How to Start Cross-Country Skiing

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I grew up in Minneapolis, so I can say this for sure: Winter is more bearable when you have something to look forward to. We knew it was going to get dark and cold for five months, so you either embraced the opportunities snow brought—pond hockey, snowmobiles, and skiing—or bought a timeshare in Orlando. As a young kid with poor hand–puck coordination, I was put on skis by my parents. The sport opened up a new side of Minnesota. I could now glide through silent white forests and trek up frozen creeks I’d fished a season before. Here’s how to begin exploring the snow-covered world outside your back door.

1. Where to Start

Visit a cross-country ski center with groomed trails, rent some gear, and try it out. These carved tracks eliminate 90 percent of your worries about sailing off into the woods because they keep your skis pointed forward, says Drew Gelinas, the Nordic ski director at Vermont’s Edson Hill, a lodge near Stowe with more than 15 miles of trails. They also offer lessons, which significantly accelerate your learning.

2. The Varieties

Groomed Trails: They’re like skiing on rails. Using a heavyweight or hydraulic press, a groomer carves a hip-width double track into the snow. Each track measures 70mm wide, enough to accommodate most cross-country skis (except backcountry skis, which are wider). In addition to keeping your skis straight, the tracks guide you around turns.

Backcountry: Anything off a groomed trail counts as backcountry. That means your local golf course (avoid the greens), parks, and frozen lakes in addition to ungroomed trails. Skiing without a set track requires significantly more balance, but wider skis will aid stability.

Skate Skiing: Performed on wide, groomed lanes, this technique mimics the fluid, side-to-side motion of skating. It’s faster but requires stiffer skis, longer poles, more supportive boots—doubling your ski gear—and a hell of a lot more balance. Start with rentals and a lesson.

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