Change the Pace – cross-country skiing

The blinding white beauty. The silence amongst the giant trees. The swish of skis gliding over the snow. Cross-country skiing bliss.


If you read my blog, you know that I love to cross-country ski. It’s one of the few things I love about living in a winter city. And it’s also one of the few activities that comes even remotely close to my love of running (although I’m a rookie and do it simply for pleasure).


Cross-country skiing has been used for thousands of years as a way to get around in the snow. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it became a sport. It was a contest in the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, and women began competing in Olympic cross-country  skiing in 1952 in Oslo, Norway (source).

There are three types of cross-country skis: classic, skate, and touring. (There are variations of these with differing lengths, camber, wax or waxless, etc.)

Classic skiing is typically done on tracked and groomed terrain with a stride then glide motion. Skate skiing is done on groomed terrain with a skating motion. Touring is for people who do most of their skiing on ungroomed trails, and these skis generally have metal edges.

Many outdoor stores rent skis (REI or MEC) so you can give it a try without having to invest in a pair.

Cross-country skiing is a whole-body exercise that targets nearly every muscle. It’s also easier on the body than many other cardio activities. Your joints don’t take much impact, and it’s functional in that you move in a way your body is meant to move.

Some people say it’s as good a workout as running, but I say it could be. You need to develop the skill first. The people I see that know what they’re doing are definitely working as hard as runners. Kelly and I have often discussed taking lessons but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I think the biggest benefit is for the mind. You’re outside in beautiful crisp and snowy conditions, without the noise of any traffic. It’s kind of like trail running!


My experiences
I use classic skis and love slicing through a groomed trail on them. There are various groomed trails in and around Edmonton. We’ve also cross country skied at ski resorts (Silverstar in BC and Northstar in Lake Tahoe), cross-country ski centres, and made our own trails.

Cross-country skiing in Tahoe

I  can’t stop smiling when I’m skiing and would recommend it to anyone.

Have you ever tried cross-country, or would you? Best memory of it? 

I easily have two: spending last New Year’s Eve cross-country skiing with Kelly and Harold and laughing until I cried in Lake Tahoe with Kelly while xc skiing down pure ice.


61 responses to “Change the Pace – cross-country skiing

  1. I’m determined to try this again this year! My first time, two winters ago in Vermont, was an epic fail haha.

  2. I love cross country skiing, but I have never owned my own pair, which is sad because when I lived in Maine, I could go in my backyard and link up with Acadia National Park. Luckily I had roomates that had skis I could borrow. And here in CO, there are trails right behind me where I can go. But, like you said, REI is perfect for renting out good winter gear!

  3. Runner Girl Eats

    I’ve never done xc skiing but loooovvee downhill skiing. If I lived somewhere with snow I’d def pick it up…Florida is more of a water ski state though 😉

  4. I’ve never tried cross country skiing but have always thought that I would like it more than downhill (I suck at that!) and that it looks like a great workout. I’m not sure I will ever try it – you know the whole snow and cold thing….

  5. I really want to try cross country skiing. I’ve heard such awesome things, and I would love to soak up the quiet splendor of the snow-covered trails. If the conditions are right, there is a place about an hour away that is supposed to be pretty good. Maybe this year…

  6. ari @ whatarisaid

    Those pictures are so beautiful, I love skiing for the scenery! I’ve never tried cross country and not sure that I would – I get real nervous about falling and mostly prefer the parts of skiing where it’s all smooth with just a few bumps. Going down anything steep freaks me out and I stiffen up my legs too much, which hurts my knees.

  7. The timing of this post is perfect Abby!! I have never been cross country skiing, but my husband and I were just talking about it the other day. We are thinking of renting skis over winter break and making an adventure out of it (there are a few groomed trails only a few blocks away from us). I do love to downhill ski and have many wonderful experiences growing up skiing in Minnesota nearly every weekend…these hills are nothing like the mountains in Colorado that I MUCH prefer!!

  8. So beautiful! I’ve never done cross country skiing, but I remember growing up always hearing that it is one of the most calorie burning activities out there!

  9. Cross-country skiing is one of the few things I miss about winter. I definitely wasn’t the most coordinated at it, but it sure was fun.

  10. I am obsessed with anything enduranc-y (hence the love for running 😉 ) and I LOVE skiing… yet I have never tried cross country skiing! I always mean to, but since I live in Indiana every time I do get out west to the slopes I spend all my time down-hilling! But you have completely inspired me to do it! thanks 🙂

  11. Bill and I love cross country skiing, but haven’t been in years. In fact, my skis have quite the layer of dust on them out in the garage! We both have touring skis and mostly skied in the canyons on ungroomed trails. Bill skied once a week at a local slope and got very good at telemarking. It was amazing watching him come down the mountain making those graceful slow turns with one knee almost touching the snow. Wow, what fun memories!

    I love the jumping picture of you! Your joy is obvious!

  12. I’m not much of a snow person. I just don’t like to be cold! 🙂 I tried skate skiing at the beginning of the year and I didn’t really like it.
    So funny that you mention that xc skiing has been a way to get around for a long time cause I have a patient that lives in Anchorage, AK. She xc skis to work! Crazy! It is better than driving!!!

    • That would be so great to xc ski to work!
      When we get a big snow dump we ski from our house to some fields. We laugh that we are such a stereotype when we do that!
      I bet you’d like classic better than skate!

  13. I would love to try ANY kind of skiing. I have only ever snowboarded and I love that, but I think I would be better at skiing. Sometimes I get scared being completely strapped into the board..HA.

  14. I have been a few times and love cross country skiing – I’m also partial to the classic style. I’ve skied twice in Yosemite and love it there. Also, WA state has some amazing trails!

  15. Oh cross country skiing.. we have a love hate relationship I think. My mom loves it as well but I always have such a hard time with it. No coordination at all.. lets not even talk about going downhill because that is a disaster!!! haha and also hilarious. I will just live vicariously through you when it comes to cross country skiing – pictures are gorgeous! Btw – this is random.. I was in Victoria last week and met someone who says he thinks he trained with you a number of years ago in Edmonton. I think he said for an ironman or thinks he knows you from other tri’s because the community of athletes is fairly tight knit and small. His name is Andrew and he’s from St. Albert – I’ll have to get his last name for ya to see if he’s right!

    • Does your mom go right from their house? I bet it would be incredible!
      I think I know who you’re talking about- small world! If so, we were in the same track club years ago (seriously, over 10!). Then I ran into him at Ironman Canada in 2012!

  16. So you are saying if I come for a visit, you’ll give me some ski lessons? I am absolutely sure you are good enough to teach me a thing or two. =) Love snow. I can’t wait to go skiing in January, albeit a very, very short trip. I haven’t been in two years (last year was pregnant!).

  17. the hardest thing i’ve ever done! but i loved how i actually worked up a sweat! ANd i’m with crystal, can i come visit for ski lessons?

  18. OK, your pictures make it look pretty darn nice! Maybe if our island mountains actually get enough snow this year I’ll get out the skis!

  19. Love your snow pics! I love the quiet of the outdoors with a fresh snowfall. I haven’t tried cross country skiing. I need to master the whole stopping part first. 🙂

  20. Those pictures make me miss my home state (Colorado). I’m the Coloradan, though, who couldn’t stay upright on the tow rope, so maybe cross-country would give me half a chance!

  21. Now I want to ski (though probably not a good idea considering I’m wearing a dang boot)! Definitely getting my Nordic skis out in January! Love the quiet and rhythm of skiing… such a wonderful way to embrace winter and connect with nature 🙂 Gorgeous photos!

  22. this is a perfect post! I want to try cross-country skiing so badly…mostly because downhill skiing terrifies me. I guess I need to move to a place with more snow…

  23. Those pics are gorgeous!!

  24. Lucky you to have so many great trails around!! I LOVE cross country skiing but haven’t gone for years. I had no ideas there are different kinds. I have no idea what mine were! LOL

  25. I haven’t cross country skied, but I would love to try it one day! I am somewhat of a terrible regular skier, so I’m hoping there would be less of a chance for me to seriously injure myself doing cross country.

  26. I would love to try cross country skiing. I have been once but it was before I learned to downhill ski and it was pretty much a disaster. Now I think I could definitely do it. My favorite snow activity is snowshoeing…I look forward to the calm after the storm so I can get my snowshoes out!

  27. This looks so fun!
    I haven’t been cross country skiing since elementry school when we used to troll around the field in back of our school in a half inch of snow. I’d love some ski’s or snow shoes to go exploring the forest preserve by my house!

  28. Does it count if you don’t have awesome mountains to look at (or go down)?? I’ll strap the skis on these Iowa cornfields soon enough…

  29. Whoa. There is a lot that I didn’t know about cross country skiing! We used to do it in gym class, and I remember I used to fall over a lot (I was a very clumsy kid), and my classmates would have to ski around me while I flailed about trying to get up!

  30. Pingback: Rest and relaxation before the holidays | Change of Pace

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