How to Make Cross Country Skiing Fun for Beginners

Cross country skiing is relatively low-impact winter sport which is good for building strength and aerobic capacity; it can also be enjoyed well into your 80’s. For cross country skiing beginners this sport fairly easy to pick up. I learned to ski on a flat frozen lake and the rolling hills of Saskatchewan. When my family moved to Vancouver in the late 1980’s I started to ski at Cypress Mountain as part of the Challenge Ski program for teenagers theiur trails became some of my favourites.Last week, I rediscovered my passion for the sport when two clients encouraged me to dust off my skis and go up to Cypress (they had been put away after retiring from racing biathlon). 

Alfred with two clients on Cypress Mountain

The day had perfect conditions of -4C, blue skies and softly packed snow – great for skate skiing and classic technique. The ski community is very close, friendly, and always willing to help out beginners and those who haven’t been for awhile. I was welcomed back immediately by old friends – human, skis and trails.

7 Crucial Steps to Make Cross Country Skiing Enjoyable for Beginners

1.Book a Series of Lessons with Rentals

It is always nice to get started in a small group, semi-private or privately with a coach. Packages will often come with rentals and the equipment is usually in good shape, new or just a couple of years old. Renting means you don’t have to commit to getting equipment before you try the activity a few times.

2. Learn Classic Skiing Technique (Nordic) First

This is the old shuffle technique that is very similar to walking shuffle walking with poles. It is less physically demanding than skate skiing to start. The technique is wonderful to putz around the rolling trails on an afternoon and makes it easier to break trail if it is snowing heavily. It easier to figure out when learning to cross country ski.

3. Find a Spot that is Flat with Rolling Hills

Some skiers complain that the hill up to the ski school on Cypress is tough (it is very gradual and when you don’t know how long it is it can seem very long). The reward is a nice hot chocolate at the historical Hollyburn Lodge (sometimes even a cookie). Other places to start cross country skiing near metro Vancouver are Lost Lake, Callahan Valley and Manning Park’s Strawberry Flats.

4. Get the Right Equipment for You

Finding the right skis and poles for you is very important. The part of the under your foot is called the kick zone. If it is too stiff when you push down you aren’t going anywhere! There are classic skiis that don’t need to be waxed which makes life a little easier.

A beginner doesn’t need racing equipment. Siggie's is Vancouver’s premier cross county skiing specialist. It is family run business (which I like) which is now operated by Siggie’s son Anders. They will get you outfitted with appropriate equipment and clothing for your needs and budget. You can even rent equipment from places like Mountain Equipment Co-op or the ski trail centers (Cypress in North Vancouver).

5. Wear Appropriate Clothing

Dressing in layers is paramount to your enjoyment and well being. Bring a toque and gloves. This was something that was ingrained into me as a Jackrabbit (think Girl Guides and Beavers, but for skiers; yes we had skill badges =)).

6. Bring Snacks and Warm-Water

Cross country skiers expend a lot of energy. Public places often have lodges that you can grab a lunch, but what about those hunger pangs while out on the trails? Trail mix and granola bars are great. We called our trail mix GORP because it becomes all gooey after skiing for while. Yes, I said warm-water. If you bring cold water it will be frozen by the time you want a sip.

7. Smile and Have Fun

Not much more to be said here! Go out and enjoy yourself and the new adventure. Take a break at the lodge for hot chocolate or bring some in a flask if you are going back country skiing.

Alfred Ball

CEO | Practicing Kinesiologist | Certified Fascial Stretch Therapist. He founded Lifemoves in 2007. He has been a Practicing Kinesiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NSCA for over 15 years. When he isn't helping people regain their strength and confidence to move with ease he is hanging out with his wife and young son, writing, or training for his next endurance running race. His big audacious goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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