Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners

A novice's guide to cross country skiing that covers types of skis, suitable terrain, proper dress, equipment, and footwork.

| January/February 1989

cross country skiing - skiing in open country

Cross-country skiing is invigorating, affordable, fun, and wholesome.


By the mini-thermometer dangling from the zipper of my day pack, the temperature on this Colorado December morning is a perfect 23°F. Perfect because it's cold enough to keep the several inches of new snow that fell last evening (atop a two-foot-plus base) from going slushy. Perfect also for brisk outdoor exercise; a few degrees more would be verging on too warm for comfortable cross-country skiing.

I, with my friends Nancy and Branson, am out for a morning's tour. The plan is to make a relaxed climb three miles up a snow-closed national forest road, break for lunch, then ski the downhill run — she's steep in places and curved like Mae West — as fast as our skill and equipment will allow.

By the time Branson and Nancy get their beautiful, slick-bottomed wooden skis waxed for climbing, I — on my tacky, old, waxless laminates with their snow-grabbing "stepped" bottoms — am already a quarter mile up the road. A gentleman always, I stop and wait for my companions to join me. (The fact that Branson has the brandy flask and Nancy is toting our lunches has nothing — well, not much — to do with this courtesy.)

The rest of the morning is much the same: I climb steadily while my friends slip, struggle and stop repeatedly to mess with their waxes. I wait. They catch up. And so it goes.

I'm not trying to outshine my friends; I couldn't if I wanted to. Nancy's as good a skier as I, and Branson is better. It's just that slick-bottomed skis, on an upgrade, depending as they do on wax for friction, can't always keep up with waxless models that get their grab from scales, steps or other traction patterns incorporated into their bottoms. We laugh and joke and have a grand old time in spite of the inequities of our equipment — for we all know that payback lies ahead.

As the morning progresses, the ground fog lingering from last evening's storm floats slowly up off this high valley and dissipates. Soon, visible rays of sunlight are fingering down all around us.

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