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5 Cross-Country Ski Tips for Beginners

Cross-country skiing can be a tough sport to get into if you don’t know where to begin.

You may be thinking: What equipment do I need? What do I need to know before I’m ready to hit the trail? How can I be sure I stay safe?

With the proper guidance, you can take up a sport that is equal parts fun and full-body workout. It’s no secret that cross-country skiing provides an invigorating cardiovascular workout. It utilizes all the major muscle groups, it’s low impact and it’s a great way to get outdoors in the winter. For many people, the benefits all make sense, but the problem is getting started.

Even though the concept is simple, choosing the right equipment can be a challenge, and it can take a while to master the basics enough to feel comfortable out on the trails. The key to mastering any new activity is to just take that first step and get going, so here are five tips to help you get out there and get up to speed as quickly as possible.

1. Choose Your Style
Before you begin skiing, you must decide what style of cross-country skiing, or “Nordic skiing”, is right for you. Nordic skiing can be split into two distinct styles: classic and skate. Classic is the more traditional form of cross-country skiing, and is the one that most beginners learn when they first start out. Classic cross-country skiing uses a kicking and gliding motion as you lean slightly forward. The skate style, on the other hand, requires skiers to use a V-pattern as you push off each ski, similar to ice skating. This skate style is more complex and harder to master, but also allows you to build up more speed. Once you determine which style you’re going to use, you can then turn your focus to equipment, safety practices and technique.

2. Always Safety First
When you watch cross-country skiing on television, it probably doesn’t look particularly dangerous. There are no steep mountain faces to fall off, you aren’t hustling across rapidly melting ice and there are no other athletes trying to knock you down.

However, when you first learn to cross-country ski, you’ll soon realize that this relatively tame sport still has its share of dangers. Since you are outside, the weather is always a factor, and can quickly become an issue if you aren’t properly dressed. It’s also important to never cross-country ski for long distances alone because something as simple as a turned ankle or twisted knee can end up with you being stranded in frigid temperatures.

Also, take the time to ensure the trails you are skiing on are properly groomed. The snow must be densely packed so you can learn without the fear of sinking down in deeper snow, or exhausting yourself before you build up some momentum. Properly groomed trails will allow you to relax, have fun, avoid injury and glide on your skis easier as you get comfortable.

3. Dress the Part
This tip could very well fall under the safety category, but it’s a good idea for it to stand alone because it can be one of the most overlooked aspects when it comes to cross country skiing for beginners. It is crucial to dress for the weather conditions, and dressing in layers is the best way to combat the weather when cross country skiing.

Not only is it important for safety, but dressing in layers will make you more comfortable while skiing, enhancing the overall experience. Bring a warm winter hat to keep your head warm and gloves for your hands, and always think mobility when selecting your Nordic skiing wardrobe. Synthetics and wool blends will allow sweat to evaporate, leaving you dry and fresh feeling throughout the day. Try to avoid cotton, as it will hold moisture in.

4. Choose the Right Equipment
There isn’t a ton of equipment required to cross-country ski, but it’s important to choose high quality boots, skis and poles that fit properly and meet your needs as a beginner to cross country skiing. The best beginner cross-country skis will keep you safe and comfortable and allow you to learn at your own pace. Riding a ski that is above your skill level will hinder a beginner’s learning, so it’s best to not be too ambitious when picking out your pair.

Your comfort on the trail also relies on your boots being the proper size because as most people know, wearing a pair or improperly sized shoes or boots for an entire day can be quite a painful experience. Take the time to learn the basics of boot sizing so you’ll know how to pick a size that’s right for you.

5. The Proper Stance
Now that you know how to stay safe, are wearing the right clothes and have your equipment picked out, the next step in your preparation should be to practice adopting the right stance. Regardless of the type of cross-country skiing you choose, you’ll want to start off standing tall, then end up in an upright slouching position by deeply flexing your ankles. From here, you should bend from the ankles and not your hips, so your arms can swing freely forward and backward.

Your legs should be relaxed but active, loading up and then exploding forward during the kick and glide phases of the movement. You will notice that your core does a lot of work when you learn to cross -country ski because you will need to balance on one leg at a time, which requires a lot of stabilization.

There you have it! Armed with your newfound knowledge, it’s time for you to take off onto the trail. Remember these tips and your first cross-country skiing experience is sure to be a good one. To find the nearest cross-country ski trail to you, click here.

For all the know-how you’ll need when buying your first pair of cross-country skis, visit our Cross-Country Ski Gear Buying Guide, or if you want to browse our wide selection of affordable cross-country ski equipment, head over to the Cross-Country Ski Gear page.

How To Start Cross Country Skiing

Growing up in lower Michigan meant that I never got a chance to learn alpine skiing until I was in college. As a kid, I worked for a local park and learned to cross country ski on the job.

We rented skis and maintained several miles of groomed Nordic skiing track. Eventually skate skiing became all the rage and today it seems cross country skiers enjoy both types of skiing equally.

Among the methods of winter travel, cross country skiing may be the most fun for traveling. It can be surprisingly efficient, exciting, and quick.

There are big differences between breaking your own trails and skiing on groomed trails, too. We’re going to talk about how you can get started and what you need to know to enjoy your time cross country skiing!

Types of Cross Country Skis

For recreational skiers, there are basically two three types of skis you’ll need to worry about. They are: touring skis, metal-edge touring skis, and skate skis. Here are some good beginner ski packages I can recommend.

Touring Skis

These skis are specifically designed for use in set track. They’re lightweight skis and tend to be longer than most other types. These are ideal for the local groomed trails and they’re by far the most common type of cross country ski you’ll encounter.

Metal-edge Touring Skis

As the name implies these skis are quite similar to touring skis. They differ in that they are made for steeper angled terrain and out-of-track skiing. They’re usually a bit wider and shorter than true touring skis which gives them more agility and maneuverability. They also have greater sidecut for turning and perform more similarly to alpine skis.

Skate Skis

These types of cross country skis are made for an entirely different approach. They’re only to be used on groomed trails and the trails must be made for skating. These skis are designed to kick and glide with maximum ease and they’re used similarly to ice skates.

Photo Courtesy of Günther Sader from Flickr

To Wax Poetic… Or Not?

Cross country skis come in two basic flavors. There are waxless skis, and there are waxed skis. Mind boggling, I know!

So, what’s the difference? Waxless skis take much less maintenance, less tools, and less expertise to keep up. In fact, they usually require practically zero attention between trips. Their downfall is that they’re a little less efficient and versatile when compared to waxed skis.

Waxed skis require a fresh coat of wax on regular schedules to maintain their effectiveness. These waxes are chosen based on the temperature of the snow and predicted weather conditions.

Choosing the wrong wax can be disastrous! Waxes are relatively pricey and constantly having to hassle with melting wax and maintaining a workstation for your skis can be a daunting prospect to many skiers.

Choosing between these two types of skis is generally an easy call for most. Far and away the majority of skiers go with waxless skis. Keep in mind that waxless skis still need occasional applications of “glide wax” but this can simply be rubbed on like a deodorant stick and takes only seconds.

How Big of a Ski Do I Need?

Luckily most manufacturers have a simple scale based on user height and weight. This means all you have to do is pick a ski that meets your body type requirements and you’re good to go!

For more advanced users, you may want to seek deeper features.

Choosing a ski with shorter length will increase agility but sacrifice some speed and flotation. Longer skis, then, tend to be faster in track but much less agile for maneuvering.

Skis also come in various widths. Keep your skis under ~65mm wide in order to ensure that they fit easily into all set tracks. For off-trail use, feel free to go with as wide of a ski as you feel comfortable with.

Cross Country Ski Poles

By and large, cross country ski poles need not be expensive purchases. Entry level models often come with the skis and if you want better poles upgrades can be quite affordable. Aside from weight, the handle design and shape is an important upgrade factor.

Look for cross country ski poles that are as lightweight as your budget will allow. You’ll also want to find ones with ergonomic handles and comfortable straps. The straps will be used to help you get some extra push when you kick and glide, so comfy straps are a must!

For classic cross country skiing you’ll want a pole that’s approximately as long as your shoulders are tall. A pole which sits snugly under your armpits when standing is properly sized.

For skate skiing a pole which is neck high or even taller sometimes can be appropriate. These longer poles help you get more push between each kick and maintain momentum through your movement.

Cross Country Ski Boots

There are several different types of cross country ski boots but one easy way to avoid problems. While picky users can choose their skis, ski boots, and poles separately it just makes sense to buy a package.

At the very least buy your skis and boots in a package as a beginner to avoid fitment problems. Like any footwear, however, be sure to go get yourself sized and fitted at an outfitter. There’s just no good way to tell if a shoe or boot will fit from an online sizing chart.

Once you find a brand you like and a boot size that fits comfortable just buy your boots and skis together as a package either online or from a shop.

Make sure your boots and skis match! There are two types of ski bindings, NNN and SNS. New Nordic Norm bindings will only work the matching type of ski boot. Salomon Nordic System bindings, as you guessed, also only work with SNS boots.

That’s why it’s just easier to buy a packaged set.

Video: How to choose cross country skis and boots.

Clothing and Layering

Choosing the right clothes for cross country skiing can be hard. Unlike downhill skiing, cross country skiing always works up a big sweat. But you’re outside during the winter and this create a problem.

To avoid getting overly wet and sweaty and then cold, make sure to wear a lightweight base layering system. You’ll want to dress as if it’s much warmer than it is, or you’ll end up soaked in sweat instantly!

My advice is to wear thin polyester base layers with zippered necklines. These can be adjusted easily to warm you up or cool you down. For an outer layer, you can wear a thicker fleece and / or a outer ski jacket shell to keep the weather off of you when it gets particularly nasty.

Whatever you do, don’t try cross country skiing in thick winter coats or thick insulated snow pants. You won’t enjoy the sweat-storm that results! Ski pant shells that have zippers for ventilation work well. When in doubt carry extra layers in your backpack and adjust on the go.

Conclusion

Getting started cross country skiing isn’t hard. The learning curve is light and new skiers can start on totally flat terrain. If you’ve never skied before it’s challenging and thrilling. You’ll find it to be much less intimidating than learning downhill skiing!

I recommend that all new skiers start out by renting equipment the first few times before buying. This allows you to find out if the sport is right for you. Plus you’ll be able to get a better sense of what gear you like and what to buy for yourself!

I hope this beginners guide to cross country skiing was helpful to get you started. If you want to comment or recommend a cross country skis or tips I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and be safe out there!

Cross-Country Skiing Tips For Newbies

Downhill skiing is a blast, but if you’re not in the mood to race against frigid winds or deal with crazy crowded lift lines, try cross-country skiing this winter. It may not be speedy, but cross-country skiing will tone your upper and lower body, give you a great cardio workout, and burns over 500 calories in one hour!

Like snowshoeing, cross-country is more social than downhill skiing since conversations aren’t limited to just time riding the lift. You get to slush along snow-covered trails and gab while taking in the breathtaking scenery. Plus, there is no expensive lift ticket needed. Some find cross-country more comfortable than downhill skiing because the boots are more flexible and the skis lightweight. Ready to get started? Here are some tips for newbies.

  • First, find some cross-country trails. Some downhill-ski resorts have groomed trails, but also check out nature centers or parks where you hike in the Summer. You might have to pay a fee (around $15 to $30) to use the grounds. Don’t be shy about asking the staff to point you toward the easier trails.
  • Rent boots, skis, and poles at the place where you’re skiing, but if this isn’t possible, rent equipment the day before from a gear store; rentals are about $15 a day.
  • Definitely head out with someone who has some cross-country skiing experience or take a lesson to learn the basic techniques for moving, slowing down, stopping, and getting up hills.
  • Even though it’s cold, don’t overdress. Unlike downhill skiing, where you’re dealing with wind, waiting in lift lines, and sitting on a cold ski lift, you’re constantly moving when cross-country skiing. Dress slightly warmer than if you were heading out for a Winter run. Slip on warm wool socks and wicking baselayers-both tops and bottoms. Next come waterproof snowpants, a fleece pullover (if it’s really cold), and a windbreaker or lightweight jacket over that. Wear a hat and mittens and you should be good to go.
  • Carry a lightweight backpack filled with essentials: water, snacks, tissues, a camera, your cell phone, or whatever else you’ll need.
  • Aim to ski on a day after it’s just snowed. Fluffy snow is much easier to ski on compared to an icy trail.
  • Go at your own pace. It takes a little while to figure out the rhythm of how to move your arms and legs, so start off slow. Choose a short trail that will only take about an hour, and the next time you go, increase the distance.

More from FitSugar:

Long-Sleeve Layers for 40-Degree Runs

Two Quick Cardio Workouts

Fact or Fiction: Working Out in the Cold Burns More Calories

  • By FitSugar

what’s here

  • Risk management

– – Assessing Trail conditions
– – Assessing Snow conditions
– – How to Learn

  • Survival — alternative non-ski techniques
  • Snowplow or Wedge

– – How to Learn

  • Other ski downhill techniques

– – Sidestepping down | Sideslipping | Half-Wedge

  • Advanced techniques
  • Resources for learning downhill techniques
  • more

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Risk Management

The first priority on technique for dealing with a downhill slope is to get down it without getting hurt.

For a larger context on the risks of skiing, see this page

– – Risks of Cross Country Skiing

The first step on getting down without getting hurt is to know your capabilities — and the limits of those capabilities — relative to the current snow conditions, and relative to the steepness and obstacles on the downhill slope you have encountered.

The second step is to decide if you should ski down the slope at all.

  • Sometimes the safest choice is not to ski that slope. See below, Survival — alternative non-ski techniques.
  • Sometimes the safest choice is not to even start on that trail. See below, Assessing trail conditions.
  • Some days the snow and trail conditions are so risky for you, that you simply should not ski at all.

Assessing trail conditions

Sometimes the choice that minimizes risk must be made very early:

  • Do not even start out into the trail or area that contains a potentially-risky downhill slope.

Often the safest choice is not to get anywhere near a downhill slope which might be more risky than you can handle — especially on a day when the surface of the snow is hard or icy.

The difficulty ratings at a cross country ski center can help decide which trails are within your capabilities. But use these with intelligence and care:

  • Sometimes a trail whose difficulty you could handle in normal snow conditions turns out to be significantly risky for you if you try it in hard or icy conditions. So you also need to assess the snow conditions — see below.
  • Sometimes the trail ratings at one cross country ski center are much harder or easier than those at another ski center.
  • Warning: Often it is easier to climb up a slope than it is to ski down it with low risk. So after successfully climbing up, you can find yourself in a riskier situation that you had anticipated.

So before you start on a trail, check the condition of the snow on a flat or gentle slope — both in the sun and in the shade — to see how hard or icy it is. For more on that, see below.

Assessing snow conditions

The first step for assessing the condition of the snow is to see how hard or icy it is on a flat of gentle slope — both in the sun and in the shade.

But sometimes it is more tricky than that:

  • Sometimes snow which is soft in the middle of the day can freeze hard and icy during the afternoon, and could then be too risky for you later in the day.
  • Sometimes snow out in the open in the sun can be more icy than snow in the trees, especially early in the morning after a sunny day and a clear cold night.
  • Watch out, if there was a sudden hard freeze during the night after a warm day when the surface of the snow melted a lot.

Usually it’s good to ask a local expert.

When snow conditions might be (or become) hard or icy, sometimes you need to stay off trails that you could ski with low risk in normal snow conditions.

Some days the snow conditions are difficult for you that there is no trail available with a low enough risk for you — so you simply should not ski at all.

How to Learn

Learning about managing risk can be tricky — because you want to be able to learn lessons about possible outcomes with your skills and equipment and for different snow and trail conditions — but without exposing yourself to even greater risk during the learning process.

Some useful approaches . . .

Ask other experienced local skiers and ski center managers:

  • Learn what principles and practices they follow.
  • Hear their stories about what went wrong, and when unexpected bad results happened.
  • Learn who seems to have the best judgment about each different aspect of risk, and ask their advice about today’s situation.

Test the limits of your skiing control skills in special environments where you are unlikely to be harmed.

  1. Find a wide-open, very gentle downhill slope with a long flat (or uphill) section at its bottom, and no obstacles in its midst or any place you might go into them if you fell or slid or turned in an unexpected direction.
  2. On a day which is hard or icy, bring a partner with you to this slope.
  3. Start at the bottom of the slope.
  4. Climb up only a short ways, so that you are confident you cannot pick up so much speed that you might be harmed.
  5. Ski down with your safest technique. Or try out some non-skiing technique.
  6. Repeat the technique several times, to start getting a sense of how much you can trust it on this kind of slope in this kind of snow conditions.
  7. If the slope has sections of different steepness, or different snow conditions — see how your skiing control skills work in those variations.

See also

– – Risks of Cross Country Skiing

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Survival — alternative non-ski techniques

Usually there are several alternatives for handling a potentially risky downhill slope — without skiing down it. Here are some:

  • Slide down on your butt.
  • Walk down on your ski boots.
  • Crawl down backwards.
  • Turn around and go back an easier way.

For more detail on these, see Non-ski Downhill techniques.

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Snowplow or Wedge technique

If you want to be able to get down the slope with your skis attached to your boots and in contact with the snow, one very useful technique is called the “snowplow” or “wedge”.

The idea is to angle the tail of each ski out to the side and dig in the inside edge into the snow surface.

The details of this technique are beyond what we can handle in this website.

Therefore . . .

Learning — To really learn this technique:

  • Find a ski center with wide-open gentle slopes — very wide with no obstacles in the middle or at the bottom.

Best of all would be to find a cross country ski center with all that, and a ski lift to get you quickly back up to the top of those gentle slopes many times, so you can get lots and lots of practice going down. But there are very few such cross country ski centers.

A problem with trying to use a ski lift at a downhill ski resort is that sometimes the slopes are very hard or icy or have sections which are much steeper — compared to what you’re accustomed to in cross country skiing.

  • Take a lesson from a instructor at that center — a lesson specifically focused on downhill techniques.
  • Use some of the resources listed and linked below on this page.
  • Practice lots and lots on slopes which are very wide with no obstacles in the middle or at the bottom, and not too steep for you — in snow conditions which are not too hard or icy or otherwise risky for you.

It is usually less risky if you do not put your hands through the straps on the pole handles — less chance of getting “speared” or whacked by the pole if you take an unexpected fall or twist.

  • Take a second lesson focused on downhill techniques. Getting your skiing videotaped and reviewing the videotape with the instructor can also help.
  • A very different approach that can be helpful and fun (but expensive) is to take lessons from a good alpine downhill ski instructor using full downhill skis at a lift-served downhill ski resort. Most helpful is to include at least one lesson that includes getting your skiing videotaped and reviewing the videotape with the instructor.

A shortcoming with this approach nowadays is that the design of alpine downhill ski equipment has become so specialized for easy turning that it does not force you to learn some basic moves needed to get cross country skis to turn reliably.

Steering — a tricky point: When your are in this “wedge” or “snowplow” position.

  • Pressing more on your right ski normally tends to make your direction of travel tend more to the left.
  • Pressing more on your left ski normally tends to make your direction of travel tend more to the right.
  • Do not forget to include “steering” in all the Learning steps above.
  • Sometimes sharp curve(s) or obstacles in the trail or slope require steering capabilities which might be more than you can reliably execute with the wedge or snowplow. Remember, there are non-ski techniques available as an alternative — and other skiing techniques below which might sometimes offer you better control than than the wedge.

There are many advanced downhill techniques (see below) for making curves and turns — but for most people they’re lots more difficult to learn than the wedge.

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Sidestepping Down

Sidestepping down a short hill with your skis still attached to your boots may work sometimes.

Some disadvantages:

  • It’s hard work.
  • It feels awkward.
  • If the snow is hard or icy, it’s easy to slip.

Therefore, this technique is usually a good choice only for short steep slopes with a non-hard snow surface.

Sideslipping

“Sideslipping” down is less work than sidestepping. The idea is put your skis sideways across the slope, then manipulate the angle of the skis edging into the snow and the distribution of your body weight — so the skis sort of partly slide sideways down the slope, but also partly grip and slow down the sliding as needed.

This is a trickier technique — one which lots of cross country skiers never use and never bother learning. It does take a lot of practice to use it with good control. It does not work at all on slopes that are too hard or icy.

But if you get the opportunity to practice it in a low-risk environment, it’s a good way to improve your “feel” of the skis, and that improved feel can give a valuable refinement of your control for many situations.

The details of this technique are beyond what we can cover in this website.

Actually, the best way to learn it is as part of a sequence of lessons at a lift-served downhill ski resort, from a good downhill skiing instructor, with you using full alpine downhill skis and related equipment.

Half-Wedge

When skiing a gentle downhill in groomed set striding tracks (two parallel grooves for the two skis), another idea is to only wedge (or angle out) one ski — and leave the other ski in its track groove pointing straight.

This provides much less slowing power or braking force than the normal full wedge — so it’s only for slowing down a bit, not for coming to a full stop — and it’s only for gentle slopes. Therefore it is a much higher priority to learn well the full wedge or or snowplow, since that has a wider range of uses.

Advantages of the half-wedge:

  • It’s easier to get the single wedge ski back into its groove after you’ve done the bit of slowing you want.
  • On a not-too-sharp curve, sometimes putting the outside ski in one ot the set striding track grooves makes it easier to turn that ski to follow the curve, which the other wedged ski helps slow down a little.

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Advanced + Racing techniques

Most skiers are happy just to get down a slope more or less under control — and that’s what the above techniques are about.

There are also many other special techniques for going down hills:

  • positions that look good
  • moves that feel good
  • techniques to handle curves, even link together multiple turns
  • ways to go fast and play with the limits of control

But those are beyond what we can cover in this website — see the Resources.

Sharon and I have had lots of fun learning many of the advanced downhill techniques — even though we rarely find a need to use them on groomed cross country trails.

What we found most helpful for having fun with the “learning downhill techniques” game is to go to a downhill ski resort: rent skis designed for downhill turning, take lessons from instructors whose main job is teaching downhill techniques, ride up the ski lifts and spend lots of time on slopes and trails designed for downhill learning and fun.

Many downhill ski resorts offer “telemark” equipment rentals and lessons. The “telemark” position is the most attention-getting downhill turn in skiing. Also the most difficult one to learn. And the “telemark” is the downhill move with the least relevance to effectively controlling your steering or speed on groomed cross country trails.

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Resources

Web pages on cross country downhill techniques:

  • xcskiworld.com — downhill techniques
  • Australian Ski Instructor Manual — basic downhill techniques — lots of hints and exercises — but targeted for instructors, who are assumed to already know the techniques.

other sources on these pages:

  • Resources for learning classic striding
  • Resources for learning ski skating

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more . . .

  • One kind of special equipment which can help reduce slipping is a pair of skis with metal edges — especially if those metal edges have been properly and recently sharpened.

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Cross-Country Skiing Tips

  1. Know the rules. When going to a Nordic ski center for the first time, inform the staff that you are new to the activity and ask about rules, trail etiquette and trails best suited to your skiing ability. The staff will appreciate your openness, and you will reduce the potential for any problems out on the trails.
  2. Stretch before and after. This helps keep you flexible and decreases muscle soreness. Gently stretch the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles and calves. Don’t forget the biceps and triceps, as cross-country skiing works your arms, too. Start out slowly so you can warm up properly.
  3. Protect yourself from the sun. Even on overcast days, reflected light off the snow and prolonged exposure can cause burns (and even “snow blindness”). Wear sunscreen and sunglasses with good UV protection.
  4. Drink plenty of water. Drink regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Staying hydrated helps you to stay warm.
  5. Practice your technique. If new to the sport, find a gentle slope in a safe area where you can practice climbing (herringbone technique) and descending (snowplow technique), then move on to snowplow turns. As you get faster on your descents, you will want to learn to do step turns.
  6. Ski in control. To slow your descent when skiing in groomed tracks, carefully lift one ski out and set it at an angle to the track. Put pressure on the inside edge of that ski, in a “half snowplow” formation. Don’t press too hard, though, or you may catch your ski and stop too suddenly.

We had our first taste of winter here in Norway with a couple of feet of snow falling from the skies in Trondheim at the end of October. Yes, that’s early – it was a bit of a record. Unfortunately for those of us who love winter – which even as a British import I do – it’s melting now so we’ll probably have to wait a little longer for the real thing.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

But it will soon be time to dust off the skis and get out on the trail.

Trail? You mean slopes, surely?

Nah, downhill skiing, that’s not real skiing. Cross-country (or Nordic, or Langlauf, etc.) is what it´s all about, and here´s why:

  1. Cross-country skiing is a full-body workout and you´ll burn over 700 calories an hour in the process (depending on your weight and how vigorous the skiing), rather than just pointing your skis down a hill and then being dragged back up again
  2. You get to explore the countryside, through forests and over frozen lakes, rather than being stuck in a limited area with no trees
  3. It’s sociable. You can ski with friends or family and actually talk to each other en route, rather than meeting in the lift queue every now and again
  4. On the other hand you can also enjoy splendid isolation if you prefer and clear you head of the stresses of modern life, rather than have to look out for teenagers coming from all directions
  5. You can stop for a break, brew up some coffee (preferably on an open fire) and catch some sun if the weather’s good, rather than paying for overpriced snacks at a mountain restaurant/cafe – if there is one
  6. It’s environmentally-friendly; preparation involves a vehicle making the tracks and smoothing out the snow, rather than clearing the slopes to build lifts running on electricity and permanently scarring the landscape
  7. You can generally do it for free, rather than having to pay for a lift pass
  8. It’s a lot less dangerous, worst-case is that you might pull a muscle rather than break a leg – or worse

Okay, that’s a decent list. I assume you’re attempting to court a little controversy here though…?

Indeed. I know I threw the cat amongst the pigeons (isn’t that a great – if brutal – expression?) so now let’s go all BBC here and present the other side. For the sake of balance…and perhaps to stir up some more response…

So, erm, it’s time to dust off the skis and get out on the slopes.

Slopes? You mean trail, surely?

Nah, cross-country skiing, that’s not real skiing. Whether you’re on a budget or have blown your savings on one of the best luxury ski deals, downhill is what it’s all about, as this picture taken of my most recent descent will testify.

Image (c) SkiStar Åre

Nice try. I doubt for one second there was a single reader who thought that was you. matey…

You’re probably right. Still, downhill rules and here are 8 reasons why:

  1. Speed. You can’t beat that adrenaline rush, which I like to enhance by humming the James Bond or Ski Sunday theme while plummeting down the piste
  2. You can take it easy getting back up the top again on a lift, instead of wasting time struggling up on skis
  3. In more enlightened places (read:not Norway) you can have a beer and some decent food at a mountain restaurant on your way down
  4. Danger. Even though you are relatively unlikely to hurt yourself if you are sensible, the potential risk is part of the attraction to weaker types such as myself
  5. You no longer have to advertise your lack of skill by your inability to keep your skis close together. These new-fangled ‘carving’ skis are actually supposed to be used like most of us have been skiing for all these years. Result!
  6. Downhill skiing generally takes place in a ski resort, with apres ski being part of the deal. And nothing beats a cold beer after a day on the hill
  7. You can get a suntan too, given the open slopes and if the weather is good
  8. Stopping (if controlled) with that sideways motion spraying up a lilttle wave of snow and going ‘whoosh’ is neat

Okay, that’s a slightly-less decent list than the last one, you were definitely struggling at the end.

Yeah, but still.

I grew up in Minneapolis, so I can say this for sure: Winter is more bearable when you have something to look forward to. We knew it was going to get dark and cold for five months, so you either embraced the opportunities snow brought—pond hockey, snowmobiles, and skiing—or bought a timeshare in Orlando. As a young kid with poor hand–puck coordination, I was put on skis by my parents. The sport opened up a new side of Minnesota. I could now glide through silent white forests and trek up frozen creeks I’d fished a season before. Here’s how to begin exploring the snow-covered world outside your back door.

1. Where to Start

Visit a cross-country ski center with groomed trails, rent some gear, and try it out. These carved tracks eliminate 90 percent of your worries about sailing off into the woods because they keep your skis pointed forward, says Drew Gelinas, the Nordic ski director at Vermont’s Edson Hill, a lodge near Stowe with more than 15 miles of trails. They also offer lessons, which significantly accelerate your learning.

2. The Varieties

Groomed Trails: They’re like skiing on rails. Using a heavyweight or hydraulic press, a groomer carves a hip-width double track into the snow. Each track measures 70mm wide, enough to accommodate most cross-country skis (except backcountry skis, which are wider). In addition to keeping your skis straight, the tracks guide you around turns.

Backcountry: Anything off a groomed trail counts as backcountry. That means your local golf course (avoid the greens), parks, and frozen lakes in addition to ungroomed trails. Skiing without a set track requires significantly more balance, but wider skis will aid stability.

Skate Skiing: Performed on wide, groomed lanes, this technique mimics the fluid, side-to-side motion of skating. It’s faster but requires stiffer skis, longer poles, more supportive boots—doubling your ski gear—and a hell of a lot more balance. Start with rentals and a lesson.

3. The Basic Movements

The basic cross-country technique, the diagonal stride, is like a powerful walk with help from your arms. And if you get tired, you can always downgrade to actual walking.

Glide: If you’re comfortable walking on skis, add glide. Step forward and transfer your weight to your front ski, compressing its kick zone, the area just in front of and under your boots that grips the snow. Pull the ski back like you’re scraping a shoe on the ground to propel yourself forward. Drive the opposite ski forward, transferring your weight onto it and enjoying a brief, free ride along the snow.

Use Your Arms: Plant your pole with the basket in line with the opposite foot and your arm extended in front of your shoulder. Your arms should swing front-to-back-to-front like pendulums, providing momentum as they come forward. Practice this by holding your poles midshaft and only using them to prevent a fall. This will also improve your balance and leg drive on each ski.

Go Uphill: When trails get steep, your kick zone won’t provide enough traction. The herringbone technique, which looks just like the pattern, can ascend any grade. Turn your feet out to form a V with your skis, and walk up the hill, planting your pole behind your boot.

4. How To Buy Skis

Fischer

Your weight is the main factor in selecting skis, which are essentially leaf springs. When you step down on one ski, you want the kick zone to collapse and bite the snow. While gliding along with your weight on both skis, you want the kick zone floating above the track. Shorter skis are easier to control, so when in doubt, size down.

Best for Groomed Trails: Fischer Ultralite Crown EF

Best for Backcountry: Madshus BC 55 MGV+

5. The Rest of the Gear

Swix

Poles: Your poles should come up to your armpits. If you’re going to ski backcountry, opt for a larger basket to get traction in powder. The Swix Classic($40) works well in both situations. To properly use the strap, bring your hand through from below and tighten it enough that you can let go of the pole when your arm is extended back. This boosts your power and range of motion.

Salomon

Boots: Cross-country skiing needlessly offers two incompatible binding systems (SNS and NNN). Neither has a real advantage, but the Salomon Escape 7 ($135) is available with either interface and adds an ankle cuff for stability. Backcountry skiers should buy taller, more supportive boots (like a hiking boot) with a gaiter ring.

Smartwool PhD base layers Smartwool

Clothes: You’re going to fall a lot and sweat a lot, so wear water-resistant layers that breathe, says Gelinas. Our favorites are the Swix Universal pants ($99), Black Diamond First Light Hybrid hoody ($229), Smartwool PhD light base layers (top, $80; bottoms, $85), and Gore Windstopper boxers ($40)—for the last place you want frostbite.

This appears in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue.

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Getting Started in Cross Country Skiing – Classic & Skate Skiing Techniques

Classic Cross Country Skiing

In classic cross country skiing, the skis slide parallel along packed-down, groomed trails with two tracks to slot your skis into. Using waxless classic skis that grip the snow with tiny scales and taking professional tuition is the best way to learn classic cross country skiing. We checked in with Thomas, a cross country skiing instructor at the XC Academy in Seefeld, who showed us the basics of classic cross country skiing technique:

Classic skiing is at least as technically difficult as skate asking. In fact, Thomas argues it even requires more finesse. It’s simply that classic skiing with poor technique is less exhausting than skate skiing with poor technique. We think it’s more fun to ski with excellent technique than to shuffle along the trails—and that’s why taking expert instruction to hone your skills is strongly recommended.

Groomed cross country ski trails with an awesome backdrop in Seefeld

Skating

The surface requirement for skate skiing is a wide, groomed snowy path surface to make the sport work effectively. You cannot skate ski inside the ski tracks cut into the trails for classic skiing. It’s best to skate on the surface of the trail itself, next to the ski tracks. Summing up, skate skiing is more about glide. If you’re just getting started in skate skiing, here’s what cross country ski instructor Thomas recommends:

Christine is tired but happy—and proud of her first attempt of cross country skiing

8 Reasons Why You Should Try Cross Country Skiing

For those unfamiliar with the sport, the image of old-age pensioners circling along odd trails on skinny skis is what comes to mind, and in the cool world of winter sports, cross country skiing is lukewarm. So – why would anyone want to bother with this seemingly rather dull sport? Well, in fact, you will see wiry, lean, and toned ‘skin-tight-lycra-clad athletes’ skating narrow trails, next to Mums and Dads with a baby or dog in tow, good looking Nordic ski instructors and the bespoke—and physically fit!!—seniors…

Cross country skiing is never going to have the same rebellious fad factor like that of snowboarding or freestyle skiing, yet those who’ve tried it find themselves drawn back to it time and time again. So why not ditch your “too cool for snow school” attitude and add a new string to your snow cannon by heading for the cross country ski trail—here’s a few good reasons to give Nordic skiing a try:

1. No Queues.

No waiting in lift lines – simply put on your skis and off you go.

XC-Skiing at it’s best #tirol #imst @sportful @leki.ski.outdoor @salomonnordic @visittirol

A post shared by Mario Stecher (@mario.stecher) on Jan 10, 2017 at 3:05am PST

2. Peace & Tranquillity.

The sound of cross country skis scraping the snow crystals is at once meditative and energizing and offers up a kind of gratification and alertness that the strongest cup of morning coffee cannot even begin to rival. Get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and tranquillity on XC skis.

Time to train in the snow #crosscountryskiing #seefeld #2017

A post shared by Andrea Salvisberg (@a_salvisberg) on Jan 3, 2017 at 1:14pm PST

3. Superb Workout.

Cross country skiing is hard work and a lot more tiring than its downhill brethren; there is no sitting on lifts! It is a full-body workout that builds core strength – and one of the best cardiovascular exercises known!

the new ramp – seefeld

A post shared by Chris (@maskwa19) on Jan 6, 2017 at 9:35pm PST

4. No Rigid Downhill Ski Boots.

The boots are just ankle high, soft and supple. They are almost as comfortable as slippers compared to rigid downhill ski boots, and you won’t resemble Robocop whilst walking around in them.

Crosscountry skiing level: ZERO 😂 at least we are good enough for a photo #crosscountryskiing #winter #snow #gopro #hochfilzen #nextstopworldcup #austria #snowymountains #winterwonderland

A post shared by Lisa Rettenbecher (@lisztomaniah) on Jan 5, 2017 at 3:25am PST

5. No Messy Helmet Hair.

A helmet isn’t necessary for Nordic skiing, so have fun with hats or headbands that won’t ruin your hairstyle. In general, cross country skiing attire is very fashionable and looks good.

#xcskiing#intervals#speedy#hochfilzen#skimarathonteam#austria#beapartofit#☺️❄️🎿

A post shared by Skimarathon Team Austria (@skimarathon_team_austria) on Nov 13, 2016 at 3:46am PST

6. It’s Safe.

Apart from falling down onto the snow surface (and fall you will, as a beginner), is substantially less risky than other winter sports activities.

A post shared by Karo & Marlen (@untermgrossenbaer) on Jan 10, 2017 at 5:23am PST

7. It’s Easy.

In the true sense of the word: Equipment is lightweight and easy to use. What more could you need?

8. Bring Your Dog.

There are dog friendly cross country ski trails that allow for your four-legged friend to get out and enjoy the snow and sunshine, too!

Earlier this month, the New York Times Magazine published a piece by Sam Anderson titled “What Cross-Country Skiing Reveals About the Human Condition.” By the second paragraph, it became clear that Mr. Anderson isn’t a cross country skier himself. Unsurprisingly, the story didn’t go over well with actual participants of the sport.

Among the most reviled lines of the piece is when Anderson describes cross-country skiing as an unwatchable hassle “where the elegant majesty of winter sport goes to die an excruciatingly drawn-out death.” Cross-country skiers responded with an outpouring of reactions, mostly on social media. (Sam Evans-Brown, the host of NHPR’s Outside/In podcast and a high school nordic coach, also wrote a response on Slate on Thursday).

A favorite gripe was about Anderson’s description of cross-country skiers as “existential heroes in goggles and tights” who “strap on a helmet and slog right in.” I’m a skier myself, and while we do like to think of ourselves as heroes, we don’t wear helmets or goggles. When Anderson finished his treatise by stating that he hadn’t skied since he was a little kid, no one was all that surprised.

Though I did fire off a few of my own angry tweets, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this might seem like we’re taking things a little too personally. And I’ll admit that Anderson doesn’t get everything wrong. Cross-country skiing is really damn hard. Arguably the toughest outdoor sport in the world, it requires a unique combination of strength, speed, and endurance. The lateral movements of skate skiing are at once unnatural and exhausting, while the technique for proper classic skiing leaves most untrained participants feeling like they’re just shuffling around. To succeed at racing uphill, athletes have to have ridiculous VO2 maxes, and put in 800 to 1000-plus hours a year of endurance and strength training. It’s understandable that someone might give up after an uncomfortable first try and never go back. But when you keep going and actually learn the sport, it’s really fun—and Americans are just beginning to discover it. (Bragging that your sport is harder than everyone else’s is pretty fun, too.)

Team USA’s Jessie Diggins competes in the 2012 FIS Cross-Country World Cup. (Photo: Cephas/Wikimedia Commons)

And while it may seem alluring to describe cross-country skiing as an exercise in solitary masochism, in both culture and practice, it’s truly a team sport. That’s not just fluff talking, it’s just too damn hard to do alone. According to Snow Industries of America, over four million Americans participated in cross-country skiing in 2013, I don’t suspect those folks are hammering alone in the forest contemplating the meaning of their pain. Rather, there is a vibrant, spandex-clad community that bands together to celebrate “the sanctity of the goddamn grind,” as Anderson put it. Even the U.S. Women’s Team attributes their success to working together, wearing glitter, and having a good time.
Last week, I compared cross-country skiing to watching a Tour de France stage in 20 minutes. Both cycling and skiing share group race tactics, treacherous climbs, whipping descents, and sprint finishes. Add icy snow, the grit of Olympic athletes, and a couple dance videos, and let me know if it still looks like “a brutally sustained non-thrill.” This season, the U.S. cross-country contingent is crushing it. They’ve landed 11 World Cup podiums, including two wins to add to their three World Championships medals from last season. Do you know what’s pretty thrilling to watch? Your country winning the Olympics.
Yes, there is an existentialist element to cross-country skiing. I’ve certainly done my fair share of philosophizing and meditating on steep climbs in dense woods. Participating in one of the hardest sports in the world in bitter cold will do that to you. But if your takeaway is that this sport is boring, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re still not convinced, let me know. I will gladly take you for a ski.

Filed To: OlympicsAthletesCross-Country Ski Skis Lead Photo: GibsonPictures/iStock

Doug Lanksy considered himself a runner since just about forever. But when he moved to Norway 18 years ago, then on to Sweden, it was practically a residency requirement that he switch to cross-country skiing for at least a few months of the year.

He did his best to adapt, and in a few months, he didn’t just survive the winters; he thrived. Earlier this year, he competed in his first Marcialonga, a 70-kilometer race in northeastern Italy. Despite a ninth-wave start spot, he managed to duck and weave past nearly 3,000 skiers on the narrow course to finish in 4 hours 14 minutes. Respectable considering the start position, but not as good as his 90-kilometer Vasaloppet or 54-kilometer Birkebeiner finishes.

At 48 years old, he came to cross-country skiing late in life, but he had a huge head start on the sport thanks to running. Sure, there were adjustments and some new equipment, but they were manageable. In the end, running gave him a strong base for cross-country skiing, and adding cross-country skiing to his training, in turn, made him a better runner. It can do the same for you—here’s how cross-country skiing vs. running stacks up and everything you need to know to get started.

The Different Types of Cross-Country Skiing

Like most sports, there are several subsets within cross-country skiing also known as Nordic skiing. Just as there are marathon runners and sprinters, there are two main styles of cross-country skiing: classic and skate skiing. Classic style is performed with a forward gliding motion similar to running, in which the skis are parallel to each other, and your heels are free.

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Skate style is a newer form of cross-country skiing that requires a diagonal movement closer to in-line or ice skating. Other forms of cross-country skiing include light touring and back-country touring, but we’ll focus on classic skiing as it pertains to runners in this article.

The Benefits of Cross-Country Skiing for Runners

Cross-country skiing is well-known as a major calorie burner (a fit person like you can burn upwards of 1,000 calories per hour), but one of the best and most obvious benefits of cross-country skiing compared to running is the low-impact factor. Cross-country skiing is low impact, making it a great cross-training option.

When running, the average impact forces are about two to three times your body weight, but “the conditions that you generally ski in are very soft, so it’s very easy on your body,” says Jack Hart, West Yellowstone Ski Team Coach and ski instructor with over 35 years of experience. “There’s no strain on tendons, ligaments or muscles.” And Lansky agrees, as adding low-impact cross-country skiing to his routine helped calm a chronic calf strain injury.

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While there are other low-impact sports you can use to cross-train, such as cycling or swimming, cross-country skiing will actually work many of the same muscles you need for running, while also being perfectly appropriate in the winter. “There is some crossover on the muscles that you use classic skiing; it’s quite close , and you get the benefit of using your upper body, which we don’t use in running a whole lot,” Hart says.

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Talk to any athlete who has ever stepped foot in cross-country skis, and they will tell you: It’s a killer cardio workout. “Cross-country skiing offers an opportunity for runners to use a completely different sport that is very challenging aerobically, whether you’re a beginner or whether you’re an enthusiast for the last 20 years, you can get an exceptionally good workout,” Hart says.

Hearst

And thanks to all the cardiovascular strength you’ve built as a runner, you’re uniquely primed for XC skiing. “When it comes to getting my pulse up near threshold, nothing quite works as well as running, but I can keep my skiing pace up with far less effort than my non-running friends,” Lansky says.

Beyond the physical benefits, swapping your running shoes out for skis gives you a major mental reset. Hart says skiing is refreshening for your head because doing something different is really good for your mental attitude, especially when it’s snowy, damp, or cold and you’re not feeling motivated to run.

How Does It Translate?

If you’re used to heading out and running 10 miles on the weekend, you won’t want to cover the same distance on cross-country skis right away. Hart suggests reducing your usual running mileage by 50 to 70 percent (or 5 to 7 miles on skis in place of a 10-mile run) when cross-country skiing because you have to work harder, you’re using your upper body, and you (likely) don’t do it as often as you run.

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“An hour Nordic skiing is equal to an hour and 15 to 20 minutes of running,” he says, which yes, means you get the same physical benefits as running in less time.

Cross-Country Skiing Equipment

While most outdoor sports tend to be gear-heavy activities, runners have a unique upper hand at embarking on cross-country skiing since most, if not all, of the winter running apparel you already to classic ski, especially when you’re just starting out. “The same gear that you were running in the winter is perfect because you’re doing the exact same thing: you want to move moisture away from your body; you need vents for breathability; and you need a little bit of wind protection,” Hart says. He also recommends medium wool socks and a light to medium running or skiing glove.

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As for the skis themselves, they are more expensive than your average pair of running shoes, but the costs here are all relative. While they come in at a higher price tag than shoes, they last longer, and you’ll wear them down less quickly. Plus, cross-country skiing as a whole is much more affordable compared to Alpine or downhill skiing. Spending a day at your local Nordic center (usually about $20 to $25) comes in at a fraction of the cost of a lift ticket at downhill ski resorts, and the gear itself is lighter and more streamlined for easy storage.

Great Cross-Country Skiing Gear

Madshus Terrasonic Intelligrip Classic Ski $369.95

The brand’s Intelligrip wax-free technology keeps this reliable, lightweight, and durable ski gliding no matter the conditions.

Madshus Nordic Cross-Country Ski Boots $100.00

The shoe’s structure gives you flex in the forefoot but keeps your heel locked in while the waterproof shoe covers keep your feet warm and dry.

Swix Classic Tour Cross-Country Ski Poles $44.95

Soft yet tacky grips for a comfortable hold are paired with baskets that work well on and off groomed trails.

Oakley Wind Jacket 2.0 Snow Goggles $140.70

Built to protect against wind and reduce fog, these feature PRIZM lenses, which filters white tones to enhance visibility.

If you’re new to the sport, Hart recommends just heading to your local Nordic center for the day for a lesson. Here, you can learn about and rent gear, demo different skis, and practice various skiing styles before making any major purchases. If you wind up on XC skis just three to four times a year, Hart says it’s fine to rent gear. But if you find yourself craving the trails more often, having some experience on the equipment first will help you make an informed decision.

As an inveterate gearhead, Lansky took great pleasure in having an excuse to acquire new sports equipment. His buying philosophy was formed when he made the newbie homeowner mistake of purchasing a cheap power drill, only to have it break after two weeks, forcing him to cough up for an expensive one. Better, he had reasoned, to simply get the expensive one first, so he went for the top-shelf cross-country gear on day one. He opted for Bjørn Dæhlie racing ski gloves, carbon Fischer skis, carbon-fiber Swix poles and an assortment of waxes.

In the end, Lansky found his new mixed training worked so well, he’s surprised we don’t see Kenyans and Ethiopians making a seasonal transition from shoes to skis. (Well, not that surprised.) But it would be nice to see as if there’s one thing the sport needs, it’s a little ethnic diversity. “Even the Swedes are tired of watching Norwegians win,” he says.

Cross country skiing beginner

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