Guidebooks come and go. They are generally as reliable as yesterday's newspapers because, by the time it finds its way into your favorite bookstore or onto one of the online behemoths, it can be woefully out-of-date.
Jonathan Wiesel, arguably America's best raconteur of skinny skiing, has placed the newest version of his classic Cross-Country Ski Getaways: A Guide To Great Resorts, Lodges, and Groomed Trails in North America online. You can purchase it for $9.95 and print out the 102 pages or just those you choose.
The last of his two versions was published in paperback book form in 1999 under the title, Cross Country Ski Vacations. It was, at the time (and, truth be told, probably still is) the best cross country guide ever written. Until now.
Here's the difference between his work and others. Wiesel combines factual information with his own, generally whimsical, opinions. He selects the XC resorts to cover in the tome because he knows them all and thinks they are worth including. There are others, but I wouldn't bother. Not for me if Wiesel hasn't included it.
This guy is an expert. Make that the expert. Wiesel is president of Nordic Group International, a consulting firm that helps develop the trail systems for resorts around the world. He's written more than 1,000 articles in magazines, newspapers, and online, including many for OnTheSnow.com over the years.
Pick a resort. Any resort. Wiesel will give you all you need to know to make a decision to "getaway." You'll find out, as he puts it, "what quality means for cross-country skiers, whether its trails, grooming, instruction, staff, or setting." You'll read every page even if you think you won't.
The sport has long been nicknamed "skinny skiing,' but how Wiesel has stayed skinny is beyond my comprehension. He knows his way around "bountiful breakfasts," and "gourmet dinners" better than Emeril. He knows where the hot tubs are, who takes you dog sledding, or skijoring (behind horses, but not too close). He knows which resorts love to see your kids and pooches and those that offer the perfect romantic interlude.
The best part of the guide comes at the top of every resort review page in a "Jonathan Says" box. Try Bear Valley, Calif., where he says, "you can catch an evening alpenglow lighting massive peaks to the south," or Vista Verde, Colo., that earns "that much-overused adjective ' world-class.'" Visit Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, Mich., because "it's hard to resist making at least one small purchase from their retail store."
You'll meet the people of the cross-country world like Joe Pete Wilson, the semi-retired innkeeper at the Barkeater in New York - a former Olympian; the Von Trapps of Stowe, Vermont's Trapp Family Lodge "who continue to refine and improve the whole winter guest experience." There's Dana McNair of Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, Vt., with her "wicked sense of humor."
Every one of the single page resort guides offer a quick overview, "Jonathan Says," location, skiing (you'll discover quickly if it suits your ability level), season length, accommodations, rates, activities, kids' programs, guest capacity, conference space (if any), address, phone, e-mail, and Web site.
This is a lousy gift for somebody else. Be selfish. Buy it for yourself, and check Jonathan's Web site for updates. Don't let it out of your care