Monday, January 2, 2017

Question for the Community: Advice to a Cross-Country Skiing Novice, 2017 Update

Reader Question:
I have a question for the community about cross-country skiing.  As my New Year’s resolution, I am thinking about taking up the sport but I am a complete novice.   Are there any words of wisdom or warnings that people could share?

Some Past Comments:
XC skiing is a great way to go birding! Plus, it's supposedly one of the most complete forms of exercise there is. Enabling you to "hmpf!" the Spinning crowd when they ask you "what you do!"  Plus, you can do it in Real Clothes . . . ;)  Can anyone advise on the best gear for the reasonably frugal? (Greenfield)

Take some lessons at a Nordic center. That can save you a lot of time in learning the technique and it will help you decide what you prefer - diagonal stride "classical" or free-technique "skate." More terrain is easily accessible to classical because a groomed set track is desirable but not required. Parks and golf courses, woodland trails or any well-covered area are great. You can cross-country ski with no pass or lift line!   When you take lessons, do so with a mind to what kind of equipment you may ultimately want to buy. One thing about XC gear - compared to Alpine equipment, it is very affordable. The Nordic center may sell their rental or demo gear at the end of the season and you can get some "better" or "best" equipment at "good" prices.  There are plenty of instructional videos on Youtube, and the Olympic trials and Olympics are coming up so try to watch some of them. If, after a good honest try, you decide it isn't your cup of tea, consider snowshoeing. It's a wonderful and quiet sport - good luck and enjoy! (Keith Baker)

I like skiing on golf courses. I love the wide open spaces and you don't ever have to be too far from your car! (Comment)

LlBean has "ready to go" xx ski kits for persons of all abilities, as do other outfitters. You will need to purchase (or rent) boots, poles and skis. If you have downhill skiing experience, you should be savvy enough to "play around" on the xx skis until you feel comfortable. If not, a lesson may be in order. As long as the ground is frozen, the woods are a wonderful place to ski and enjoy the solitude of winter. A golf course would be suitable as well; watch for hills as a beginner. A half an hour is suitable for a first time ski, but as you become more able bodied you will want to stay out for much longer. I like to wear: Patagonia lightweight long johns (top and bottom), sport hill tapered xxski pants or jeans, a wool sweater or fleece with a windbreaker on the top. If its balmy I shred the windbreaker. Light weight gloves, a neck gaiter and hat, of course...and if I am out for an extended period of time a Cliff bar and my Camelback too.  The joys of xx skiing are contagious. Grab a pal and create some memories! (Jessica ~Western Reserve Ohio)

Groomed trails are best to start with, and L.L. Bean have some great starter packages, but there are other companies that are also excellent - REI, MEC, for example. One of the best places I've encountered, though, is in Van Buren, Maine - The Ski Shop. It is small, but does a brisk business with newbies, elite athletes, and everyone in between. People travel far and wide for Lyn Michaud's advice and expertise. It is worth the drive, in my opinion. 
 Try to get out a 2-4 days a week with a group or club if there is one near you, and you will be enjoying the trail in no time. Go as long as you feel comfortable. Consider a attending and participating in a loppet - great fun! If you are willing to drive to northern Maine you will find the Maine Winter Sports Center which is one of the high-performance training centers for the U.S. national nordic ski team. Don't be intimidated - it is a fantastic venue and open to all. It is a nordic skiing paradise.  
Being Canadian I learned how to ski in PE class in high school and have been enjoying it ever since. Nordic skiing has a very welcoming community, but I still enjoy getting out on my own, too. Enjoy the snow!
- Greg Peters

What a great topic to discuss. Being a devoted year round outdoor runner I started xc skiing about ten years ago. One of the best areas to venture to is the Manchester Vermont area. Within a half hour of each other there are at least four places to xc ski... wooded trails or open land areas. Okemo opens their golf course up for this purpose. To have the sun gleaming through the trees as you are stride along is the best feeling. Yes quiet but very scenic. I can assure you a half hour is only the beginning. There are trails that rin 10 miles long and are very addicting... Lake Tahoe also has unbelievable trails.... With shandies along the way who serve up some tasty soups and drinks. Your half hour turns into a full day of fun and peace. You forget you are even exercising. Enjoy!!! It's so much fun!!! (Ilsa)

The best way to start, as mentioned a couple of times, would be to go to a X-C ski center and RENT equipment for your first outings until you know what kind of equipment you want. And please start with a lesson; it will be your best investment!  Personally I think starting with the "traditional" skiing technique and later 'graduate' to the 'skating' if you find that interesting… The most important is to go out and enjoy nature and have fun! (snowysailor)

Do take lessons and from a Nordic instructor credentialed by the Professional Ski Instructors of America. (Katahdin, PSIA-certified Alpine Ski Instructor)

Coincidentally, I tried cross country skiing for the first time last week. I was at (apparently) one of the best spots to Nordic ski on the east coast, Craftsbury, Vermont. Having an Alpine skiing background, I thought cross country would be easy. Words of advice... You do not really have edges to stop with. Obviously, since the skis are much thinner you will not be as stable, therefore your balance is thrown off (at least mine was). I fell literally within the first 50 feet of putting those skis on, I should have anticipated a bumpy few miles ahead. Regardless of my learning curve, I thought it was a great workout and enjoyed the slow pace and would love to try it again soon. Good luck! (CB)
I learned by spending a week at the Trappe Family Lodge in Vermont. They had lessons in the mornings and then you practiced in the afternoons. It was magical. Plus, you could ski through the woods singing "The Hills are Aliiiiiiive..." And the Ben & Jerry's factory wasn't too far away. (Pigtown*Design)

I'd recommend Nordic center. Many ski resorts have them and you can usually demo some rental skis prior to purchase. This will allow you to find skis that work for you. Also the staff can help to point you to novice friendly trails (this has the added benefit of being in an avalanche controlled zone, but this may be more of a concern in Utah than New Hampshire).   I took up cross country skiing simply for the opportunity to do in Bryce Canyon, Utah. The staff at the Nordic Center at Solitude Ski Resort were very helpful in getting me started correctly.  (Colt)
I vote for at least one lesson. I actually prefer the solitude of being alone on groomed trails far away from the "base" so yes, bring cell phone. I also recommend east to remove and stow layers. Sometimes you just go farther/further and faster than anticipated. If you don't love it, try snowshoes. (Anonymous Comment)

The most impt. piece of x-country skiing is a comfortable boot so be prepared to spend most of your budget on them when you decide to buy. I would go to a rental place in the beginning either at a x-country center or ski shop & let one of the sales people outfit you with a boot, then size you for skiis. You'll also get poles. Clothing depends on the temperature; it should be loose & comfortable & layered. If you get too warm you can take off jacket & wrap around your waist. Whether or not you enroll in lessons depends on how quick you can imitate the skiers you see on youtube or videos, or on the trails. The "kick & glide" is what most people start with. A wide open. flat space like golf course, soccer field, etc. is best terrain to start on. As you become more confident you can be choosier. I like old logging roads through the woods because they give you the best of hilly & flat terrain. Throw some chocolate bars in a pocket, bring some water. It can be great fun especially if you have a friend & a dog to enjoy the ski with you. By the way, Franconia, NH has the best variety of trails. (Anonymous Comment)

I've been cross-country skiing for 35 years or so. Your best bet is to have fun. Don't plan on spending all day out there; just do an hour and get used to it. It's not like running; it's kind of like fast walking, really. Do the golf course. Lessons are kind of pointless. (Anonymous Comment)

One of the best feelings in the world is being out skiing on a cold sunny day ~ being warm from the exercise & having a picnic out in the woods! You don't have to take lessons, but its good to go with someone who knows what they're doing until you get used to it. 
Learn how to mix in a few telemark turns & you will be able to get down the hills with ease and expand your range into the backcountry or downhill ski areas. Get some skis with an edge if you are in New England & a heavy boot. I learned from Kare Anderson who was a tailor & designer as well as an awesome skier and all-around excellent guy who liked party! He lived to almost 100 and wore wool sweaters & knickers to ski. Have fun - that is the most important thing. Don't worry about it too much - just slap the skis on & go. Take the dog & the kids if you've got them. Skål! 
- Comment


  1. Don't skimp on your gaiters, research the whys. Even for shoveling the drive they are so beneficial. For me snowshoeing is far better. Snowshoeing too has a "swooshing" style of gate/movement, wide array of equipment/styles of shoes (these aren't your Grandpa's big, heavy shoes). Snowshoeing offered additional choices, freedoms and abilities; range of motion exercise wise, choice/length of trail, less gear if desired, etc. To able to step off the trail when you desire without limitations of snagging hidden tree branches, shattering ice blocks, those sucking slush pits. To be more aware and choosing of surroundings was the ultimate freedom. It is amazing to walk/jog over 98% of the terrain. You learn to read the landscape. There are snow shoes for cross training also.
    Maybe rent for one separate day each skis and snowshoes?
    *Be aware some of the cross country skiers may NOT want you “ruining their trail” set up. But I have seen cross country skiers ask the snowshoer to break trail more than once.

  2. If you find yourself skiing on trails through the woods be careful about tree branches hitting your eyes, especially since you may be focussing mainly on the ground ahead as you ski.

  3. So much great advice! I would add: read your trail map! Make sure you aren't headed out on a one way green trail (beginner) with a blue trail (intermediate) smack in the middle. Most (probably all) Nordic centers have courtesy trail maps for you to take along.

    We XC ski every weekend at Jackson Ski Touring in Jackson, NH. Just went to Bear Notch Ski Touring in Bartlett, NH for the first time and it was great - very old school, you buy your ticket in the farmhouse living room and they have homemade soup for lunch. Bretton Woods Nordic, in Bretton Woods, NH is fabulous, with the added attraction of the grand Mt. Washington Hotel for apres.

  4. Back when I lived in NYS, I cross country ski'd at Mt Snow on their groomed trials. I took a lesson in how to handle the skis and traverse the hills. When faced with a steep hill (& not having much success) I took off the skis and trudged up (same with reverse, going down the hills!). Enjoy the beautiful snowy scenery and fresh air and proceed at your own pace. I remember people being impressed when I said I loved x country skiing (thinking I was a big time athlete which I wasn't) but in reality, I just had fun out there. AnnZ

  5. Pants for the sport;
    Black Hills Straight leg # 34713
    and Black Hills slim leg #34718