Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners
Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, is the precursor to downhill skiing and snowboarding. The sport originally was a method of winter transportation. Now that we have other ways to get around, cross-country skiing has become a popular recreational sport. Nordic skiers travel across the terrain rather than only traveling downhill and this opens many options for places to ski and enjoy the winter weather. There are many forms of cross-country skiing ranging from skiing on maintained trails to competitive cross-country skiing and even backcountry skiing. Cross-country skiing is easier to pick up than downhill, and to make it even more appealing keep in mind that the sport is one of the best forms of aerobic exercise.
Before you begin cross-country skiing you will need a few things. You need boots, skis with attached bindings, and poles. Cross-country skis come in a variety of sizes. Performance skis are not as wide and can be fit to the size of the skier. Beginners’ skis are wider and can have a waxed bottom, but most have a patterned material on the bottom to provide grip. Nordic skis are longer than downhill skis; this spreads your weight across the snow more effectively. The added length will take some time to get used to and it makes turning more difficult.
Your boots will clip into the bindings attached to your skis, but unlike downhill skis, only your toe will be clipped in. Your heal remains free, allowing some movement in your foot. Also, your boot will not pop out of its bindings when you fall, like they do with downhill skis. Another important piece of gear are your poles. The poles help maintain balance, and when used by an experienced skier they can provide added speed. Expert cross-country skiers use longer poles for more speed. A basic pole for an average or beginning cross-country skier should measure tightly at your armpits when standing on the floor.
You also need to remember to dress appropriately when cross-country skiing. Layers are the best option, so you can stay warm in the cold weather, but as you get warmed up from all of the aerobic exercise you can strip off a layer to keep from becoming over-heated.
Once you have your gear you will want to start skiing. Turning and going up hill can be tricky, so start on a relatively straight and flat trail in order to get the basic movement first. As you become more comfortable with the basics, you can start practicing the more complex maneuvers.
When cross-country skiing, you glide across the snow. The first motion you will need to learn is the basic glide-and-slide. Start by pushing one foot forward, transfer your weight onto your forward foot and slide you back foot forward. This movement can take a little time to feel comfortable, but it is the basis for cross-country skiing. As you are learning you will make progress down the trail. Even better cross-country skiing takes much less time to learn than downhill skiing. You can easily pick up the basics of cross-country skiing in a day of practicing. Lessons are not necessary; most people who take lessons do so to perfect their technique.
Turning and Traveling Uphill
Learning to turn is more difficult. If you become tangled in your skis, you will most likely fall down. As a beginner your best option for turning is to come to a full stop, then begin angling your skis to the side in small steps. You can become tangled in your skis if you aren't careful about your steps as you turn. When you become more comfortable with the glide-and-slide and you can complete simple turns, you can use the poles to balance yourself and propel yourself forward. Poles also make turning easier -- in time, you can learn to use your poles to make a jump turn that will spin your skis in one motion.
You will also have to learn to go uphill since not all trails are straight and flat. There are three options for traveling uphill. With skis that have a patterned surface on the bottom you can ski straight up small hills. If you slip, or have to travel up a larger hill, beginners should use the side-step technique. Position yourself and your skis perpendicular to the slope. Move your uphill ski up the hill one step, then move your downhill foot up until it is next to your other ski. With these steps you will gradually proceed up the hill.
As you become more advanced you can learn the herringbone technique. Stand facing the hill, lift one ski, place it in front of you with a 30 to 45 degree pivot out. Shift your weight onto the front foot, then lift your other ski and bring it forward turned out 30 to 45 degrees in the other direction, so your skis make a "v" shape. Continue this pattern all the way up the hill. Keeping your skis turned out will stop you from slipping. Professional skiers use this technique and can travel up hills quite quickly.
You can try all sorts of different and increasingly advanced types of Nordic skiing as you practice and become more experienced. There are many techniques, some will help you move more efficiently, some will help you ski faster. Once you learn to cross-country ski you will have a huge range of recreational opportunities at your fingertips.