Cross Country Skiing for Beginners

Sunday, January 6, 2013
by jsalvo

Three years ago Adam and I decided to purchase cross country skis.  I had never skied before and Adam did downhill skiing during his childhood.  After weighing pros and cons between Classic and Skate style skis, we decided to take the plunge and try out skate skiing.  I’ve skate skied for two seasons now (last year we didn’t have much snow so I didn’t get out) and I still consider myself a beginner.

I’ve compiled a list of things to consider when deciding between classic and skate skiing.  This list is based on my personal opinion and is subject to debate, there is never one right or wrong option.

  • Physical Fitness Level:  What is your personal fitness level?  If your fitness level is fairly low, you will probably find classic skiing easier to start.  I personally find skate skiing to be more physically demanding and challenging than classic.  That said, classic skiing is also a high intensity workout and requires a reasonable level of fitness.
  • Athletic Ability:   You’ll also want to consider your personal level of athletic ability.  Have you ever skied before?  Are you able to learn new sports or athletic skills quickly?  Adam skied during his childhood and has a high level of athletic ability and fitness;  for him, learning skate skiing was easy and he even participated in some local races during his first season.  I had never skied before but consider myself to be reasonably fit; I find skate skiing very challenging and at this point still consider my skill level very basic.
  • Time Commitment:  How often do you think you’ll be able to ski?  Do you see yourself going out a once or twice a month or a few times each season.  Learning the technique of cross country skiing in general takes time and repetition, although I do find it easier to get going on classic skis (even if technique isn’t good).  If you see yourself only getting out once or twice during a season, classic skiing may be the best option for you.
  • Trail Access:  You’ll also want to consider what groomed trails are accessible to you.  Classic skis and skate skis require different grooming.  Skate skiing is generally done on wide trails while classic skiing is done with skis placed in tracks.  The motion of skate skiing is a V-shaped glide while classic skiing is a forwards-backwards motion.
  • Cost:  I haven’t investigated the cost of classic skis vs. skate skis recently, but from what I recall, I believe that a pair of classic skis and skate skis of similar quality will cost roughly the same.
  • Enjoyment:  Most important is your personal satisfaction.  I suggest trying out both classic and skate skiing if possible before purchasing your own skis.  If you enjoy one considerably more than the other, then your decision may be easy!

Once you’ve made a decision between classic and skate skis (or both!), the next step is to select your equipment.  I highly recommend purchasing the best quality skis, boots and poles you can afford.   You’ll experience more satisfaction skiing if your equipment is good quality.  If you need to stay within a specified budget, you’ll also want to factor the cost of additional equipment such as snow pants, gloves, socks, etc.

The following is a list of equipment I use for cross country skiing:

  • Skis and Poles
  • Boots (that are compatible with your skis).
  • Coat/Jacket – You probably won’t need a very heavy jacket as you will warm up during skiing.  I suggest going to your local ski/athletic store to see what jackets they recommend for cross country skiing and to try them on for size and comfort.
  • Shirts – I wear an Under Armour style shirt to wick the moisture away and a long sleeve tee shirt over the Under Armour.  I highly recommend layering so you can make adjustments as needed.
  • Wool socks – I personally like wool socks and there’s lots of good options available.  Again, I suggest going to your local ski/athletic store to explore the options.
  • Gloves – I own a pair of split finger gloves by Craft with a removable liner that I really like.
  • Pants – If you are new to cross country skiing, you should expect to fall a few times.  I wear waterproof snow pants over a pair of CW-X tights as I generally fall once or twice each outing.
  • Hat – I wear a balaclava face mask made of wicking material to protect my head and face from the elements.
  • Water bottle – It’s always a good idea to bring a water bottle along so you have access to water during breaks.

I also recommend taking a few lessons if possible so you start off with proper technique.  Bad habits are hard to break – it is worth the time and money to learn the correct technique from the start.

Happy Skiing!


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