Back home last weekend for some needed relaxation, I rediscovered the place where I first put on a pair of skis: Chapin Forest Reservation, one of the Lake Metroparks that operates east of Cleveland. If you're looking to start cross-country skiing in Ohio, look no further.
Soon after I started cross-country skiing, I graduated to downhill skiing and snowboarding. That decision has taken me to Lake Tahoe and Colorado, big-air contests and backcountry exploration. Even so, I was giddy getting back into the flat-land game.
It might not seem like the most exciting outdoor pursuit, but it's a blast. On cross-country skis, you see the woods in a whole new way.
Chapin has five miles of groomed trails, all of which are accessible to beginners. They're very wide, graded flat with snowmobiles and offer a few undulating hills that meander into northeastern Ohio forests of oak, maple and pine. Only a few steeper sections dot the paths.
The Pine Lodge Ski Center rents both Nordic-style (like the NordicTrack) and skating (like Rollerblading) skis, boots and poles. Cross-country gear costs $5 for the first hour and $2 for each following hour. It's a steal. A fireplace and snacks await your return.
Chapin Forest Reservation Location: 10381 Hobart Rd., Kirtland Drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes Phone: 440-256-3810 Hours: 12-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through mid March, weather permitting Cost: Equipment available for $5 first hour, $2 every hour after [Park homepage]
Here's a look at some of the trails. (Full disclosure: That's my mom in the bright pink ski jacket. Ha. That thing kills me.)
View larger image Chapin Forest has two entrances, both with access to the cross-country trails. If you're looking to rent, hit the entrance off Hobart Road. The equipment is really nice. I got Alpina boots, poles and skis. They've got many sets, but equipment goes fast on snowy, sunny days.
View larger image After getting your bearings on the practice hill, hit the Ruffed Grouse Trail. This section is lovely and has a slight incline after a wide, flat run. A mile of the trail system has lights, so you can definitely get in some prime night skiing. If you want, staff will give you a headlamp to ski the other parts.
View larger image Here's a look from Lucky Stone Loop, a 2.1-mile trek, right at its junction with the Mourning Cloak Link. Lucky has some of the steepest uphill work, but it will get your blood going. The payoff is excellent.
View larger image From this overlook, at the pinnacle of Lucky Stone Loop, you can see more than 35 miles to Cleveland, Eastlake and Lake Erie. An old stone quarry lies below. It's something else.
View larger image My mom is perennially cold. Thus, the giant ski jacket, snow pants and many layers. I was fine in jeans, a windproof shell, thin thermals, gloves and a hat. Wear layers and avoid cotton. You'll get warm fast.
View larger image In all, Lake Metroparks has more than 40 miles open cross-country skiing. They groom 9.5 miles -- five at Chapin Forest and 4.5 at Girdled Road Reservation in Concord Township. Plus, they're in the snow belt, so the season is much longer than in Central Ohio.