Over the Mountain and through the Woods

A look at classic cross country and skate skiing

By Avery Robins

Photo courtesy Tahoe Donner.

Photo courtesy Tahoe Donner.

Are you looking to shake up your time in the mountains this winter season? Perhaps you are looking for a full body workout that fires up your core. Or, perhaps you need a break from the downhill ski scene, and are yearning for a way to soak in the tranquility of the backcountry. Look no further, because cross country sking could be the answer.

Modern cross country skiing is strikingly similar to the original form of skiing that was invented in Scandinavia over five thousand years ago. Nordic people strapped on what they called “skíðs” (the Old Norse word for “planks of wood”) in order to transport themselves across large distances of snowy terrain.

But don’t get us wrong, modern cross country skiing is no old school walk in the park. It is one of the most demanding full-body workouts a person can do. From your glutes to the rhomboids in your upper back, every major muscle group is engaged. Additionally, cross country skiing is a full aerobic and cardio workout that burns calories at a rate equal to running.

Within the sport of cross country skiing, there are two primary disciplines: classic cross country and skate. We talked with Paul Peterson, an experienced cross country skier and owner of the Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure Company, about the differences between the two.

Classic Cross Country Skiing
Classic cross country skiing is what most people picture when they think about the sport. Classic skis are long and narrow, with a hinged foot binding that allows the skier to lift their heel up and off the ski platform. Skiers take forward strides (similar to a walking motion) to propel themselves forward. These forward strides can range in intensity from a walking motion to an all out “kick and glide.”

Additionally, classic cross country skiing can be done on both groomed trails and in the backcountry but skate skiing can only be done on groomed trails. Peterson recommends that those new to the sport start on classic skis with an experienced guide.

Photo courtesy Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Company.

Photo courtesy Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Company.

Skate Skiing
The second discipline in the cross country ski world is skate skiing. In comparison to classic skis, skate skis are shorter, lighter and fully attached to the foot. This allows skiers to pick up the entire ski and propel themselves forward using a literal “skating motion” (similar to inline skating). Peterson says that skate skiing is extremely technical and physically demanding, so it is best for those who have a bit of cross country or alpine ski experience already.

With regard to snowfall, this winter of 2016 is a phenomenal time to check out cross country skiing. It is the first time in five years that the bulk of resorts have gotten enough snow (some six to eight feet) to open all their trails. With this in mind, we can expect some excellent cross country skiing this winter. And don’t forget to pack your lunch!

Photo courtesy Tahoe Donner.

Photo courtesy Tahoe Donner.

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