There’s nothing quite like feeling the glide of snow below your skis. The rhythmic woosh-woosh of each gentle forward push while your arms move in tandem. I remember growing up in a snowless town and as a child, discovering a “Nordic Track” in my Aunt’s living room. Years later, in my late 30’s, I tried cross-country skiing for the first time and finally understood the purpose of that infomercial workout machine. The possibilities of cross-country skiing are vast. Not only is it accessible to most any skill level and low impact – the scenery is typically outstanding and beautiful. It’s also just good old-fashioned fun in the snow.
Let’s break down a few ski styles of this sport:
Nordic Cross-Country Skiing
This style is the most accessible. It involves the simplest set up, the least coordination, and can be done on any number of groomed cross-country ski tracks around the country. All you need is a pair of skis, clip in boots and two poles. Once you are suited up, it’s all about walking on skis. With a bit more experience, you will work on a short glide under each foot to propel yourself forward. This is similar to the push a skateboarder uses, although they keep pushing with the same foot, while you will be alternating feet. What’s great about Nordic cross-country skiing is that even if you are just walking on cross-country skis, it’s still a super fun and engaging sport.
This style requires the most coordination and the participant receives a real cardiovascular workout. To watch a skate skier while they blast by you on the groomers, you may notice they are breathing heavy but likely smiling – and to some extent, they may even look like they are roller skating! If you have significantly stepped up your Nordic skills in standard cross-country skiing, the more technical skate skiing option is a good choice. It requires similar gear though perhaps the skis are more fussy about precise wax for precise conditions. It’s not a bad idea to seek out a lesson in this specialized form of skiing. Lessons are typically available at resorts or anywhere groomed cross-country ski tracks and trails exist.
Many skiers may feel that groomed ski tracks are too crowded for their taste. This crowd will prefer backcountry cross-country skiing and blaze their own trail through powder on unkept terrain. While not requiring quite as much coordination and cardio as skate skiing, backcountry is more difficult and demands more skill than Nordic cross-country skiing. To delve deeper, you’ll need specialized knowledge of snow navigation, plenty of supplies (food, water, first aid, extra warm layers, etc.) and an explorer spirit. Following a groomed trail back to your car is significantly different than blasting out into the wilderness and finding your way back. Start with small, manageable jaunts at first. Consider enrolling in avalanche training and winter backpacking courses to brush up on safety practices and preparedness strategies. Once your comfortable – backcountry skiing can easily be tied into snow camping and multi-day travel.
Bonus: Pro Tips on Best Gear Finds
If you’re not totally sold and ready to invest bundles of cash into a cross-country set-up and kit, check out used gear shops. Or, visit Facebook “gear swap forums” and even explore rentals and demo sales at your local mountain resort. I picked up my cross-country skis, boots and poles at a fraction of the cost this way. Once you try it on some old worn-in gear, you’ll be ready to invest in the equipment that’s perfect for your ski goals.