US Outdoor Store
US Outdoor Store

Beginners Guide to Cross Country Skiing

Gliding through the glistening snow on a pair of skis while surrounded by the beauty of nature is one of the incredible perks of cross country skiing. It is necessary to be outside and moving your body in order to participate in this sport so you automatically benefit from both fresh air and exercise. It is a sport which is excellent for both your body and your mind and it can be learned at any age. Cross country skiing can also be referred to as Nordic skiing or XC skiing. It is a sport in which the participant propels themselves in a forward motion on snow using skis and poles. The only necessary equipment for this sport is poles, special boots and skis. The fact that you utilize both poles and skis simultaneously when you cross country ski means that both your upper and lower body muscles are getting a great workout. This is why the sport is considered an entire body workout. It also involves both muscles that push and muscles that pull. It is also a high calorie burning activity. If you weighed 150 pounds and were doing a brisk recreational type of cross country skiing you would burn approximately 612 calories in one hour. If a 150 pound person participated in vigorous mountaineering cross country skiing for one hour, he or she would burn approximately 1, 122 calories. Another benefit of cross country skiing is that it is an excellent way to strengthen both your heart and your lungs. It is also one of the lowest impact sports in existence. The gliding motion of the sport keeps hips, knees and feet from receiving too much impact.

First Steps

Learning to cross country ski is like learning any other new sport. It is always a good idea to seek a professional and take some lessons. By learning from experts you learn the correct way to do it and can hopefully avoid learning bad habits or incorrect techniques. You will find professionals at commercial ski areas that have cross country trails. These areas are great places to learn for several reasons. Firstly you can rent the equipment instead of buying it in order to see if you like the sport. Secondly you can take a lesson at this area with a professional. Thirdly the trails are groomed which makes cross country skiing much easier. It is a tougher workout when you cross country ski and have to blaze new trails through the snow. Groomed trails are trails that a machine of some sort has gone through and packed the snow down for you. When you are first beginning you really want to try it on groomed trails.

Equipment (Including Safety)

Cross country skiing is a sport that does not require a lot of equipment. When you are first beginning the sport a pair of recreational or touring skis is best. You can choose waxless or waxable skis. With waxable skis you will need to apply wax to the bottom of the skis. The wax helps the skis to grip the snow which helps you move forward. The skis you select must be tailored to your weight and size. The professionals at stores that sell cross country ski equipment will help you to choose the perfect skis for you. It is a good idea for both waxable and waxless skis to have glide wax applied to them before bringing them home. Some stores will initially do this for free if you are purchasing a ski package. Boots and bindings are also essential to cross country skiing. Look for comfortable boots made for classic cross country skiing. The boots will determine the bindings you will need for your skis. These will be installed onto your skis by the store at sometimes no cost to you when you purchase a package. Finally you will need poles that come to your armpit or slightly higher. Again the professional at the store will help you to determine the proper length of your poles for you.

Getting Started (Gliding/Sliding Across Snow)

Gliding across the snow on a flat terrain is a fun and basic movement used for cross country skiing. Yet the first thing you need to do before you can learn this move is to simply get used to standing and balancing on your skis. Once you can do this without falling you will then learn how to fall down and how to get back up to a standing position. You might fall many times while you are learning to ski and you need to be able to get yourself back up if you do. Once you have learned these things then you are ready for gliding. You want to learn this technique on a very flat surface because going up and down hills is more challenging to learn. You want to push forward with one leg which allows you to then glide on the other leg. Next you alternate your pushing and gliding legs. The pushing leg becomes the gliding leg while the gliding leg becomes the pushing leg.


Learning to turn on cross country skis is best done while going slightly downhill in order for gravity to provide you with some assistance. Once you have the momentum then you must steer your skis into the direction you want them to go. The basic turn is accomplished by slightly pressing on the opposite ski of the direction you are turning toward. Next you lean your body a little bit into the direction you are turning in order to help move your skis. There are also other kinds of turns that are more aggressive, but this is the type of turn to learn first.

Going Up Hills

There are several different techniques that you can use to go up a hill while cross country skiing. A simple method to learn is the side-step. Begin by moving your skis so they become perpendicular to the hill that you want to go up. Next lift up your upper ski (the one that is closest to the top of the hill) and move it up one step toward the hill's top. Next step up with the bottom ski so it is once again next to the upper ski. Continue to step up the hill using one ski at a time until you reach the top. Another climbing method is referred to as the herringbone. This is a more difficult technique to learn. You begin by facing the hill. You will be forming the letter "V" with your skis as you climb with the wide or open part facing the top of the hill. Begin by moving your right ski up the hill at about a 30 to 45 degree angle and put your weight on it. Next do the same thing with your left ski. Bring it forward at the same angle as the right ski and shift your weight to that ski. It helps to dig into the snow slightly with the inside of your skis when your weight is on them. Continue to alternate skis until you reach the top of the hill.

Going Down Hills/The Wedge

The best way for a beginner to go down a hill on cross country skis (hopefully without falling) is to use the wedge (also referred to as the snowplow). Begin by forming the letter "V" with your skis which are pointing down the hill (you are at the top of the hill). In this instance the point of your "V" is closest to the bottom of the hill. As you go down the hill dig slightly into the snow with the inside edge of your skis. The bigger or wider your letter "V" the slower you will move. If you want to go faster you bring your skis closer together.

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