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Cross-country Skiing 101: The Gearhouse Guide to Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners

Cross-country skiing in Washington

With fresh snow falling almost daily in the Cascades, it’s time to dust off the cross-country skis (or pick up a freshly waxed pair of Rossignol skis from Gearhouse!) and hit the trail. Like trail running, cross-country skiing is a great way to spend time outdoors, improve your physical fitness, and enjoy everything the Washington winter has to offer. Unlike alpine skiing, XC skiing has a low barrier of entry. Skinny skis are far less expensive than alpine skis, trail fees (if necessary) are modest, and a beginner can master the fundamentals quickly. Cross-country skiing doesn’t require expensive lift tickets or crowded resorts. All you need is your gear, some breathable but warm clothing, snow on the ground, and a trail to follow. If you’re looking to spend more time outdoors this winter, take up XC skiing. Continue reading below for Cross-country Skiing 101: The Gearhouse Guide to Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners.

What is Cross Country Skiing? 

Cross-country skiing in Washington

Cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing or XC skiing for short, involves moving over long distances of snow-covered land on specially designed skis. While alpine skiing involves skiing downhill at high speeds, cross-country skiing can take place on flat or nearly flat to rolling land. There are two styles of cross-country skiing: classic skiing and skate skiing. Classic skiing involves moving skis in a straight-line stride in a kick and glide motion and is the most common form of the sport. Skate skiing has been around for a few decades and involves a similar side-to-side technique to speed skating. Skate skiing tends to be faster than classic skiing but requires a wide, well-prepared track. 

XC Skiing Gear

Cross-country skiing gear

Like alpine skis, cross-country skis are sized based on height and weight, which can be found in ski size charts. In addition to a pair of skis, you will also need boots and bindings. Be careful to shop for compatible boot-binding systems as there are several different standards for bindings. Your boots should be comfortable and flexible compared to standard alpine skiing boots, with similar sizing to a running shoe (i.e., a little bit of space in the toe, and a good, tight heel fit). Lastly, you’ll need poles to help propel you down the trail. XC skiing poles should come up to above your armpits in height for classic skiing, and to your upper lip for skate skiing. Beyond your gear, you’ll need to dress for the elements. Dress in apparel that can move easily, is breathable and moisture-wicking (not cotton), wear outer layers made for the snow and wind and wear a hat and gloves. Don’t forget sunglasses for those beautiful post-storm days on a freshly groomed trail Gearhouse has everything you need to hit the trail this winter. Stop by our Capitol Hill location to pick up everything you need for your next Nordic skiing adventure. If you’re new to XC skiing, consider taking one of our Cross Country Skiing for Beginners classes.

Cross Country Skiing for Beginners

cross country skiing for beginners

While XC skiing is easier to learn than alpine skiing, new skiers must exercise extreme caution when on the trail. Firstly, avoid avalanche-prone areas at all costs. Seek out groomed trails when possible. If skiing in the backcountry, even on flat trails, have at least a baseline knowledge of avalanche awareness. Dress for and be weary of inclement weather, and be sure to carry a small pack with the 10 essentials. Lastly, learn to fall and get back up safely. Even advanced skiers occasionally bite the dust. When you fall, try to avoid sticking out your poles or wrists to brace yourself. This increases your risk of injury. Instead, roll sideways if possible, and get your skis perpendicular to the fall line.

XC Skiing Etiquette

XC Skiing Etiquette

When you’re skiing on a trail system with other people, practicing proper etiquette will keep you and the skiers around you safe. Most XC trail systems follow the standard ski rating system: green for beginner, blue for intermediate, and black for advanced. New skiers should stick to green trails until they are capable enough to tackle different ratings without falling or slowing other skiers down. Pay attention to trail signs and only move in the indicated direction. Many trails are one-way. If you’re a slower skier, move to the side to allow faster skiers to pass. Preserve the tracks by avoiding unnecessary walking in the skiing area. If you must walk or snowshoe on a trail, do so on the side of the trail. If you fall and create a divot in the trail, fill it in before continuing to ski.

Get outside this winter with Gearhouse. We offer gear rentals for all your winter essentials, including alpine and cross-country ski rentals. New to the sport? Take our Cross Country Skiing for Beginners course to learn the basics and meet new people. Stay tuned to our calendar for group ski outings and more.

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