Going with the flow... | Posted: 13 October 2016

I could never understand the appeal of cross-country skiing. Until I tried it, that is. Now I’m hooked!

If I’m honest, I'd always had the impression that it all looked a bit like hard work. I mean, I love walking in the mountains, and I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of downhill skiing over the years (the adrenaline rush; the grin-inducing gravitational pull of snowy slopes).

Northern Lights breaks in Norway

So why make things difficult and ski on the flat – or even uphill? (Isn’t that what the lifts are for?)

But I needn’t have worried: the specially designed skis – as well as the unexpectedly comfy, soft-style boots – made it all seem so easy. A couple of lessons and I was away, eating up the kilometres and smiling at my fellow langlaufers with barely disguised glee.

Cross-country skiing, you see, is self-propelled (no lifts or tows) and takes place generally on relatively flat valley floors. The main style, ‘classic’ (which is what I learned during my trip to Norway) is done on prepared tracks, with two grooves cut into the snow for the skis to run in.

Northern Lights breaks in Norway

The skis are very thin and light, and attached to a lightweight flexible boot at the toe. To go forwards, you simply stride ahead, to walk or run on your skis. Traction is gained by either a grippy texture, like fish-scales, on the bottom of the skis, or by applying a ‘grip’ wax to the bottom of the ski, which allows it to slide forward and then grip the snow when weight is applied to the ski.

So, by exerting a completely natural pressure – by transferring weight, as if ‘walking on snow’ – from one ski to the other, you can master the art of “kick and glide” in hours, if not minutes! Stopping is another important (and generally neglected) part of classic skiing that I soon became familiar with.

Northern Lights breaks in Norway

The terrain is generally not steep so you rely on gliding gently to a halt, on the flat. A half snow-plough can be performed (useful on the more sporting downhill bends of certain tracks), where you lift one ski from its groove and apply it to the surface of the snow at an angle to the direction of travel, pointing your toe inwards and your heel out. This is definitely worth practising before you need it!

And once you get used to the classic style, there are various other types of cross-country that you can get to enjoy, too. Skate skiing is a more recent discipline, performed on a compacted track with no grooves, with slightly shorter skis which are waxed only for gliding performance rather than propulsion.

Northern Lights breaks in Norway

Forward movement is created by skating, just as you would on ice, but with the added complication of long skis waggling about at the end of your feet. It was experimented with throughout the 20th century, but was established as a separate branch of the sport after racers used the technique in the 70s and 80s, as it proved much quicker.

I would add, though, that you should really get to grips with classic before attempting skate skiing; not only is the technique much easier, but it can be performed at a gentler pace as well. On most terrain and under most conditions, skate skiing is much more like a brisk run than a jog (especially if your technique is not the best), whereas classic can be enjoyed at no greater level of output than a walk if that suits your mood.

Northern Lights breaks in Norway

While cross-country – classic or skating – is what you do when not downhill skiing in Alpine resorts (and all over Scandinavia), I also discovered that the Norwegians and Swedes have a further variant using slightly heavier equipment to make multi-day tours, using huts to stay overnight.

This Nordic touring is essentially the winter equivalent of summer walking, and this, I am assured, is an absolutely fantastic way to spend a few days. None of this should be confused with ski touring, though (also known at its most extreme as ski mountaineering). This is done on Alpine ski equipment with special boots and bindings, which in essence involves climbing up mountains on skis before skiing down them.

Northern Lights breaks in Norway

It’s not the kind of thing Inntravel will be introducing any time soon!

But, for now, I’m just glad I gave cross-country skiing a try. It has opened up a whole new world to me; and, far from being the long, hard slog I had anticipated, it has proven to be immensely rewarding and surprisingly easy to get to grips with. The key is a delicious efficiency of movement, and once mastered, the effect is exhilarating – hypnotic, even – and enormously good fun.

And uphill? Well, try it yourself: there’s magic in those skis, I swear!

Further Information

Try it for yourself…

You could try out cross-country skiing at nearly all of our carefully chosen villages in the Alps or Scandinavia, but our specially designed 'Try It Out Weeks' at four of our top locations – Kandersteg in Switzerland, Pertisau in Austria, Beitostølen in Norway and Ylläs in Finland – are ideal for first-timers. With equipment and top-quality instruction provided, all you need do is listen – and go with the flow..

More about our Try It Out cross-country skiing holidays >

Allan Carter
Like Steve I had never tried Cross Country Skiing. That was until Tony invited me to go to Seefeld with him. That was back in the 1980s. On the second day of skiing Tony said that he had booked for an extra day's lessons and that I should go to. That extra day we were up early, caught the coach round towards Ehrwald, up on a gondola with the rest of the ski school & tutors. An early lunch (at 10.15?) and then on skis over the col into the Gaistal. It started to get more magical when I realised that we were skiing off-piste, past the Zugspitze. All too soon we had reached civilisation and the pares ski coffee and cream cake!! I found out later that that was a BLACK RUN. Yes I have been to other resorts and completed the Engadin SkiMarathon. OK I didn't win, but did beat my estimated time by almost an hour. After undergoing a 6 hour operation a couple of years ago I want to try XC once again.
15/10/2016 11:59:25

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