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As with the rest of the travel and hospitality industry, COVID-19 has forced everyone to take a hard look at the things they might have taken for granted. Even in the wake of formidable changes sweeping across so many areas of the industry, many bright spots have started to emerge.
This summer it was virtually impossible to purchase a bicycle, yoga mat, hiking gear, or anything related to paddle sports. As I witnessed lines of masked fitness buffs waiting an hour to gain entry to my local Lululemon in Aspen, I thought to myself, “what is going to happen this winter?” The pandemic has allowed us all to rethink our routines and find new ways to be active. From the national Peloton shortage, to brick and mortar classes finding new homes on the screens around us, to just getting more time outdoors; the activities that used to be reserved for mornings, nights, weekends, and holidays have proliferated in lieu of having to commute to our places of work.
My caution to you, dear reader: don’t be left out in the cold. Get into cross-country skiing, now. Do not delay, do not not pass GO, do not collect $200, proceed immediately to your nearest ski shop or sporting goods dealer, and get your gear now—before it’s too late. For one thing, you do not need a mountain to cross-country ski, you just need snow, making almost half of these United States eligible. The Cross Country Ski Areas Association, the authority on all things cross-country, is planning for a whopping increase in sales year over year, and most industry insiders believe that by December 15 you won’t be able to buy a pair.
I call out to everyone who missed out on getting the road bike, mountain bike, kayak, hiking boot, yoga block, or waiting 90 minutes to get a pair of leggings: heed my warning, get into this naturally socially distant sport now.
It is with this in mind that I’ve prepared this primer for you:
For centuries across the snow-covered areas of northern Europe, Scandinavia, and Siberia skis were required to get across isolated villages where inhabitants had to hunt, gather, and survive. In fact the word “ski” comes from the Old Norse word skid, meaning a split length of wood. Skiing for sport appeared in Norway in the mid 19th century with the first race ever recorded in 1842. The men’s event was one of the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, with the women’s competition debuting in the 1952 Oslo games.
Cross-Country Skiing: The sport is also known as Nordic Skiing, or XC.
Classic Track Trails: These are the two-groove tracks groomed into the snow for classic style. Think of the grooves like bumpers on a bowling alley. They prevent your skis from crossing and make for an easier experience (and perfect for beginners).
No Wax: Unlike skis of yesteryear, technology has evolved leaps and bounds. Today’s XC skis have micro-texture bottoms, called fish scales, which help the ski grip the snow and propel you.
Classic XC: If you truly are a beginner, and not a downhill skier, the best way to get going is on classic touring skis. These skis are very stable, perform well, are price efficient, and last many years.
Skate XC: If you already are a skier and are looking for a new challenge, skate skiing may be more your speed. These skis are light, fast, and more conducive to a better workout. Skate skis move best when on a groomed "corduroy" surface, using a motion downhill skiers will be familiar with.
Skis: Whether you are familiar with skiing or not the first thing you will notice is how thin the skis are. Unlike downhill skis these are designed for mainly flat surfaces, slight inclines, and small hills; therefore your equipment doesn't have to be as wide (XC skis are usually 50% the width of their downhill counterparts). These do not require the parabolic curve needed for high speed carving and maneuvering.
Boots: XC boots come in a variety of shapes and styles but most are soft shell and insulated, with laces hidden under a zipper to prevent moisture from getting in. The boots are then clipped into your bindings at the toe while remaining detached at the heel (similar to telemark boots) to allow for forward momentum and light turning.
Clothing: You don’t want to be seen on a cross country trail wearing your usual ski garb. XC demands a lighter and more flexible design for the optimal comfort during movement. Think, "what would I go out walking or running in on cold winter days?"
Top 5 Cross Country Ski Experiences in North America
Three Forks Ranch (Savery, Wyoming)
With a Mayo Clinic certified wellness staff, 200,000 acres of snow-draped terrain, a world-class cooking school, a 6,000-square-foot spa, and roughly 100 staff members to cater to your every desire, Three Forks Ranch (located 40 miles north of Steamboat Springs, CO) is one of winter’s best kept secrets.
All-inclusive winter rates from $1,695/night per person for a Deluxe Guestroom or from $795/night per person.
The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection (Wanship, Utah)
Located just outside of Park City, this is one of the latest offerings from Auberge, opened in late 2019. The property features 25 miles of XC trails alone, and if that isn’t enough, the helpful staff will shuttle you over to the White Pine Nordic Center (located on the Park City Golf Course) where another 12 miles of stellar terrain await. They feature fully guided experiences and the latest gear to make sure you have all that you need.
Winter rates from $900/night.
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada
One of the top Nordic centers on the planet, Canmore, located 75 minutes west of Calgary and just seven miles outside the gates of world-renowned Banff National Park, is one of the hallowed grounds of Nordic skiing. The park features 40-plus miles of groomed trails, illuminated trails for night skiing, and plenty of facilities for all levels of skier.
Day passes from $15/day
Vista Verde Guest Ranch (Clark, CO)
Located 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Vista Verde is an all-inclusive guest ranch with guest counts strictly capped at 50, thus providing the ideal one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio. The ranch features about 10 miles of groomed trails, perfect for both groomed and skate XC skiing styles. Slide and glide through open meadows, creeks, and aspen glades, with guides and gear readily available for anything you could need.
Scarp Ridge Lodge, Eleven Experience, Crested Butte, CO
Eleven Experience’s flagship property delivers everything one could ask for in a high-end ski trip: authenticity, privacy, luxury, history, and—of course—access to some of the world’s most exclusive fresh powder. Eleven’s motto is famously “no down days,” and when it comes to cross country skiing, you have access to more than 30 miles of trails in the heart of the Elk Mountains.
Winter lodge buyouts from $15,700/night (up to 10 guests)
The Ranch at Rock Creek, Philipsburg, MT
Situated on 6,600 acres of pristine Montana wilderness, this rustic American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property and Relais & Chateaux resort includes a wide variety of accommodations like luxe cabins, glamping, and elegant homes. Every winter, summer hiking trails transform into 20-plus miles of cross country ski and snowshoe trails that take guests through idyllic pine forests and meadows. The Ranch is the only five-star guest ranch in the state of Montana.
All-inclusive winter rates from $1,800/night.
Head-to-Toe Gear Guide
What fun is getting into a new sport if you don’t get to buy a new outfit? Below you’ll find a head-to-toe gear guide with each item available for both men and women.
Rudy Project Tralyx
Redefining sports eyewear since 2016 the Tralyx is lightweight, ergonomic, and features an interchangeable lens.
To buy: $235, rudyprojectna.com
Icebreaker Merino Half Zip Thermal Top and Merino Thermal Leggings
A warmer, mid-weight version of their best selling Oasis, the 260 Half Zip is one of the only pieces you need for winter layering, made with 100% merino wool. The technical leggings feature zoned ventilation panels for active temperature regulation and breathability.
Craft Glide Hood Jacket
As perfect for zipping through aspen groves as it is picking up kids from ski school, the Glide Hood Jacket is ideal for almost every winter condition.
To buy: $125, craftsports.us
Au Clair Stellar 3 Finger Gloves
Ideal for XC skiing but also for snowshoeing and fat biking, the Stellar features a laminated back of hand wind barrier and strategic padding for grip and comfort.
To buy: $65, auclairgloves.com
Swix Quantum 3
The Quantum 3 has no peer for racers or beginners alike, plus it looks amazing. Perfect stiffness and dynamic weight transfer.
To buy: $155, swixsport.com
Swix Dynamic Warm Tights
The ideal fitted-yet-mobile pant for cold weather training.
To buy: $100, swixsport.com
Alpina Pro Classic
Both models for men and women are built for classic skiers demanding performance (also available in skate versions). New for this winter, both models feature Alpina's soft-shell upper, which offers first-of-its-kind waterproofness and warmth with reduced weight from previous generations. Additionally, the uppers are NON-PVC in their design, so at the end of their life they are easier on the environment.
To buy: $475, alpinasports.com
Fischer Speedmax 3D Classic Plus 902 Soft
Ideal for almost every condition and preferred by pros and amateurs alike, the Gliding Sidewall construction makes for a smooth surface ensuring the reduction of friction for improved performance.
To buy: $800, fischersports.com