Nine Reasons to Love Cross-Country Skiing

Have you tried cross-country skiing yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Carry Porter explains why this is her favorite sport.
Carry Porter Carry Porter
Mountaineers Board Secretary and climb, scramble, ski, and photography leader
December 26, 2017
by Carry Porter, Mountaineers Board Secretary and climb, scramble, ski, and photography leader

Anyone who has been around me for a nanosecond in winter knows I love cross-country skiing. A lot. Maybe even more than climbing, kayaking, downhill skiing, and biking combined. (Gasp!) 

Explaining my euphoria for cross-country skiing to people who’ve never done it, though, is not easy. Compared to downhill or backcountry skiing, it's not a glamorous sport. We don’t spend weekends hurtling down slopes, taking powder face shots, and laughing in the face of danger. The only time most people think about cross-country skiing is every four years, during the Winter Games, when it’s easy to shudder at the sight of an activity so taxing that it makes Olympic athletes collapse in a heap. We see the skiers spent, panting at the finish line, and think, “That is the most exhausting, brutal sport there ever was!”

If the effort required to cross-country ski is all you know about the sport, I’m here to set the record straight on why it is so exciting, beautiful, fun — and just plain awesome. 

1. A Great Workout or An Easy Adventure

Olympic competition notwithstanding, one of the best aspects of cross-country skiing is the choice we get when we head out for the day; you can make it a serious workout or a walk in the park. Regardless of how strenuous you make it, you're still strengthening nearly every muscle in your body, including your glutes, core, back, chest shoulders arms and legs, while enjoying the scenery.

2. Fancy Gear Not Necessary

You will need to layer up meaning you’ll need a base layer, a mid layer (wool shirt, a sweater or fleece jacket) and some kind of jacket. Add gloves, a hat and a bottom layer that’s breathable, as well as thick socks and a pair of sunglasses — and you’re set. Once you get going, you’ll heat up fast. While you can certainly invest in technical gear, this is a winter activity where you can really get away with being pretty minimalist.

3. Easy To Learn, Hard To Master

I’ve skied with young and old, people who are out of shape, people with bad knees, people with bad backs, and everyone who doesn’t fit into the perfect cross country ski body mold. If you can walk, you can learn the basics of cross-country skiing, I promise. The sport is pretty complex though, so no matter how long you’ve been skiing there is always something more to learn that can improve your efficiency, speed, and enjoyment.

4. Cross Country Skiers Are Sexy

Okay, so I think scramblers wearing shorts, long johns, and gaiters are sexy too, but just try and find a cross-country skier who isn’t good looking. You can’t, because they don’t exist. Sure our heads are covered with a hat, our eyes by sunglasses, and we are wearing ski clothes instead of showing off our abs. But that’s okay, there’s a lot to be said about the sexiness of people who use their lungs and muscles to power themselves around the winter landscape. Cross-country skiing puts a beautiful, rosy glow on people’s cheeks. And that is undeniably sexy.

5. Low Risk Of Injury

I've noticed that some of the most talented skiers on the trails are older: 50, 60s, even 70s. I suspect some of the appeal of the sport to these people is its relatively low risk for injury. Cross-country skiing is low impact, low speed and, therefore, safer than many of its winter sport counterparts. It's truly a sport that you can do for a lifetime. 

6. A Variety to Choose From

You can choose from two different techniques, skating or classic. In skating (my favorite), you use a lateral pushing-off motion, like hockey. In classic, your skis move forward and back in parallel lines, often in tracks on groomed trails. You also have the option of skiing on groomed trails or going for a backcountry ski on fresh snow. Then there is biathlon if you are inclined to test your shooting skills while your chest is heaving from physical exhaustion. Talk about a mind-body sport!

7. It’s Like A Moving Meditation

Speaking of mind-body, we’re all told we need to be more “present” in our everyday lives. When I’m skiing, it’s easy to focus on my rhythm – the steady state of my breath and the sound of my skis gliding on the snow. This singular focus allows me to let the stress of my daily responsibilities go and be purely in the moment.

8. Kids are Welcome 

Any sport that not only allows — but encourages — the company of kids is immediately awesome in my book. And most kids will welcome the opportunity to get out and play in the snow any day of the week.

9. Rhythm Of The Day

Finally, one of my favorite things about cross-country skiing is the relaxed pace of the day. When I go to the Methow Valley with friends, our ski days almost always start with sleeping in. (Who needs to get up early when there’s no first-chair or unskied powder stash to chase?) Next, we eat a big breakfast. (Honestly, there is no such thing as “too big” when you are about to burn 600+ calories an hour.) And because it’s still a little cold outside, we might pause before putting our ski clothes on for a little stretching. 

By then it’s time to go for a couple hours of skiing. We slip into our ski boots, which feel like insulated slippers, and set out. We glide past a landscape that changes quickly. The mountains dead ahead of us get bigger in no time. That river we’re heading towards quickly becomes a guide that we follow closely.  Everything covered in white is a little more beautiful.

After a few hours, we reach a cabin, tucked in the trees. Smoke rises from the chimney. It’s lunch time! We mop up massive bowls of soup with crusty baguette slices, devour a baked treat (or two), lick our fingers, and finish off the meal with a cup of espresso. 

Those that have had enough exercise for the day, head back to the cabin to read, knit, catch up on email, and relax. The rest of us head out for a few more hours of adventure.

When it starts to get dark (and cold!) in late afternoon, we join our friends for some well-earned après ski snacks and a glass of wine. Soon we’re hungry again, so we bump elbows in the kitchen to make a big, messy feast. Dinner and laughter cap off the evening, and before you know it, we’re closing our eyes, dreaming of another beautiful day in the snow. 

How couldn't I love this sport the most?


This article originally appeared in our Winter 2017 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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