how to get started cross-country skiing

How to Get Started Cross-Country Skiing

Want to discover serene winter landscapes while improving your cardiovascular health and wellbeing? Want to get involved in winter sports but don’t know where to start? Why not give cross-country skiing a try! Not only is it an amazing workout, it is easy to learn, which means beginners can reap the rewards of the sport in only a few lessons.

Cross-country skiing is often overlooked for its more rigorous and fast-paced relative, alpine skiing. That being said, it is immensely popular in the European Alps and Scandinavia because of the suite of mental and physical benefits it offers. Whenever I go out cross-country skiing I feel like I can truly experience the solitude and magic of virgin winter landscapes. This sense of peace and serenity is rarely experienced on the packed slopes of your typical downhill skiing area.

One of the advantages that cross-country skiing has over its alpine counterpart is that it is easy to learn and master. Additionally, many skiing trails can be enjoyed free of charge or for a small fee making it that much more approachable for newcomers. It is a crowd-pleasing endurance activity that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Today I am going to give you some tips on beginning your own journey into the world of cross-country skiing. Put aside some time to read this guide so you can learn some of the key strategies that will help you become a great cross-country skier. You’ll be forging your own path down those beautiful winter trails in no time! Let the six easy steps commence.

Step 1 – Get in Shape for Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a fantastic aerobic workout which in turn helps to improve your cardiovascular health. It trains all of the key muscles of the body, enabling you to stay lean and toned throughout the winter months. Cross-country skiing is a low-impact alternative to running and is significantly easier on the joints. Cross-country skiing comes highly recommended by fitness experts for people who are getting back into exercise after an injury or extended break. Easy at it may be, cross-country skiing does require participants to have a base level of fitness in order to enjoy the full range of benefits. 

In advance of the winter season, I recommend starting an endurance exercise routine. This can consist of jogging, cycling, and swimming. This strengthens your joints and muscles and improves your cardiovascular capacities. Stretching exercises and balance training will support you in your cross-country skiing efforts. These exercises allow you to stay limber and will serve as a line of defense against injuries and strains.

I also suggest nordic walking to improve your coordination. Nordic walking involves power walking with your ski poles. This enables you to practice the diagonal movements that are fundamental to your cross-country technique. For the dedicated among us, I recommend investing in ski rollers. You may have seen these around your neighborhood. They are short skis with wheels, similar to regular skates. They can be used during the warmer months to practice your cross-country skiing technique.

Whatever your preferred method of exercise it is vital to start your cross-country skiing preparation during the warmer months. This will not only minimize your chance of injury down the line but will allow you to dive into cross-country skiing at an optimum level of physical fitness. Preparing for the trails by beginning your exercise routine in advance will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and a heightened urge to expand your skill set.

Step 2 – Identify Your Ideal Trail

The number of cross-country skiing trails is endless. But when it comes to your individual needs as a skier, they’re not all created equal. This is not to say that one trail is better or worse than another but is simply a reminder that every skier has their own expectations, desires, and comfort levels. I suggest that beginners practice their newfound skills on a low-altitude trail on flat terrain. Shorter trails will allow you to get used to the pace and exertion of cross-country skiing. Shorter trails allow you to gauge your fitness level and allow you to build upon your skill. Nothing beats the feeling of ‘conquering’ a trail as a new cross-country skier!

If you are an alpine skier, you are familiar with marked slope designations. Groomed cross-country ski trails have often the same marked signage. Ski trails marked blue are easy, trails marked red are intermediate, and trails marked black are challenging. Begin with blue designated trails. This allows you to enjoy the mountain surroundings without biting off more than you can chew.

Step 3 – Pick Your Poison, or Technique – Skating or Classic

The two techniques that you will encounter as a cross-country skier are classic and skating style. I suggest learning more about both styles by watching videos and reading tutorials before committing to one. If you are on the fence, you can certainly try your hand at both, but we suggest gaining some insight beforehand so you can come to the slopes equipped with the facts. I recommend focusing on one style as a beginner because both techniques require their own set of equipment.

The classic technique is said to be easier of the two to learn, but you must be attentive and ensure that you are learning the proper technique straight out of the gates. It is difficult to correct an improper technique once it has become a habit. Classic cross-country skiing involves a motion referred to as the diagonal step. Quite simply, the diagonal step involves gliding along the trail while alternating your arms and legs in a switching motion. Your right arm and leg will be diagonally opposed to the left and vice versa. Classic cross-country skiing requires less physical exertion and can be enjoyed in a leisurely, slow-paced manner.

Skating style cross-country skiing closely resembles inline skating. It is best reserved for those beginners who have an optimum fitness level and who have experience skating or ice skating. The technique is akin to that of ice skating, with the skier gliding on their cross-country skis. The poles are used to reinforce speed and provide momentum. Skating requires a higher level of physical exertion and endurance and is an intense cardiovascular exercise. The skating technique makes easier work of inclines and steeper trails than the classic technique.

Step 4 – Finding the Perfect Equipment

The best part about cross-country skiing is that it doesn’t necessarily entail a large upfront investment. I always recommend renting skis prior to getting your start with the sport. This will remove the pressure and allow you to be honest with yourself about whether it is for you or not.

‘No-wax skis’ will be a beginner’s best bet for classic cross-country skiing. They feature a base that has more traction, allowing skiers to climb inclined trails without slipping backwards and risking an injury. You can decide whether to wax the skis or not which make it an approachable piece of equipment for newcomers.

Regardless of whether you have decided to pick up classic or skating skis always ask the staff at the rental store for pointers. Keep in mind that classic cross-country skis are approximately 10 centimeters longer than skating skis. The technique you choose will also dictate what kinds of boots and poles you rent or invest in.

The classic technique requires poles that are chest-level when placed parallel to the body, resting on the ground. Skating requires chin-level poles. Choose ankle-length boots that fit snugly to provide insulation and protection from the elements. Properly fitting boots will protect you from injuries like a rolled ankle. Choose flexible bindings if you change your ski boots frequently throughout the season.

Cross-country equipment is significantly cheaper than the equipment required for its cousin, alpine skiing. But as with all sports, it is worth it to invest in the best of the best. You want reliable equipment that lasts you multiple seasons.

Step 5: Protect Yourself From the Elements Come Rain or Shine

Your clothing is going to dictate whether or not you enjoy your cross-country experience. Frankly speaking, if you are not dressed for the conditions, whether it be a blizzard or a clear blue day, you will not want to continue.

A rule of thumb that will serve you well as a newcomer to cross-country skiing? Strike a happy medium between being too hot and too cold. Because cross-country skiing requires physical exertion, it can leave you sweating regardless of the external temperatures. Frequent ascents and descents will necessitate multiple layers as your body will warm up and cool down throughout the excursion. Always wear 2-3 thin, insulated, moisture-wicking layers so you can come comfortably prepared to add or remove apparel as the conditions dictate.

You want to invest in breathable sportswear like windstopper jacket shells, fleece jumpers, merino wool sweaters, and long underwear. Avoid cotton as it is super absorptive and will soak up the skin’s moisture rather than allowing it to evaporate. Talk about uncomfortable.

You must invest in sturdy gloves that are snug around the wrists to prevent cold air from seeping in and freezing your fingers. Because we lose most of our body heat through our heads, it is vital to protect yourself with a cap or hooded sweater. We recommend bringing an extra pair of gloves should temperatures dip or should your gloves become damp. Bring a pullover to store in your backpack to throw on when you take a break from skiing.

If you engage in winter running, ice skating, or hiking than you may already own the appropriate gear and sportswear. Windproof running shells, tight leggings, and wool socks can be used for all of the above activities and are easily incorporated into your cross-country skiing look.

In addition to dressing appropriately for the trails, it is essential to bring a small but sturdy backpack in which to store your gear. Always pack a thermos with water and warm tea. Staying hydrated is fundamental to enjoy cross-country skiing safely. Bring a granola bar, non-bruisable fruit, or nuts to replenish your energy stores. 

Step 6 – Consult an Expert

Although cross-country skiing may be less risky than alpine skiing when taken at face value, it is not without risks. Bruises, sprains, and tears are all potential risks. Falling is not always severe or serious, but it can lead to ligament injuries rather easily, particularly if you find yourself falling consistently on the same part of your body. Ligament injuries are common, and while they are not always drastic, they can impede your participation in the sport for the remainder of the season once acquired.

I always recommend investing in an instructor as a newcomer. Not only is this an engaging and supportive way to learn a new activity but it is invaluable for helping you learn the risks and how to mediate them. Instructors can train you on the best practices and techniques, so you start off on the right foot. Instructors will teach you how to glide, brake, and maneuver. They will teach you how to correctly undertake an emergency fall to prevent further injury. Trust me when I say that beginning your journey with an instructor is a worthy investment.

Eight Reasons why Cross-Country Skiing will Become Your New Favorite Sport This Winter

Cross-country skiing has an unfair reputation as being dull, unstimulating, and passe. We envision elderly skiers and toddlers gliding along the snow at the pace of a glacier. When placed side to side with its thrill-seeker counterparts like freestyle skiing or snowboarding it’s no surprise that cross-country skiing may seem, well, tame in comparison. Don’t let these tired stereotypes hold you back, however. Not only is cross-country skiing a dynamic and multidimensional sport, but it also allows for the same cardiovascular exertion that its downhill competitors offer. Cross-country skiing is an ‘everyone’s invited’ sport, and it appeals to the whims and requirements of athletes and novices alike. Everyone can enjoy the serenity, health benefits, and physical endurance workout that cross-country skiing provides.

While it’s true that cross-country skiing will never have the daredevil street cred that freestyle skiing and snowboarding boast, proponents like me find themselves fiercely loyal to the sport. Instead of envisioning cross-country skiing as being boring why not bolster your winter repertoire and enhance your range of skills? If you need more prodding, pore over our eight favorite reasons to give cross-country skiing a chance!

1/ Say Goodbye to The Waiting Game

Cross-country skiing is much less hassle than its counterpart alpine skiing. Get your gear and off you go! No more waiting in long lift lines to enjoy the snow.

2/ Peace, Tranquillity, & Solitude

Cross-country skiing allows you to experience the enigmatic magic and elusive beauty of serene mountain landscapes. It both soothes and energizes the spirit. The silence of the forest will let you to focus on your thoughts without the distractions of daily life.

3/ Exceptional Exercise

Cross-country skiing is a challenging and effective endurance exercise. You can customize your level of physical exertion to your baseline health and fitness level. It is a fantastic full-body workout, and it targets most of the muscles of the body. Both the classic and skating techniques allow you to improve your cardiovascular health while indulging yourself in beautiful surroundings. Build your core strength in a winter wonderland, what’s not to love?

4/ Say Goodbye to Rigid & Uncomfortable Downhill Ski Boots

Let’s get real. Regardless of how much you love your downhill skiing, you must admit that the boots are not all that comfortable. After a long eight hour skiing day it is not unusual to have aching and tender feet. Cross-country skiing allows you to take a break from those rigid boots. Cross-country ski boots are ankle high, soft, and flexible. They allow for natural movement.

5/ Helmet Hair Begone

Cross-country skiers can leave their helmets at home! Yes, beginners can certainly bring along their helmets, but it is far from necessary. You can wear your cap, beanie, or headband instead. Thought high style wasn’t possible on the slopes? Think again.

6/ Safety First

Although cross-country skiing comes complete with its own risks, it is far safer than its downhill counterpart. Falls are generally the most severe accident you will encounter. It is significantly less risky than ice skating or winter hiking, as well.

7/ Beginner Friendly

Cross-country skiing is easy to learn and enjoy. The equipment is lightweight, and the apparel is comfortable and multi-purpose. You can stick with flat terrain and enjoy the winter landscape without the learning curve.

8/ Furry Friends are Welcome

What could be better than bringing your dog or puppy along with you? Many trails are dog-friendly, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful winter settings with the ones you love.