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These Boots Were Made for Skiing, Skating

Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page P10

WHAT: Nordic skating at Lake Morey Resort.

WHERE: Fairlee, Vt.

At Lake Morley, in Fairlee, Vt., winter enthusiasts can combine skating and cross-country skiing with the Nordic skate, left. (Photos Jamie Hess/nordic Skater)

WHY: Because you can go farther faster on comfortable skates that can be replaced by cross-country skis -- without changing your boots.

When I lived in Moscow, I often skated in Gorky Park, where miles of walkways were flooded to form ribbons of ice. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, to be able to cross-country ski to the park, then seamlessly transfer to a hybrid kind of skate and glide through the frozen landscape?

A few weeks ago, I finally had that experience when I went Nordic skating in Vermont.

Scandinavians have been doing it for years, it turns out, but the sport of Nordic skating is just emerging in the United States. My family and I came upon it while visiting one of my college-age daughters in New Hampshire, near the Vermont border.

We'd brought our ice skates to take advantage of subzero temperatures that had transformed golden ponds into black ice. I'm no Eric Heiden, but during our first outing at Occum Pond in Hanover, N.H., I was left in the wake of a swarm of mites dashing by with long, Hans Brinker-like blades attached to comfy-looking boots.

What were those things? A few questions led me to Jamie Hess, a laid-back, lanky, 50-year-old former software developer turned Nordic skating entrepreneur. I thought I knew my winter sports, but Nordic skating was new to me.

Hess, who researched the sport during a 1999 trip to Sweden, is now the North American distributor of the skates, which are ideally suited for lakes, ponds and skating ovals. If you're into spinning figure eights and making tight turns, you're out of luck.

The Cape Cod native has opened a shop called the Nordic Skater in Norwich, Vt., just across the Connecticut River from Hanover. In addition to the Skate-Athon, an annual long-distance marathon on ice, Hess arranges other events and races through his Montshire Skating Club. Based on sales, he estimates that several thousand Nordic skaters are enjoying the ice in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, Montana, Colorado and Alaska.

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