LONG LAKE - Don't be surprised if you drive by the Long Lake School and see a group of students skiing across the front lawn.
It's not a game and, in fact, the school's cross-country ski unit administered by athletic coach Dave Olbert, has been in existence for over 20 years.
Each winter Long Lake students take advantage of winter snows to participate in the popular program.
The area in front of the school serves as the primary venue via a series of marked "trails" and "hazards." Students learn basic skills such as turning, stopping and hill climbing.
Each class spends an average of 30 minutes a session honing their skills and having some outdoor fun.
"For the most part the kids are very good about participation," Olbert said. "We have a few that don't care for the really cold days, but they're all good sports about it."
Students from grades 7-12 travelled to the Garnet Hill Lodge in North River recently for a day of skiing and snowshoeing at a "real" cross-country ski facility. This is the school's third trip to Garnet Hill in the last few years.
"We go to Garnet Hill so we can expose the kids to a true cross-country ski touring center," Olbert said. "It's a very nice facility, especially with the lodge, and for the kids to ski on groomed trails is a huge benefit."
Garnet Hill Lodge features more than 70 miles of groomed and natural condition trails that radiate from its mountain-top location adjacent to the Siamese Pond Wilderness Area.
"It's an effort to expose them to a healthy and hopefully lifetime sport, but also to expose them to the type of facilities that are out there and the type of equipment available," Olbert added.
While the school's athletic program maintains a modest inventory of ski equipment, much of it is obsolete compared to modern equipment available through the Garnet Hill rental shop. Many of the students remark how much they appreciate the new equipment and how it enhances the ski experience.
The school is proud of its success rate in introducing students to winter sports, Olbert said, and estimates that 10 percent of the student body cross country ski or snowshoe for recreation.
Some area parents volunteer to chaperone the Garnet Hill trips and Olbert has considered offering lessons to adults and staff members.
While the trip to Garnet Hill focused on the ski program, some students took advantage of the opportunity to snowshoe the trail system.
"Being able to visit a facility like that really heightens the kids' awareness," Olbert concluded. "Everyone really enjoys it."