Vic Guernsey grooves on cross-country skiing

[Our brother Craig Guernsey sent this Cass City Chronicle [@CassCityChronicle] article [circa 1978] glued to a construction paper scrapbook page.

And yes, I was with “Guernsey” on those first classic runs when we cross-country “pioneers” faced the barbs of the natives (“Where’s the hill? Ha, ha, ha!”), as well as the big wet flakes clinging to our hats and filling our souls. But comments like those did not stick to Vic Guernsey. On the contrary, I think they cheered him on.

I loved re-reading Dad’s enthusiasm for cross-country skiing. That was his approach to just about everything. May some of it rub off on us all.]

Cass City, Michigan, ~1978, from the Cass City Chronicle

Skiing may not be one of Cass City’s major tourist attractions, but there’s at least one breed of skier who thinks it’s just fine.

For cross-country skiers such as Vic Guernsey and his family, all you need is a little snow, a little equipment and a little time for some good, healthy exercise.

Guernsey is one of the pioneer cross-country skiers in Cass City and loves it just as much today as he did when he strapped on his first set of skis about six years ago.

Since then, the sport has grown from relative obscurity to a family sport enjoyed by an estimated 200 Cass City residents. And by all indications the boom has only begun.

It wasn’t’ always that way. Less than a decade ago, no one had seen a cross-country skier around Cass City, much less knew anything about the sport.

“I remember when I first started. I’d ski down the street and people would stop what they were doing to look,” Guernsey recalled.

Today, things are different. Just five years ago, 20,000 pairs of cross-country skis were imported to the United States. Last year, that number jumped to a half-million.

What’s the fascination with a sport knows to Scandinavians for hundreds of years? Simplicity, Guernsey says.

“It’s inexpensive compared to downhill skiing,” he says. “Your equipment is simpler, and it costs you less. And you can do it locally. You don’t have a long trip to make to a ski resort.

“And once you’ve bought your equipment, that’s it. You don’t have the expense of a rope tow each time you want to go skiing.”

Guernsey took up the sport after reading an article in a newspaper. He saw his first pair of cross-country skis at Marshall Fields in Chicago and decided to give a presentation on the differences between cross-country and Alpine skiing for Gavel Club.

“I borrowed a pair of skis from a shop in Bay City for the lecture and from there I talked myself into it,” he says.


Cross-country equipment differs from Alpine basically in size. Cross-country skis are thinner and narrower than downhill skis.

They’re more flexible and you have a closer contact with the ground, Guernsey says.

The boots are also smaller than those worn by downhill skiers. They weigh about a pound compared with an average of seven pounds for Alpine boots.

There’s also a difference in how the cross-country skier’s foot is anchored to the ski.

“In an Alpine ski, your foot is clamped completely to the ski,” he says. “In a cross-country ski, your heel is free to move up and down. You have more flexibility and it’s comparable to walking or skating.”

Guernsey likes to get out on his skis at least once a week, sometimes as often as three times a week if time and weather permit.

“I like it because you can use any degree of vigor you want,” he says. “The techniques are easy and can be learned quickly.”

His wife Alice and son Paul especially like the sport. Often the trio will head out across the park or into woodlots nearby.

They’ve also skied in the vicinity of Sleeper State Park  and in trails near the Hartwick Pines in Northern Michigan.

There really isn’t much to learn, Guernsey says.

“About all you have to pick up is moving your arms and legs in balance,” he says, “along with learning to use the poles.”

He says beginning cross-country skiers often dress too warmly, not realizing they’ll be exercising practically every muscle.

“You’ll find most cross-country skiers will never complain about being too cold,” he says.

What the Guernseys enjoy most about the sport is the quiet and getting back to nature it provides.

“You feel more in rapport with what’s around you,” Mrs. Guernsey says.

The sport also lets you feel more rapport with your wallet. Guernsey says anywhere from $80 to $120 should outfit you completely. A good pair fo Alpine boots would cost you nearly that much, he says.

But above all, the Guernseys love the simplicity of it.

“If you can walk, you can ski,” he says.