This ancient sport is one of the best forms of exercise you'll ever find. The full body movements of cross-country skiing, working both arms and legs, will get your heart pumping without any of the impact that harms knees and other joints. Not only is cross-country skiing terrific exercise, it's also a great way to glide across a snow-covered landscape. On your long Nordic skis, you'll be the master of snowy fields and trails, no matter how deep the drifts.
Cross-country, or Nordic, skiing is easy to pick up, but it does take a little getting used to. Nordic skis are longer than downhill skis, to better spread the skier's weight across the snow. This makes them effective as skis, but challenging for anyone trying to turn or pivot. The best way to use your cross-country skis, then, is to travel in a straight line whenever possible.
Your cross-country skis will be equipped with bindings that clip onto your ski boots, but unlike downhill skis, these don't pop free when you fall down. Also, they're only affixed at the toe, leaving your heel free to move. When you start skiing, begin by pushing one foot forward. Transfer your weight onto that foot and slide your other foot forward. This glide-and-slide motion is the basis of cross-country skiing. It's a little like shuffling around the house in slippers that are too big, and it can take some time before it feels comfortable. The good news is that you can make progress and move down the trail even while you're learning and perfecting your technique. Unlike downhill skiing, this really is a sport you can pick up within minutes.
Your ski gear will also come with poles. As you get used to your sliding foot motion, you'll soon see how you can use the poles to push yourself forward. They also help you keep your balance as you're learning. When you become a proficient skier, you can learn new techniques like skate-skiing that will let you fly across the snow.
Making a turn in cross-country skis can be tricky. For beginners, it's best to come to a full stop and angle your skis to the side, step by step, taking baby steps until you make a full turn. Try not to step on one ski with the other -- you're most likely to fall down if you get your skis tangled. As you progress in your skills, you'll learn to use your poles to make a jump turn that will spin your skis in one quick motion.
How do you go uphill on skis? On cross-country skis, you have three options. First, you may have skis with 'fish-scale' type material on the bottom. With these skis, you can ski straight up small slopes easily. If you find yourself slipping, however, you'll need to use either the side-step or herringbone technique. The side-step is a beginner's move, but it comes in handy in a pinch. Pivot your skis and turn so that they're perpendicular to the slope you want to climb. Move your uphill ski up one step, then move your downhill ski up until it's next to the other ski. Keep 'stepping' until you climb the whole hill.
The herringbone technique is far more advanced. You'll see Nordic skiiers using this method in the Olympics and other races. To perform the herringbone, stand facing the hill. Lift your right ski and place it in front of you, turned out about 30 or 45 degrees. Shift your weight to this ski. Lift your left ski and bring it forward, turning it out 30 or 45 degrees. Keep moving like this, with your feet turned out like a duck's. The angle will keep you from slipping back down the hill. Use your poles to keep your balance and move as quickly as you can.
Cross-country skiing will give you an amazing work-out. But the beauty of it is that you can go at your own pace, resting whenever you like. It feels less intense than it is! Just remember to dress in layers, so you can cool down as you warm up.