By Jessica Cassity
To downhill ski, you need mountains. To ice skate, you need... well, ice. But to cross-country ski, all you need is a little snow (even a few inches will do). And that's just one reason why this winter sport continues to grow in popularity.
Another reason? It's a big calorie burner. "Cross-country skiing involves [moving] a large muscle mass," says Nate Goldberg, who manages the Beavercreek Nordic Sports Center in Colorado. "You're basically working almost the entire upper and lower body." Tack on the fact that it's a relatively safe and family-friendly sport that allows you to enjoy the outdoors during winter, and it's win-win.
Are you thinking about trying cross-country skiing? If so, here are three ways to get started.
Good: Master The Kick And Glide
Most people get their start on cross-country skis at a golf course or other flat swath of land, where starting and stopping are relatively easy. That's how to learn the “kick and glide,” which Goldberg says is the foundation of classic-style cross-country skiing (the kind that looks like you're simply walking on snow). “A lot of people think of cross-country skiing as all work, but with each step there's a glide,” notes Goldberg. The glide is that period between steps when you're effortlessly sliding forward.
Use your trial run on flat land to learn to glide, and also to master basic poling techniques. Your arms should move in opposition with your legs (like they do when you're walking). Each time your arm extends forward, plant your pole in the snow next to your boot. Practice for 10 minutes. Rest a few minutes, then repeat. Aim for doing three 10-minute sessions.
Better: Test Out Rolling Terrain
After you've mastered flat skiing (which often takes just one outing or lesson), it's time to try hilly terrain. Knowing how to stop will give you a sense of control and ease any fears you may have about hills. When going downhill, practice the snowplow (or snowplough): Turn the tips of your skis toward one another without crossing them, keeping your weight on the inside edge of your skis. To power up a hill on cross-country skis, shorten your stride so you're almost jogging, suggests Goldberg. Find a short course -- around 2k -- with several uphill and downhill sections. Ski it once (which will take around 15 minutes). Rest for a few minutes, then do it again.
Best: Build Speed And Endurance
Once you feel confident on both flat and hilly terrain, it's time to increase your speed and exercise for longer bursts of time. Exercise for 10 more minutes each time you ski until you reach one hour without long breaks. Try to boost your speed as you go: Time yourself on a course, then ski it again to see if you can beat your previous time. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cross-country skiing at a moderate speed will burn around 10 calories a minute. Increase your pace beyond that, and you could burn even more, zapping up to 600 calories in an hour.