Cross country skiing is an amazing winter activity that requires a lot of skill and physical prowess. Also known as Nordic skiing, this type of skiing has been around for thousands of years and is thought to have been created as a way for ancient peoples to navigate deep snow in northerly climates. All modern skiing comes from the Nordic style, and cross country skiing is the current form of the storied winter tradition.
While cross country skiing has been around for quite a while, it’s not as popular as alpine or downhill styles. That’s partly because it’s not as well known, and partly because it’s a demanding sport that’s not easy to pick up. This article will explain some of the style’s basic elements so you can pick up the skills needed to ski out in the backcountry.
There’s no better way to learn a new skill than to just dive in and go for it. Even if you don’t know the first thing about cross country skiing, if you have an interest in the activity, you should give it a try. Find a Nordic center or cross country ski zone in your area with some flat, groomed beginner runs. Rent skis, boots, and poles from the equipment shop, strap them on, and see how you do.
It may sound intimidating to dive right in, but the ‘trial by fire’ method can quickly pay off. There’s no better way to gain the skills needed for Nordic skiing than to actually ski. We’ll take a look at some exact technique tips later on in this article, but the first lesson is to always try.
If going in cold sounds a bit too adventurous (and that’s totally ok if it does), try cross-country skiing with a friend who knows how to do it or take an initial lesson with a qualified instructor. My parents taught me how to Nordic ski when I was a child, and they were encouraging throughout the entire process. A good friend who knows how to ski will certainly share what they know with you and do their best to help you pick up the basics.
The Varieties of Cross Country Skiing
There are two main varieties of cross country skiing – classic and skate. Classic cross country skiing involves using skis that have flat, smooth tips and tails alongside a textured, scale-like center. Those scales allow you to grip and pull at the snow in one direction, and to slide and ski in the other. Classic cross country skiing is a good place to start if you’re a beginner because it’s much easier to pick up the technique on the groomed trails.
Skate style cross country skiing is a little more technical, but it’s really fun once you get the hang of it. If you’ve ever watched Nordic skiing in the Olympics, you’ve seen skate style skiing in action. This style gets its name from the ice-skate-like push and glide movement skiers use to generate momentum. While skate skiing has a similar feel to ice skating, you also use your ski poles to generate a lot of force.
The style you choose is up to you, but you will use a different ski for each style. I’d recommend trying classic cross country skiing if you’ve never tried the sport before. If you go to a Nordic center with groomed trails, there will be two grooves, several inches deep on either side of the trail. Those grooves, made for classic skiers, give you a place to put your skis as you go.
If you want to try skate skiing first, I would still recommend staying on the groomed trails. Stay on a flat and straight trail at first to get the basic feeling down before attempting to tackle any other type of terrain. A nicely groomed surface is an ideal place to learn the basic technique.
The basic movement in classic cross country skiing is often referred to as a diagonal stride. That refers to walking on your skis, which is how you generate the force and push needed to glide along the snow. You want to step your skis forward one leg at a time while also pushing with your ski pole. You then let the front foot glide while you repeat this process with the other leg.
After you get the basic diagonal stride down, you can add a little glide to each step. Once you place your front foot down, bend your knee slightly with your heel up and let your ski glide along the snow. After you get a feel for that motion, you’re ready to move along at your own pace.
For skate skiing, generate forward momentum by using your legs to push your skis slightly sideways. This is quite similar to ice skating, so if you know how to move on skates, you should be able to pick it up quite quickly. Use your poles to push firmly into the snow with each stride and use them to balance. You want to keep your skis in the shape of a V as you move forward.
Start slowly with skate skiing as it can be awkward to first pick up. If you’re struggling, try to skate without poles and then incorporate the push of your poles later on. Check out this video for some more in-depth suggestions. A lesson can also go a long way.
Cross country skiing can be difficult for beginners. However, once you get the basic techniques figured out, it turns into a great winter activity you can enjoy for years to come. The style is one of my favorite forms of exercise, and after a full day you’ll have a newfound respect for the skiers you see on TV.
Remember that practice is the only way to improve. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle on your first attempt. As long as you put in the work and understand the different styles, you’ll be ready to cross country ski in no time at all.
Have you ever cross country skied before? How long did it take you to feel comfortable with this style of skiing? Let us know below!