Cross-country skiing is an excellent way to stay active during the winter months. The sport is fun, fast-paced, and low-impact, meaning your joints won’t be strained during a day on the trail. Though not quite as fast as its downhill cousin, cross-country skiing is exciting in its own right. However, Nordic and alpine have more in common than the inclusion of skis–both require careful packing and planning for a safe and successful day.
Basic XC gear includes skis (with bindings), boots, and poles. You should always bring a daypack with essential edibles. Unlike Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing can bring athletes several miles away from the launching point. If the area is unfamiliar, you may have trouble locating resources in case of an emergency; to avoid this, pack enough food and water to get you through the day.
To that end, navigating an unfamiliar part of the woods can be difficult—especially if the trails are not clearly marked. To decrease your odds of getting lost, always bring a cell phone and portable charger. If you do not have a smartphone, a GPS will do the trick. Similarly, pack a compass and—if available—a trail or topo map to guide you out of the woods. Protect your eyes from sun and wind with a pair of sunglasses and you’re almost good to go.
If you do find yourself off-trail, you should have the clothing necessary to keep you warm for several hours. It is therefore essential to dress in layers while cross-country skiing. Moving will increase your body temperature, causing you to perpetrate; when you stop, your body temperature will decrease, and excess sweat can become dangerous. Bring enough clothing to be warm when standing still, and be sure to bring a bottle of sunscreen to protect exposed skin from the sun’s rays.
See below for an easy-to-print list of our XC skiing essentials.
We get enough people who use our site to nordic, but are in town for a total outdoor vacation, looking to do some downhill, night skiing, snowshoeing, hot tubbing, hell maybe even ski jumping. Just to save ourselves some emails repeating the same things, we put this together today since it’s slow and we happened to get two non-nordic questions in the same morning.
There are really just two: Strawberry Park and Old Town Hot Springs. Strawberry Park is a Steamboat institution and sometimes tough to reach without 4-wheel drive. Old Town is a more family friendly place. Like a hot tub theme park right in the center of town. Colorado Ski Authority did a write up on Steamboat hot tubbing if you are looking for others.
We like things a bit rougher and remote, and there is plenty of that, but if you are just in for the day and want something special, just check in with the resort. They have good rental prices and some moonlit as well as guided gourmet tours. Not really our thing, but it’s usually a direct hit for most visitors.
There is really just the resort. You can ski Howelsen, which is alright, but doesn’t much stand up to Steamboat. We put in maybe 3-5 powder days a year when it is too good to pass up and too deep to nordic. You probably don’t want to miss night skiing if you haven’t before. Remember that it’s $39 if you buy at the window and $25 if you buy 7 days in advance. Colorado Ski Authority has had some discount passes in the past, but I think that’s all gone now and they don’t offer them thru anyone. CSA does have dome good ski rental discounts though.
We should just say that we hate this as a sport, but respect it as transpo, so we don’t know which trails are best or which machine is better than another, but this joint has a lot of options and we haven’t heard any complaints.
There is pretty much only the Ice Arena at Howelsen, but the killer thing here is that they have ice bumper cars. We have done this more than a few times on more than a few beers or better. It is worth the trip out. Only around $10 to ride. A touch more to skate, but cheaper than a night skiing ticket and way cheaper than a day pass, which is over $150 this year.
Personally, I feel like one of the greatest things about Nordic is that you are stretching while you exercise, so even though it is harder work and WILL make you sore that first time out, you won’t be as sore as you would be with almost any other sport.
However, if you really want to start the season right or come at your first outing with enough to have fun, here are some things I would concentrate on to help build strength in the right areas.
Lunges. This is basically what you are doing all day. There are two types that I prefer. One is the regular lunge where you stick your leg out and have a deep bending walk, hands overhead. The other is the same way, except you put a little jump into it. This works on your explosivity.
Core. You’ll need to keep your core stable in order to drive your legs and your arms. Planks are excellent for this and are extremely efficient at getting your core strong. I also like Russian kicks. You do a regular squat, then you come up on one leg and kick out with the other. It is a real core killer. Really anything that is not a traditional situp is probably pretty good.
Legs. Deadlift, squats, squat presses, which are my favorite. My favorite exercise without any weight is to pretend like you are speed skating. Jump side to side and squat with it. Very excellent to build that thrust work in your thighs.
Here is a pretty decent video on some good exercises for strength training for Nordic. I would take their advice. But you are truly using your whole body, so unless you are just doing bicep curls, then WHATEVER you are doing is going to help you get stronger at skiing or skating.
We all learn a bit differently so we don’t want to force one way or another on anyone. I learned by hacking my way through it and thinking about the Nordic track videos. Then I met a Norwegian who shored up some of my holes and I started to improve rapidly and more importantly, I started to fall in love with the sport. Everyone has their own genesis. I’m fairly athletic and have done a lot of downhill and tend to pick things up quickly, plus I like to wear myself out. If you aren’t exactly like that, then you likely learn differently.
Here are some videos that I just plucked from Youtube that I think will serve nearly all types of learners, athletic levels, and appetites. If you find others that you think are better or should be included, please post them in the comments and I’ll slap it up here.
I don’t favor any particular one of these, but if you are serious about getting good, I would watch all of them to the point where you think “Gah! I know already.” That means it’s soaked in and will likely stay with you when you are out on the track.
Fundamentals of cross country skiing technique
The Elements of Cross-country Skiing: Classic Technique
The Beginner’s Guide to Classic Cross Country Skiing