Golden-Eagle-lake-trail Golden Eagle Cross Country Ski Area

If you get frustrated with reservations, social distancing, and the scene at alpine ski areas this winter, perhaps this is the winter you might want to try cross country skiing.

Yes, it may be slower on the flat terrain, but thrills await you on the downhills. But not so fast – there are some things that downhill skiers should know before donning the skinny skis.

From a positive perspective, getting outdoors, going at your own pace, enjoying and sharing an outing with a friend or family member of any age, and getting some winter exercise are all good reasons for people to try XC skiing. You can have a purpose (fitness or reaching a destination) or a goal (getting out a few times a week, or attaining a number of times on skis a year) with your XC skiing. The sport is known to provide a level of calorie-burning but it also is very helpful to combat various ailments including mental health such as depression and anxiety.’s tips for alpine skiers to have a positive introduction to XC skiing include:

  1. Go to a XC ski area with machine groomed trails (packed with tracks) for a consistent trail condition and introduction to XC. Refrain from starting to XC at the local park, trail, or golf course in your neighborhood.
  2. Use good lightweight rental equipment. Boots should be comfortable and skis should allow good balance. Make sure it is not old equipment because the new gear makes it easier.
  3. Get a few clinics or lessons from a professional instructor. Don’t expect a friend or relative to know how to teach you how to XC ski. Basic skills include weighting one ski at a time, good body position, making the skis glide, and controlling speed when going downhill. They’ll also show you how to hold the poles correctly if the grips have straps, which makes a big difference.
  4. Dress in layers with a synthetic base layer (underwear top and bottom), light gloves (not alpine ski gloves because they are too hot), shirt and overpants, light jacket (not alpine ski jacket and pants). To be prepared bring a bottle of water, headband, heavier gloves, etc.
  5. Go for a ski tour or outing less than 10 kilometers (5 miles) on a nice day (sunny and not too cold), which should be less than 2 hours.

There are some major differences between XC skiing and downhill skiing that include:

Skis are much narrower and the boots offer much less support compared to alpine skis. This requires more reliance on balance and weighting the skis rather than leaning on a big plastic ski boot.

The clothing issues are also significantly different as noted in the above tips. XC skiing creates heat for the skier and you don’t go as fast so there is less wind involved that makes you feel cold. You also do not sit on the chair lift, so less insulation is needed.

On downhills, XC skis require an even weighting technique when snow plowing and it is recommended that you dominate the skis by making sure that weight is distributed to both your heel and the front of your foot. Rolling the ankles inward really helps to push the skis out in the snowplow (weighting the central part of the ski) so it slows down and allows control. Flimsy XC ski boots make this more difficult but stiff boots should allow more control. Twist the boot sole to compare the stiffness of different pairs of boots.

Heading downhill, caution is suggested because on XC skis it is possible to go very fast and you can lose control. In untracked snow, you can burrow into soft snow and fall forward if too much weight is on the toes when snow plowing.

Longer poles have a different purpose in XC skiing as when poling, pushing off the ski poles should provide about 20% of forward momentum. On flat and uphill terrain, the poles are more than a turning cue as in alpine skiing.

The best suggestion is to avoid overdoing it – get some tips, bring some chocolate treats, take in nature and winter scenery, and make it about more than skiing, and it can give you a quality experience and great memories.