks. Boots as Tucker said, will make a difference. Three pin binding and leather boots made my feet hurt, telemark (plastic) boots gave more support and control. Hopefully you'll hear from some more seasoned freeheelers soon, but my two scents is 50 is a good age to try it. As far as where to learn, i guess it depends on what you mean by cross country.
Whitegrass is a much -better- place to start than anywhere local to DC, because of the gear selection there and because the XC tracks are maintained for skiing and nothing else.
Two factors come into play:
balancing on the narrower skis (if you can balance on inline skates you're very likely to be fine). You can actually train yourself up to this by nailing a piece of half-round to the underside of a board and standing and balancing on it, both on carpet and on kitchen tile.
The other factor is part b of why Whitegrass is better: the snow around here is all too often part of melt-freeze cycles so that you are forced to punch the edges (or edgeless ptex, oh the desperate horror) into the snow (ice crust really) through main force. Most of this force is coming through the ankle joint.
Don't even let me get started on posthole walkers or cyclists wrecking the tracks.
dmh, it is interesting that you ask this. Most middle aged people have the opposite expectation; i.e., that switching from downhill to x-country (not tele) skiing on flat terrain is a move to slow down and take a less stressful approach to snow play. Although I can see that with your ankle situation you might have concerns. Tucker seems to have good advice about using a hard shell x-country boot for extra support. I would think that Whitegrass would be the ideal place to rent some proper gear, get a lesson on an ankle-friendly technique, and go for a test drive. You also have the nearby Canaan Valley Lodge for x-country opportunities. I have done both dh and xc for many years, it's all fun.
Without explanation of what is meant by "chronically bad ankles" it is tough to give advice. Are you under medical care, wear any kind of brace, do you do therapeutic exercises? I would say that if you can walk vigorously on sidewalks you can XC ski on flat prepared tracks. Whitegrass can certainly get you started. There are a couple of miles of prepared tracks called the "snow farm". Snow fences catch drifts and track is set on them so that an inch of snow and a little wind (it always blows there) will make very nice conditions. I teach part time at Whitegrass (on busy weekends only, I am not one of the regular teachers). The biggest factor limiting recreational XC skiers is downhill control. Novice XC skiers need to be wary of the downhills on the snow farm until they get their ski legs. Downhills are intimidating when you have floppy boots and no steel edges. Alpine experience helps a lot. WG offers downhill control lessons. Finally owner Chip Chase has many skis with edges in the rental fleet. I'd recommend a low plastic tele boot, like the Excursion, and a steel edged ski to get started while protecting those ankles. You don't want to go overboard on more supportive equipment because in a bad fall it moves the point of vulnerability higher, to the knees. Another alternative is the NNN-BC boot/binding system which Chip can also set up with edged skis.
As to old, reasonably fit and early 50s is no problem at all.
Thanks for all the helpful advice. My ankles sprain easily; the good news is that they usually recover quickly because there is not much left to injure. I have not let my ankles restrict my activity and just view them as another input to consider. I intend to try cross country and will let White Grass indoctrinate me. I have to confess that I am a bit bored with downhill and hope something new can offer an interesting challenge.
Did you do it? I hope so. If not there is at least one good weekend left.