Cross-country Skiing Is This Winter's Hottest Sport — Here's How to Get Started
The pandemic has enabled us to rethink our routines and find new ways to be active. From Peloton bike shortages, to brick-and-mortar workout classes finding new homes on Zoom, to just getting more time outdoors, the activities that used to be reserved for mornings, nights, and weekends have proliferated in lieu of having to commute to work.
As winter approaches, my caution to you is this: Don't get left out in the cold, get into cross-country skiing now. Do not delay, do not not pass GO, do not collect $200 — proceed immediately to your nearest ski shop or sporting goods dealer, and get your gear before it's too late. You do not need to live near a mountain to cross-country ski, you just need snow, which makes almost half of these United States eligible. The Cross Country Ski Areas Association, the authority on all things cross-country skiing, is planning for a whopping increase in sales this year, and most industry insiders believe that by Dec. 15, you won't be able to buy a pair of XC skis.
So, to everyone who missed out on getting the road bike, mountain bike, kayak, hiking boot, or yoga bolster that sold out amid the pandemic, heed my warning and get into this naturally socially distant sport now. It is with this in mind that I've prepared a cross-country skiing primer for you.
The History of Cross-country Skiing
For centuries, across snow-covered areas of northern Europe, Scandinavia, and Siberia, skis were required to traverse isolated villages where inhabitants had to hunt, gather, and survive. In fact the word "ski" comes from the Old Norse word, "skid," meaning a split length of wood. Skiing for sport appeared in Norway in the mid 19th century with the first race ever recorded in 1842. The men's event was one of the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France with women's competition debuting in the 1952 Oslo games.
Cross-country Skiing Vocabulary — What You Need to Know
- Cross-country skiing is also known as Nordic skiing or XC skiing.
- Classic track trails are the two-groove track groomed into the snow for 'classic' style cross-country skiing. Think of the grooves like bumpers on a bowling alley — they prevent your skis from crossing and make for an easier experience.
- No-wax skis are modern XC skis with micro-texture bottoms that help the ski grip the snow and propel you forward.
- Cross-country skiing styles:
- Classic XC: If you are truly a beginner and not already a downhill skier, the best way to get going is on classic touring skis. These skis are very stable, perform well, are price efficient, and will last you many years.
- Skate XC: If you are already a skier and are looking for a new challenge, skate skiing may be more your speed. These skis are light, fast, and more conducive to a better workout. Skate skis move best when on a groomed 'corduroy' surface with a motion downhill skiers will be familiar with.
What to Know Before Your First Cross-country Skiing Adventure
- Skis: Whether you are familiar with skiing or not, the first thing you will notice is how thin cross-country skis are. Unlike downhill skis, these are designed for mainly flat surfaces, slight inclines, and small hills. Therefore, your equipment doesn't have to be as wide (XC skis are usually 50% the width of their downhill counterparts) and do not require a parabolic curve needed for high speed carving and maneuvering.
- The boots: XC boots come in a variety of shapes and styles but most are soft "shell," insulated with laces hidden under a zipper to prevent moisture from getting in. These are then clipped into your binding at the toe, while remaining detached at the heel (similar to telemark boots) to allow for forward momentum and light turning.
- Clothing: You don't want to be seen on a XC trail wearing your usual ski garb. XC demands lighter, more flexible designs to maximize comfort. Apparel is similar to what you'd wear while running — or even practicing yoga — in the cold.
Top Cross-country Ski Experiences in North America
Three Forks Ranch, Savery, Wyoming
From the Mayo Clinic certified wellness staff, to the 200,000 acres of snow-draped terrain, world-class cooking school, and 6,000-square-foot spa, Three Forks Ranch, located 40 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado (on the Colorado/Wyoming border) is one of winter's best kept secrets.
All-inclusive winter rates start at $1,695/night per person for a deluxe guestroom.
The Lodge at Blue Sky, Park City, Utah
Located just outside of Park City, this Auberge Resorts Collection property just opened in late 2019. The property features 25 miles of XC trails alone, and if that isn't enough for you, the helpful staff will shuttle you over to the White Pine Nordic Center (located on the Park City Golf Course) where another 12 miles of stellar terrain await. They feature full guided experiences and the latest gear to make sure you have everything you need.
Winter rates start as $900/night.
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada
One of the top nordic centers on the planet, Canmore, located 75 minutes west of Calgary and just seven miles outside of the gates of world-renowned Banff National Park is one of the hallowed grounds of Nordic skiing. The skier's enclave features more than 40 miles of groomed trails, illuminated trails for night skiing, and plenty of facilities for all levels of skier.
Day passes start at $15/day.
Vista Verde Guest Ranch, Clark, Colorado
Located 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Vista Verde is an all-inclusive guest ranch with guest counts strictly capped at 50 providing for an ideal 1:1 staff ratio. The ranch features about 10 miles of groomed trails ideal for groomed and skate XC skiing styles. Slide and glide through open meadows, creeks, and aspen glades.
Scarp Ridge Lodge, Eleven Experience, Crested Butte, Colorado
Eleven Experience's flagship property delivers everything one could ask for in a high-end ski trip: authenticity, privacy, luxury, history, and of course, access to some of the world's most exclusive fresh powder. Eleven's motto is famously "no down days," and when it comes to cross-country skiing, you have access to more than 30 miles of trails in the heart of the Elk Mountains.
Winter lodge buyouts start at $15,700/night (for up to 10 guests).
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, Montana
Situated on 6,600 acres of pristine Montana wilderness, this rustic Relais & Châteaux property includes a wide variety of accommodations from luxe glamping cabins to elegant homes.
Every winter, summer hiking trails transform into more than 20 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. The Ranch is the only five-star guest ranch in the state of Montana.
All-inclusive winter rates start at $1,800/night.
Owl Creek, Aspen, Colorado
One of Aspen's most scenic trails, the Owl Creek trail connects Aspen to Snowmass and is the home of the famous Owl Creek Chase. This trail boasts challenging climbs and steep descents alongside incredible views of Independence Pass.
Your Head-to-Toe Cross-country Skiing Gear Guide
What fun is getting into a new sport if you don't get to buy a new outfit? Below you'll find a head-to-toe gear guide with apparel for both men and women — and, of course, our top choices for new skis and boots.
Rudy Project Tralyx
Redefining sports eyewear since 2016, the Tralyx is lightweight, ergonomic, and features an interchangeable lens.
To buy: $249, rudyprojectna.com
Men's Merino 260 Tech Long Sleeve Half Zip Thermal Top
A warmer, midweight version of their best-selling Oasis, the 260 Half Zip is one of the only pieces you need for winter layering, made with 100% merino wool.
To buy: $125, icebreaker.com
Men's BodyfitZone Merino 260 Zone Thermal Leggings
These are the perfect technical leggings featuring zoned ventilation panels for active temperature regulation and breathability.
To buy: $130, icebreaker.com
Upper Body Outerwear
Women's Craft Glide Hood Jacket
As perfect for zipping through Aspen groves as it is for picking up kids from ski school, the Glide Hood Jacket is ideal for almost every winter condition.
To buy: $125, craftsports.us
Men's Shadow Insulated Hoodie
No matter your plans, the Shadow Insulated Hoodie is there to give you reliable warmth. It's technical enough to take up a mountain, yet stylish enough to hold its own, and comes complete with an adjustable hood, drawcord hem, and pockets to keep your hands toasty.
To buy: $199, outdoorresearch.com
Auclair Stellar 3 Finger Gloves
Ideal for XC skiing, but also for snowshoeing, and fat biking, the Stellar features a laminated back-of-hand wind barrier and strategic padding for grip and comfort.
To buy: $63, auclair.com
Swix Quantum 3
The Quantum 3 has no peer for racers or beginners alike, plus it looks amazing and offers perfect stiffness and dynamic weight transfer.
To buy: $155, swixsport.com
Lower Body Outerwear
Swix Horizon Pant
These pants have the ideal fit for cold-weather training, with both ventilated wind and water resistance.
To buy: $160, swixsport.com
Alpina Pro Classic
Both models for men and women are designed for classic skiers demanding performance (but are also available in skate versions). New for this winter, both models feature Alpina's soft-shell upper which offers first-of-its-kind waterproofness and warmth with reduced weight from previous generations as well. Additionally, the uppers are NON-PVC in their design, so at the end of their life, they are easier on the environment.
To buy: $475, alpinasports.com
Fischer - Speedmax 3D Classic Plus 902 Soft
Ideal for almost every condition and preferred by pros and amateurs alike, the Gliding Sidewall construction makes for a smooth surface ensuring the reduction of friction for improved performance.
To buy: $800, fischersports.com