Three-time Olympian Dorcas Wonsavage still experiences the thrill of the free-heel. A former six-year member of the US Ski Team, she says skiing for her is now about fitness, friends, and family.
She can still pretend she's going for Olympic gold, but it could be on the trails at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, Maine, instead of where she competed: Calgary, Alberta (1988); Albertville, France (1992); and Lillehammer, Norway (1994). She, her husband, Paul, and their 5-year-old son, Max, might stay at a cabin at Vermont's Craftsbury Outdoor Center and take turns skiing out the door by Lake Hosmer.
Or, she can ski at a snail's pace with her son, stop to make a snowman, look for animal tracks, and dive purposely into a snowbank.
''I keep coming back to free-heeling because I can do it with friends or I can do it alone," she said.
Free your heel and feel the freedom. Not everyone makes a beeline for the high-speed quad and a ride down a corduroy highway. There are those who want to motivate and propel themselves without locking their heel down in a heavy boot. They're on backcountry boards, cross-country skis, and snowshoes.
Take Sven Cole, 31, a lifelong skier who can slap on his fat backcountry skis -- wider and more rugged than thin cross-country skis -- on the deck of his Conway, N.H., home and glide into the forest. ''I'll often just head into the woods and look for the natural lines," Cole said. ''If I come to a road, I'll take the skis off and cross and keep on going. That is the great part about just breaking trail; you can always follow your own tracks home."
Once the snow flies, backyards, parks, and school fields become places to glide or trek. Not everyone is content with the backyard, though. It can be time to hit ski country. Wonsavage, 39, who lives in Etna, N.H., travels across the Connecticut River to ski the narrow wooded trails through sugar maples and apple orchards and pop out for those Mad River Valley panoramas at Ole's Cross-Country Ski Center in Warren, Vt. She heads up to the roof of Maine for the trails at the Nordic Heritage Center in remote Presque Isle, home to the 2006 World Junior Championships for Biathlon, or for the early snow at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center in Carrabassett Valley.
Cole's not too far from a number of areas like Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, Great Glen Trails, and Bretton Woods. If there's a downhill area, chances are there's a place to cross-country or snowshoe. Sunday River skiers have three nordic centers in Bethel, Maine, while Western Massachusetts skiers have seven choices through the Western Massachusetts
''We're rustic and on the side of a mountain with a 180-degree view," Crawford said.
''I love snowshoeing anywhere because you never have to worry about how little or how much snow there is," Wonsavage said. ''Bad skiing, even bad sledding, means you can still snowshoe."
Marty Basch is the author of two guidebooks on cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. He lives in New Hampshire.