A Beginner’s Guide to Cross Country Skiing
Welcome to your first cross country skiing adventure!
Cross country skiing is a timeless winter sport well-suited to all ages and abilities. It is fun to learn, family-friendly, affordable and a great way to both exercise and enjoy the tranquility of the outdoors. The Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center (TDXC) is home to a world-class trail system that offers stunning views of the Euer Valley and the Sierra Nevadas, and offers top-notch instruction for beginners and advanced skiers alike, making it an ideal place to learn.
In cross country skiing there are no chairlifts. One relies on their own propulsion to glide along the trails. Cross country skis tend to be longer and narrower than downhill skis. Cross country poles are also longer and have cross country-specific baskets. The heels on cross country boots are free to lift from the ski allowing you to move over any terrain: uphill, downhill, and flat ground.
All styles of skiing where the heel is free fall under the classification of “Nordic” skiing: classic (diagonal striding, or just striding), skate skiing, biathlon, Nordic combined (ski jumping), and telemark. Cross country skiing, or “XC skiing” is what you’ll see on the Tahoe Donner trails – there is no ski jumping at TDXC.
There are two styles of cross country skiing, each requiring different equipment:
- When it comes to the basics, traditional or classic skiing is easier to learn. Often beginning inside machine-made “tracks,” beginners can easily shuffle along the grooves. Once you have learned how to glide on each stride, climb uphill and control your speed on the downhills, you’re ready to explore the trails!
- The faster style of “skate” skiing is popular among athletes but takes longer to master the basics and requires more power to get moving. Instead of gliding along a narrow track, you skate across a wide and smooth groomed trail. With the right lessons and patience, you’ll be skating in no time.
Investing in properly fitting, modern equipment will help you remain comfortable and supported. The Tahoe Donner rental shop can help outfit you with the right gear.
No matter which style you choose, everyone is encouraged to invest in a lesson when starting out. An hour spent with a professional instructor at TDXC can help you develop the fundamental skills for a lifetime of Nordic fun! During your lesson, you will learn how to move efficiently along on flats, climb hills and control your speed and turns on downhill sections.
Although cross country skiing can look effortless, there are nuances to that perfect glide and skiing styles and techniques vary by level. Lessons can help you adjust to these lighter skis with non-metal edges and free heels.
Whether you’re just beginning or in need of a refresher, you can always check out basic tips from the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) by clicking here.
YOUR FIRST DAY OUT
Though cross country skiing is a winter sport you’ll want to leave the heavy snow pants and puffy jackets at home. Keep in mind the adage: “be bold, start cold” so that you don’t sweat at the start and freeze on the first downhill. Dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable and safe body temperature. Start with moisture-wicking base layers (wool, silk, synthetics… no cotton!), and a wind-resistant shell jacket and pants on top. Additional layers– for example, a light fleece– should fit between. A light buff (neck warmer), headband or thin hat, gloves, and sunglasses are recommended accessories. Pay close attention to current and forecasted weather conditions to adjust your wardrobe accordingly.
A hydration pack or small backpack is perfect for carrying an extra layer, water, snacks, sunscreen, trail map and phone. As soon as you return inside, remove damp base layers. Be sure to hydrate and refuel (our cafe has options!) for optimal recovery. Exerting yourself in a new activity at altitude can drain your energy more than you might expect.
WHERE TO GO
When deciding where to ski, familiarize yourself with the trail map and always check the daily grooming report. TDXC’s friendly staff is also happy to provide insight and advice. When first starting out, stick to the beginner-friendly trails in green. The “home range” offers several loop options. Physical pocket-sized maps with kilometer distances are available to supplement the full-sized maps posted at key junctions on the trails.
Be mindful of where you are in relation to other skiers on the trail. Keep to the right except when overtaking slower skiers. Pay attention to one-way signs and closed trail markers. Skiers moving downhill have the right-of-way – move to the side to allow them to pass. If a skier asks to pass or calls “track,” move out of the tracks (or to the right on skate skis) to let them through. Avoid skating into the classic tracks or walking on the groomed trails. If an equipment malfunction forces you to remove your skis, please stay as far to the side of the trail as possible.
Check out the Skier Safety page for more important information that will help ensure an enjoyable time on the trails.
Remember to stay loose and relaxed as you move – especially when you fall! It helps prevent injury. Cross country skiing should be fun! Breathe deeply and soak in the beauty of the tall trees and wide vistas. We hope you’ll be back for more!