Kids learn to cross-country ski at a young age in Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland. Understandably, cross-country skiers from these countries dominate in the winter Olympics. Americans don’t ski before they walk, but things are changing. During the past 20-years, cross-country skiing has gained popularity in the United States, Canada and Australia. Almost all downhill ski areas have cross-country ski trails and dedicated cross-country ski resorts are common in this country.
Cross-country skiing is the king of aerobic exercises. It works the upper and lower body muscles at the same time and increases oxygen consumption better than any other form of physical activity. Elite cross-country skiers have the world’s highest levels of maximal oxygen consumption— the body’s ability to transport and use oxygen. It is also one of the best exercises for burning fat.
Public cross-country ski trails are common throughout Europe and are becoming more widespread in the United States. Cross-country ski tracks typically contain parallel grooves for skiers using the traditional or classic technique (“kick and glide”) and a flat, groomed area for those using the skating technique (similar to ice skating). You can also ski on ungroomed park trails or frozen lakes. Telemarking, which won’t be discussed further, is a third cross-country ski technique used to go downhill at ski resorts or in the backcountry.
Cross-country skis are often called “skinny skis” because they are long (6.5 feet) and thin (2 inches wide). Skiers use two poles that vary in length according to height and ski technique (skaters use longer poles). Modern cross-country ski boots are made of composite material that is flexible enough to allow fluid gliding motions, but stiff enough to provide lateral support. Unlike downhill ski boots, cross-country ski boots work with specific bindings. Because of the expense and high-tech nature of modern equipment, it’s best to rent cross-country ski equipment from a reputable ski shop before purchasing any. If you decide to purchase, buy equipment that’s appropriate for your skill level. Don’t buy racing skis if you’re more interested in lower intensity recreational skiing. The leading cross-country skiing equipment makers include Rossignol, Atomic, Salomon, Fischer, Alpina Sports and Madshus.
Waxes include glide wax to make the skis go faster and kick wax that grip the snow during the pushing phase of the classic cross-country ski technique. Until recently, choosing the correct kick wax was always as much art as science.
Excessively hard waxes don’t grip very well and soft waxes can accumulate snow on the bottom of the ski, making it impossible to move very well. New grip wax tapes take the guesswork out of waxing. These work through a wide variety of snow conditions and temperatures and are affixed to the kicking section of the ski.
Follow these tips to get the most from cross-country skiing:
• Like snowshoeing, the allure of cross-country skiing goes beyond mere exercise. The beauty of the snow, trees and mountains adds another dimension.
• Rent first and buy later. Buy the best equipment you can afford but make sure that it’s appropriate for your needs and ability. By from a reputable shop.
• Learn how to ski. Unlike snowshoeing, cross-country skiing takes skill and can be scary and difficult for the beginner. Take lessons from a certified cross-country ski instructor, who will teach you basic moves, such as getting up from falls, the basic push and glide technique, polling, herringbone (walking up a hill with skis pointed outward), side stepping, skating, and stopping.
• Learn waxing basics. There are few things more annoying than skis that won’t grip when climbing a hill or skis that don’t go when skiing downhill. Waxing isn’t the problem it used to be, but applying the wrong wax can still ruin a perfect day.
• Cross-country ski workouts are similar to running, cycling, and snowshoeing programs. Start off by skiing on flat terrain for 10 to 30 minutes on a trail. As skill improves, increase the level of difficulty by skiing faster, skating, and skiing up and down hills. Gradually, increase the distance you ski until you can stay on the trail for several hours or more.
• The longer and faster you ski, the more calories and fat you burn. Beginners burn a lot of calories getting up after falling down.
• Pack a lunch, take a break and enjoy the scenery.