How to get started with cross-country skiing
By Aislinn Sarnacki, Bangor Daily News Staff
Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is a way to explore the snowy wilderness while enjoying aerobic exercise. The movements of the sport take some time to master, but beginner skiers can still have fun as they shuffle along on easy, groomed trails, developing their skills.
If you’re interested in trying cross-country skiing this winter but aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips that may save you some frustration and improve your overall experience.
Consider renting equipment
When trying out cross-country skiing for the first time, many people rent skis, boots and poles to make sure they truly enjoy the sport before purchasing the gear outright.
Throughout Maine, there are many places where you can rent cross-country skis, including local outfitters and winter destinations such as Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and Penobscot River Trails in Grindstone. L.L.Bean in Freeport also offers cross-country ski rentals and lessons for beginners through its Outdoor Discovery School.
Find the best skis for you
Cross-country skis and boots come in many different brands and styles. Whether you’re renting or purchasing them, do some research to decide which might be best for you. When making this decision, the most important question you need to ask yourself is: What type of cross country skiing will I be doing?
Within the sport of cross-country skiing, there are different styles of skiing. Beginners usually start by learning what’s known as “classic skiing” on groomed trails because it’s relatively slow paced and easy to learn. Classic skiing resembles how you walk, with forward and backward motions, but with longer strides due to how the skis glide over the snow. On groomed trails, this type of skiing will keep you in two parallel tracks or grooves in the snow, and the tracks will help you keep your feet the correct distance apart while not crossing your skis.
If planning to ski off trail or on especially hilly terrain, you may want to consider Nordic touring skis, which are wider, more rugged and sometimes have metal edges for durability and to cut into slopes.
Another type of cross-country skiing is skate skiing, which involves moving side to side and can be much more fast paced. Skate skis tend to be shorter than classic skis. Some beginners do choose to learn skate skiing, even though it’s considered to have a steeper learning curve than classic skiing.
Ski brands provide charts so you can determine the best ski length for your weight.
Learn about wax
Cross-country skis need to be waxed in order to work efficiently and stay in good condition. However, some skis need more wax care than others.
With classic skiing, waxless skis have become increasingly popular. Waxless skis feature a fish-scale like pattern or skins on the bottom (in the kick zone) that replace the need to apply wax for grip. However, you should still apply glide wax to the skis’ tips and tails for maximum efficiency. There are also products you can apply to the entire bottom of waxless skis to keep them in good condition.
Skate skis do not have a kick zone, so they don’t need grip wax or any waxless features. They do need to be coated with glide wax.
Don’t forget boots and poles
Cross-country ski boots are special boots that attach to cross-country ski bindings. They’re designed to keep your feet warm while allowing you the flexibility to bend your ankles.
When selecting cross-country ski boots, be sure that the boots match your ski bindings. Common types of bindings include NNN, SNS and 75mm or 3-pin bindings. And within those bindings, there are even more specialties, such as NNN BC (backcountry).
Poles are another necessity for cross country skiing, since you need to use your arms to maintain balance and help propel you forward. Different length and style poles are used for different styles of cross-country skiing. Pole size will also vary depending on the skier’s height.
You can work with your local ski shop to find the right poles, boots and skis for you. Or you can do some online research. Many ski brands such as Rissignol and Salomon offer online guides to help you find the right equipment.
Start on level terrain
To gain confidence and skills in cross-country skiing, start on fairly level terrain without big hills or bumpy surfaces. That way you can practice the motions of cross-country skiing without worrying about picking up speed downhill or struggling uphill.
If you have a lawn or local park, test out your skis there. You could also visit a network of groomed ski trails, but if you do, stick to trails that are marked for beginners, which are often labeled in green.
You can learn about cross-country skiing techniques by participating in a beginner course or learning from friends or family members who have experience. There’s nothing quite like learning a skill hands on, but online video tutorials can also help. For example, L.L.Bean offers a simple, 3-minute video on classic cross-country skiing techniques through the company’s Outdoor Discovery School.
Navigating hills is one of the most challenging parts of cross-country skiing. Start learning on small hills with gradual slopes before tackling anything steep. Whether going uphill or downhill, you’ll need to learn how to angle your skis without crossing them. By turning your skis diagonally, forming a wedge shape, you can slow yourself down when zipping downhill. Similarly, you can angle your skis diagonally to bite into the snow and gain purchase when going uphill. This will take some practice if you’re new to skiing.
While out there practicing, stay comfortable by wearing layers of warm clothing and a backpack of necessities. You may be surprised at how quickly you warm up and need to shed layers of clothing (which you can stow in your backpack). Be patient. Stay hydrated (it’ll actually help you stay warm). Don’t try to tackle challenging trails right off the bat. And most of all — have fun.