If there was something you could do this weekend that would get you out of the house, and make you feel better physically and mentally, would you do it? For many of us, the answer is yes, so we’re pulling those old cobweb-covered cross-country skis out of the closet.
“Cross-country skiing is a great pandemic activity … with skis that are almost 6 feet long, it is actually challenging to get close to anyone else!” says Reese Brown of the Cross-Country Ski Areas Association (xcski.org), based in Woodstock, Vt. “Additionally, the trails are wide and there are few choke points, allowing skiers to keep their distance while on the trails.” Many skiers have their own equipment and buy passes online, allowing them to go directly from the parking lot to the trails, with no need to go inside. “There are no lifts and no lift lines to stand in, just wide-open trails,” he adds.
In the winter playground of Stowe, the venerable Trapp Family Lodge is seeing increased interest in the sport this winter. “Season pass sales and equipment sales are up significantly, but day visits are down due to pandemic travel restrictions,” says Sam von Trapp. [Note: Check current restrictions before you travel.] Like many ski areas, Trapp Family Lodge has made some adjustments to its Outdoor Center this season, spreading rental equipment over three locations to decrease congestion indoors, installing a new ventilation system, and adding outdoor restroom facilities and an outdoor waxing shed. On the fun side of things, “our Slayton Pasture Cabin has a new fire pit where you can get warm while eating take-out food, and people can book time slots to have the entire cabin to themselves,” von Trapp notes. There’s even a “Cabin Keeper” concierge who will serve food from the lodge’s restaurant. But the real draw is the same as ever, even if skiers are now wearing masks: 65 kilometers of ski trails, with the Green Mountains as a backdrop.
Since gym-going isn’t an option for many of us, outdoor sports are the way to go if you want to stay fit, or at least avoid the dreaded “Quarantine 15.” Cross-country skiing works several large-muscle groups at once, experts say. It’s a great, low-impact cardio workout, improving heart health, and it burns calories. During an hour of cross-country skiing, a 190-pound person will burn about 700 calories, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
And, as numerous studies show, being outdoors surrounded by beautiful nature is a boon to mental health. There’s even a meditative aspect of the sport, in the repetitive movements of kicking, gliding, and focusing on the stretch of trail ahead of you.
You might not feel a “runner’s high,” but gliding on skis brings a wonderful, free feeling that could well get you hooked on the sport. As von Trapp says, “The rush of sliding on snow is pretty awesome!”
Skinny ski strategies
Whether you’ve cross-country skied before, or are a wannabe first-timer, there are a couple of things to know: Because of the pandemic, group lessons aren’t available at most cross-country ski areas (private and pod-size lessons are offered at some), and many places offer online sales for trail passes, to reduce time indoors. Also, although more people are going cross-country skiing this year, “it’s not up to the level that is creating crowds at ski areas,” Brown says.
More good news: those old skis may work just fine, but you should probably bring them to a ski shop for a quick inspection and some fresh wax. If your ski gear is really old, dating back to the original, not the remake of, “Saved by the Bell,” you might consider buying a fresh set. “Ski technology has improved [a lot] over the past couple of decades, and shorter skis, the newer option, provide a more user-friendly experience,” von Trapp says. If you don’t have ski gear, or want to try out newer skis, many Nordic areas will rent you equipment.
If you’re a never-ever, consider that cross-country skiing is fun and easy to learn. It uses natural movements, and has a short learning curve, Brown says. Taking an introductory lesson will help you progress faster and avoid injury. You’ll learn valuable things, like how to go up a hill, navigate turns, and do a “dead bug,” a useful maneuver for getting up from a fall. “Being coached by a professional instructor will give you the skills you need for a lifetime of fun,” Brown says. You can be gliding through a gorgeous, snow-covered landscape in no time.
Compared to downhill skiing, cross-country skiing is budget-friendly. Renting or buying gear doesn’t require a major outlay of cash, and trail fees are low — typically around $20-something per person for a trail pass in our region, with discounts for children and seniors, and some weekday deals.
Groomed vs. non-groomed trails
Groomed trails are created when a groomer carves a hip-width double track in the snow. Those tracks keep your skis straight, and help guide you around turns, making them easier for newbies to navigate. The advantage of ungroomed trails is, they’re everywhere, assuming there’s adequate snow cover. Local golf courses (avoid the greens) and parks are skinny-ski hot spots. Ungroomed trails require more balance. If you plan to ski on mostly ungroomed trails and are in the market for skis, consider buying wider ones to aid your stability.
Skate skiing vs. classic skiing
A mash-up of Nordic skiing and ice skating, the sport of skate skiing picked up speed in the 1980s. Most people learn the classic technique first; it’s easier to pick up because it is similar to walking and running. Skiers use a diagonal stride with a kick-and-glide motion. Skate skiing mimics the fluid, side-to-side motion of ice skating. With this technique, skiers use the inside edge of the skis, and use both poles at the same time. Once you get good at it, you can go really fast. Skate skiers use wide, groomed tracks, and the equipment is different: the skis are stiffer, the poles are longer, and the boots are more supportive. Most ski areas welcome both types of skiers, and groom trails for both styles of skiing.
The bottom line: Given what looks like a snowy winter, this is a great year to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with this sport. “One of the silver linings of this pandemic is the increased interest in self-powered sports in nature,” von Trapp says. “There’s no better option than cross-country skiing.”
For more about this sport: Visit thenordicapproach.com, a new online cross-country ski lifestyle magazine. The site includes “How to cross-country ski” tips and videos.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org