Cross country skiing is a great way to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the winter landscape and escape the clamour and queues of the pistes. Your cross-country skis can truly take you “away-from-it-all” into a silent world, whether you choose to ski over mountain plains with wide horizons or on forests trails through avenues of trees laden with new-fallen snow.
What equipment do I need to go cross country skiing?
Cross country skis are longer and narrower than downhill skis. They distribute the skier’s weight more evenly over the snow and make it possible to move more smoothly. Usually, skis will be about 2 metres long depending on the height and weight of the skier.
You will also need ski poles, which are longer and usually lighter than downhill poles and have a pointed end to make it easier to penetrate the snow.
Cross country ski boots are also very different from downhill boots, (lighter and much more comfortable!). The binding is fixed only at the toe, leaving the heel free.
Photo: Maurice Strubel
What different cross country skiing techniques are there?
There are basically two techniques, the “classic” technique where you slide one ski in front of the other, or the “skating” technique which, like ice skating, moves you forward in a V-shape. Of these, the classic technique is probably the easiest for beginners.
What’s involved in the classic technique of cross country skiing?
This technique is used when there are prepared trails with grooves that have been cut into the snow. The basic component of this technique is the “diagonal stride”, which is like a combination of running and gliding. This is the basic technique for beginners to move along flat ground, though more experienced skiers can also move uphill in this way. Less experienced skiers can climb inclines using the “herring bone” technique, moving uphill by placing the skies diagonally one after the other (as beginner downhill skiers are taught). When going downhill, assume a tuck position similar to downhill skiing.
Photo: Maurice Strubel
What’s involved in the skating technique of cross country skiing?
For those used to ice skating, this technique may be easier to learn than the classic technique. Skating trails are often made alongside the grooves for classic trails, allowing both kinds of technique to be practised on a particular route.
When skating, the skier pushes one ski outward, with the inside edge of the ski against the snow. It is important to transfer you weight effectively from one ski to the other as you skate along.
Is cross country skiing difficult to learn?
No. Because you are travelling on flat or nearly flat ground for much of the time, cross country skiing does not have the “fear factor” of learning to ski downhill. You may feel unsteady for a while, but most people find that they gain confidence quickly and the efficiency and grace of their technique improves rapidly. It can be difficult to maintain control when going downhill at first, especially in the prepared grooves, but again, most people develop their skills quickly in this area. For the less confident, you can always transfer to the skating track and use a “snowplough” position when going downhill.
One of the great attractions of cross country skiing is that you can make your tour as challenging or as relaxing as you wish, and the sport is ideal for all ages, accessible to anyone in moderately good health. There is no hurry, it is not a race (unless you want it to be!), and if you wish to take your time and ski along slowly through the forest deep in conversation with a friend, then the choice is yours! What’s more, you will be in no danger of being knocked down by a speeding snowboarder coming up behind you!
At the other end of the scale, cross country skiing can be an extremely physical and demanding sport. In fact, it is known as the most demanding of endurance sports, as the movements burn the highest number of calories per hour (making it an effective and fun way to lose weight or stay in shape!). As with swimming and rowing, all the major muscle groups are exercised when cross country skiing.
Is cross country skiing more environmentally friendly than downhill skiing?
Yes, for a number of reasons. There are no pistes, lift systems, etc, required, so the impact on the environment is substantially reduced. Many mountain areas worldwide are now at risk because of the increased pressure from downhill skiing. Habitat is destroyed to make way for the pistes and infrastructure, plant life is damaged by snow compaction, artificial snow-making machines are energy-hungry and contribute to climate change (the very problem which may have caused the absence of snow!), and destabilisation of the hillsides can lead to an increased risk of avalanche. For a more detailed discussion of this issue, please see our previous blog article “To ski or not to ski?”.
Photo: Maurice Strubel
What other advantages does cross country skiing have over downhill skiing?
Cross country skiing is a much quieter, close-to-nature experience. It is accessible for people of all ages and you do not need to be particularly fit or strong. There is a far smaller risk of injury, and there are no lift passes to buy!
Is Sweden a good country to go cross country skiing?
One of the best! There are thousands of kilometres of prepared trails and the sport is very popular with Swedes. Many older people in Sweden use it as a way to keep fit in the winter months, while children go skiing in the surrounding forests as part of school sports. Sweden has one of the world’s most famous cross country ski events, the Vasaloppet, which takes place every winter, a kind of London Marathon for skiers (see our past blog article on the Vasaloppet race). The town of Torsby in Värmland, the region where our canoe tours take place, has the world’s largest indoor cross country ski trail, making it possible to enjoy cross country skiing at any time of year!
Photo: Maurice Strubel
Where can I go cross country skiing in Sweden?
Nature Travels offers a wide variety of cross country ski experiences in Sweden suitable both for beginners and more experienced skiers seeking a challenge. We have experiences specially tailored for solo travellers or families with young children. If you would like a dedicated cross country skiing holiday, please see our range of experiences on our website at www.naturetravels.co.uk/category-cross-country-skiing.htm. If you would like a more general “winter activity” holiday with the option to try out some cross country skiing during your stay, you may be interested in the following experiences:
If you’re a beginner who has never skied before, you should definitely give cross country skiing a go. If you’re a committed downhill skier who has never tried cross country, why not do something a little different on your ski holiday this year? Once you’ve caught the bug, you may never want to stand in a lift queue again!
The Nature Travels Team