Cross country ski trail emerges on Behrend campus


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this year, so it looks like there are a few more weeks of winter left.

But why waste time complaining about it? Dr. Chris Coulston certainly isn’t.

Coulston, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Penn State Behrend, has always been an avid runner and cyclist but he decided to try his hand at cross country skiing this winter. He had the perfect training grounds: the campus of Penn State Behrend.

Coulston decided to make use of the wooded area and fields that stretch from the Erie parking lot to Logan House. He developed a one-mile, looped ski trail, which he now frequents on snowy afternoons.

I caught up with Coulston to ask him a few questions:

Steve: When did you start skiing?

Chris: The impetus for taking up cross country skiing was being a member of Team Behrend for the Highmark Quad Games.  In mid-December, I realized that I’m going to have to ski the Quad, and the original date was the second week of January. I thought, “I have to pick this up and figure this out.” That was an important consideration for where this loop came from because I needed something flat and easy to practice on. I put the skis on for the first time in the parking lot down by the tennis courts, and I fell over a lot. It was pretty awkward the first couple of times, but you just watch YouTube videos to see what other people are doing.

Steve: How was the Quad Ski?

Chris: It was my first time competing, and I would say that I didn’t embarrass myself. There were some very talented skiers out there who obviously mastered the technique much better than I have, so I still have a long way to go. Aerobically, it was very challenging. There’s a skill level to it that running doesn’t really require.

Steve: Why do you enjoy skiing?

Chris: When I look at training, I see it in two parts: the engine and the drive train. Cross country skiing is very good for my engine training. It’s not going to hurt the drive train portion of my training, but it’s not exercising muscles that I’ll use in running or biking. That’s actually a good thing because I won’t beat them up in the early part of the season. I enjoy skiing as a form of healthy living and as a thing that helps me to embrace the winter months. It’s lemonade out of lemons. It’s nice to take the weather that you have and do something that you can’t do in Texas or Utah.

Steve: How did you come up with this one-mile course?

Chris: I do a lot of training, which I define as exercise with a goal in mind. Right now, I’m training for a 50-mile run in June, so I exercise every day, and I need to make it convenient. I need low overhead, and that means a location that’s easy to get to. For cross country skiing, it’s nice to have wide-open, flat spaces to learn, and our playing field fit the bill perfectly. I have a GPS watch to measure performance, including distance, and I used that to measure the course.


Steve: How many loops do you usually do?

Chris: As an athlete, I typically measure workouts in terms of time and intensity more than distance. It usually takes me fifteen minutes for a loop, and I typically do an hour. That’s at a moderate effort level. Twelve minutes is fast while twenty minutes is pretty casual.

Steve: Has the course caught on at all around campus?

Chris: I met a staff member down there from the School of Science, and we did the loop together. I’ve advertised it on Facebook, and I’ve seen other local athletes going out there and using the trails. The nice thing with cross country skiing is that the course gets better after frequent use. I say the more people that join the party, the better.

Steve: Why would you encourage students and staff to take advantage of this opportunity?

Chris: It’s pretty unique. People typically ski on golf courses or go to Wilderness Lodge. But you have this really nice resource right here, and it’s just cool to get outside because we’re stuck inside all day. It’s an interesting terrain. You get to see the lake at one point, you get to see trees, fields, and it’s quiet. It’s a quick, smallish loop, and I’m pretty pleased with it.

Thinking of cross country skiing? Here are some videos that can help you get started:

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