Cross Country Skiing
October 6, 2005 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Sure it was 80 degrees yesterday, but I'm looking for advice for the first time cross country skier.

I've never been cross country skiing before, but since I live near some trails and would like to stay fit during the winter, I was thinking of giving it a shot. Is it possible to learn on your own? What should I look for when buying skies? Other advice?
posted by dial-tone to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

It's definitely possible to learn on your own. It's not as filled with possible peril as alpine/downhill skiing. (Do you have downhill skiing experience?)

I would rent skiis first. I don't know much about buying them, except that the boots should feel comfortable on your feet and that the release mechanism is set so it's sensitive enough to pop when your foot twists too much but not so sensitive that your ski is always falling off.

I would suggest starting with a relatively flat trail, just so you can get used to the feeling. If you have downhill skiing experience, it will feel a little weird. I had the most trouble with learning how to stop once I got going on little hills. Fortunately, if you fall, you just fall down and don't keep sliding.
posted by nekton at 8:30 AM on October 6, 2005

Do it right the first time -- start with the skating style. Old style cross country skiing that looks like walking is just boring (I hated CCS before I trying the skating style.)

New surface technology made the cross country skating skies shorter than they were 10 years ago. Don't forget that waxing appropriately (like using a wax designed for the current snow temperature) is super important.

Advice on the skating style: lower your butt when you go uphill, that's about all there is to know.

Get water proof boots, and if you're renting, rent the latest and greatest. Dress light, because CCS is just like jogging and you'll get warm rapidely.
posted by NewBornHippy at 9:55 AM on October 6, 2005

that the release mechanism is set so it's sensitive enough to pop when your foot twists too much but not so sensitive that your ski is always falling off.

I've never heard of stress driven release mechanism for CCS bindings, but why not. I don't think it's really necessary. The connection from the boot to the ski is a hinge, and if you fall, your foot will be able to freely assume the position it wants to assume and unlike downhill equipment, nothing in the upper part of you leg will have to give way.

I had the most trouble with learning how to stop once I got going on little hills.

The skating style equipment has a nice heel retention mechanism -- if you want to go downhill without your heel getting out, it works. If you need to take you heel out, just lift it up a bit and it pops out.

For downhill control, assume the pizza position and push down on your heel -- you'll probably won't even slide if you do it right.

Drink plenty of water before and during the exercise. Also: CCS is an outdoor activity -- keep an eye on the weather, always use the maps of the trail and laminate them because when it's snowing, your map will disintegrate in no time if not protected. Always tell people where you go, ski with a buddy and take a two way radio with you, enquire which chanel is being monitored for emergencies (usuall the 9.11 one.)

Have fun!
posted by NewBornHippy at 10:06 AM on October 6, 2005

Most x-country skis I've seen have no release mechanism. Rent at first. Be prepared to be very tired -- x-country skiing is a workout unlike any you've probably ever had (I tried it for the first time in my early 20s, I was very fit, and it wore me right the hell out. My whole body was sore for a few days).

If you are brave you can learn to "cross country" ski downhill: it's called telemark skiing. Although beefier skis are generally the norm for that, I've taken regular, back-country touring skis to Vail on the ski lifts. Wax-less skis are convenient, although I believe wax-able skis works slightly better.

It is not all that hard. You can buy several useful books. The first time I went I signed up for a class with the Colorado Mountain Club, which lasted for a day and taught me all I needed to know. In the CO Rockies there are several little x-ski places where they have groomed tracks and you can take lessons.

X-skiing on regular trails and through powder is very different than skiing at the groomed trail places. It's more work, and more like hiking.

Make sure where you go is not prone to avalanche problems. If it is, learn about that first.
posted by teece at 10:45 AM on October 6, 2005

Cross country skiing is one of the best aerobic exercises that you can do, and subsequently one of the most taxing, especially if you are at high altitudes. I consider myself to be aerobically fit (I do serious road biking near San Francisco) and the x-country skiing kicks my ass every time (at 7000+ feet of altitude in the Sierras). I learned the art at the ripe age of five but I’ve seen many people rise to proficiency without lessons in only a few days. But then again, I still take a lesson every once in a while to improve my techniques. They have always been helpful.

NewBornHippy is right at least in the sense that skating style x-country is more fun, but it also takes 30% more energy to do: higher speeds + more arms + dormant muscle groups (for the average city person) = serious aerobic work. Make absolute sure that you are well hydrated and be certain to bring high calorie energy foods and drinks whichever style you choose. In case you were wondering, x-country traditional is done in the tracks with long strides and gliding, while x-country skating is more like rollerblading as you push laterally for power. Skating style also requires longer poles and skis, as you tend to lean forward and push off a bit more. Groomed trails are essential for either style – gliding is nearly impossible in fresh powder and it’s too easy to just plain sink.

If it as all an option, go with a friend who is about your level of fitness so that you can push each other (mental toughness is a big barrier for me), with the added benefit that in the event of an emergency you always will have a crutch. I almost always find that I bring too many warm clothes and have to shed after about 5 minutes, but better safe than sorry.

In terms of equipment, I’ve found that shoes are the most important piece and can make the difference between a success and a totally failure. Being 30 minutes away from home with raw blisters on you foot, and being in a state of total exhaustion are not a good combination. Wax is important if you’re going for speed and efficiency, but it also makes for looser control when all is said and done. Solomon and Fischer are the main brands one of which is known for having narrow shoe fits while the other almost always has a wider fit (sorry I can’t remember which is which). Don’t forget sunscreen/ sunglasses and just have a fun!
posted by |n$eCur3 at 12:53 PM on October 6, 2005

Rent skis the first time, and get the shop to wax them for you. If the skis collect snow underneath, it's extremely boring, and likewise if they don't give an adequate grip.
posted by springload at 1:24 PM on October 6, 2005

-You might want to look into buying skis that can be used for both classical and skate skiing. I can't remember the name, but if you go to a ski store they'll know what you're talking about. I like skate skiing more than classical, but it's nice to be able to do both.

-I'm gonna repeat the water thing...get a water bottle belt. You can usually find them from outdoorsy type stores, and some have little fanny pack things so you could store other essentials (power bars, keys, whatever).

-Dress in layers!! You will get so warm, so fast. could probably get by without 'em, but I think it would be good to take a couple. It will make the whole experience a lot better if you have some idea of what you're doing.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 5:55 PM on October 6, 2005

Rent, definitely.....Take a class; our city recreation department has them, or ask wherever you rent skis.....I struggled with several aspects of XC until I read The Cross Country Primer. (To go uphill: keep your eyes on the top of the hill and step forward -up- the hill (resist the urge to step kinda diagonally (here i go nesting parentheticals again)).)
posted by neuron at 1:00 AM on October 7, 2005

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