Once a way of traveling on snow, cross-country skiing predates alpine skiing. While it lacks the thrill of racing downhill, it gives you the chance to quietly enjoy snowy woods, fields, parks, and golf courses. You stay warm because you’re exercising. You dress as you would for any winter outing: in layers so that as you warm up, you can shed a layer or two. Carry a day pack or a fanny pack to hold clothes that you shed. Take energy giving snacks, liquid and, if you’re going far, map and compass.
It is sometimes said that cross country skiing is like walking. Although there is some similarity, there are important differences too. Both are based on the diagonal stride-the body’s lateral, swinging gait with opposite hand and foot moving rhythmically: right foot and left hand swing forward simultaneously and then left foot and right hand (get up and walk around; you’ll see how it works). Cross-country skiing adds two other actions: the backward kick and the forward glide between strides.
To try cross-country skiing, you’ll need four pieces of equipment: skis, boots, bindings, and poles. If you don’t own them, rent them from a ski shop or at a cross-country ski area. The skis and poles, usually made of fiberglass or other synthetic, are longer, lighter, and less costly than alpine skis.
The boots are also lighter, somewhat resembling a running shoe or a light hiking boot. They mate with the skis with a binding that holds the toe on the ski and allows the heel to lift free. The free heel gives the skier the ability to propel himself forward with the backward kick.
Here’s how to start skiing. Leave your poles behind for the moment and stand on your skis. Then walk forward. You’ll notice that your hands swing in diagonal stride, keeping you in balance, just like walking.
Now come the differences: as your foot leaves the ground, kick, extending your leg as far back as you can. As you kick with one foot, let your weight shift to the other; that ski will glide over the snow. As the glide slows, bring the first foot forward, glide with it on the snow, and kick with the other. Kick, glide, one side to the other in a smooth, one-two motion.
Now add the poles. As you glide forward on one foot and the opposite arm swings forward, plant the pole in the snow. Push against the pole and as you glide past it, lift it. Repeat, forward and back in easy, pendulum like motions. Extend your arms fully; use the arm swing for balance. Don’t push too hard with your poles-your legs should do most of the work.
Practice the diagonal stride on level or uphill terrain. To ski down a gentle slope, place your skis parallel, bend your knees slightly, and do much the same as you would on alpine skis to turn and stop. Allow plenty of space to stop. Because most cross-country skis lack the steel edges of alpine skis, they won’t bite into the snow. Therefore, when you push your ski tails apart, you’ll need to exert considerable pressure on the skis’ inside edges.
This technique provides a change of pace when you already have momentum, for instance, on a gentle downhill. Extend both arms and plant your poles in the snow. Bend slightly at the knees and waist, then push, gliding forward as you do. Lift the poles as you pass them, swing your arms back, then, as your glide slows, swing your arms forward, straighten up, and plant your poles again.