Cross-Country Skiing Tips
Here are a few favorite tips from REI staff to enjoy your day on skinny skis:
Before You Go
- Dress in layers. Cross-country skiing is an aerobic activity, and you can overheat quickly if dressed too warmly. Wear moisture-wicking underwear (no cotton!), a lightweight fleece top and tights and a weatherproof outer shell.
- Take a pack. You need a larger pack for winter backcountry trips than you do during summer. Bring extra clothing and gear (e.g., a snow shovel) to stay comfortable and safe. See the REI Cross-Country Day Tour Checklist.
- Keep your skis tuned. Ski bases need attention to keep them in optimum shape, and metal-edge skis require regular maintenance. It’s easiest to bring your skis in to your local REI store for periodic tuning. For do-it-yourselfers, REI has the tools and supplies you need, plus the shop staff may even be able to give you some tips.
- Bring wax. Keep some glide wax packets handy so you can keep your "no wax" skis gliding smoothly all day. Apply only to the smooth surface of the ski base. For waxable skis, find two or three grip waxes that cover the full range of temperatures you're likely to encounter.
- Carry skis comfortably. Buy one or two simple rip-and-stick straps (such as Velcro® brand fasteners) for holding your skis together when carrying them from your car to the trail.
- Check your car’s windshield washer fluid level. Top off before you head for the mountains in winter. Dirty slush is difficult to see through when it's splashed on your windshield by passing traffic, and wipers alone just make it worse.
- Consider climbing skins. If doing a lot of uphill with your skis, you might want to buy climbing skins. For metal-edge touring skis, use kicker skins—these just cover the kick zone of the ski. (Note: Skins for telemark and randonee skis cover the entire base of the skis except for the edges.) If faced with a steep and/or icy downhill section, you can leave the kicker skins on your skis to slow your descent. To keep your climbing skins from icing up, try rubbing on some skin wax.
- Ski safely. Before going into the backcountry, take a class on avalanche awareness. Even if skiing on flat terrain, you could be in danger and this free class (provided at many REI stores) will give you the basic information you need.
On The Trail
- Know the rules. When going to a Nordic ski center for the first time, inform the staff that you are new to the activity and ask about rules, trail etiquette and trails best suited to your skiing ability. The staff will appreciate your openness, and you will reduce the potential for any problems out on the trails.
- Stretch before and after. This helps keep you flexible and decreases muscle soreness. Gently stretch the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles and calves. Don't forget the biceps and triceps, as cross-country skiing works your arms, too. Start out slowly so you can warm up properly.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Even on overcast days, reflected light off the snow and prolonged exposure can cause burns (and even "snow blindness"). Wear sunscreen and sunglasses with good UV protection.
- Drink plenty of water. Drink regularly, even if you don't feel thirsty. Staying hydrated helps you to stay warm.
- Practice your technique. If new to the sport, find a gentle slope in a safe area where you can practice climbing (herringbone technique) and descending (snowplow technique), then move on to snowplow turns. As you get faster on your descents, you will want to learn to do step turns.
- Ski in control. To slow your descent when skiing in groomed tracks, carefully lift one ski out and set it at an angle to the track. Put pressure on the inside edge of that ski, in a "half snowplow" formation. Don’t press too hard, though, or you may catch your ski and stop too suddenly.