Cross-country skiing is a hugely enjoyable sport, and can be done simply as a means of getting about, right up to elite competition. Using all the major muscle groups, it is low impact. Yet the top cross-country skiers have among the highest aerobic capacities of any athlete. Because of this, it is used as cross-training by elite cyclists, rowers, runners and Formula One drivers. It is also a very popular sport in the military.
It is a wonderful way to see some stunning mountain scenery. And also to 'detox' by sweating a lot, eating good food and breathing fresh air.
There is no better preparation for cross-country skiing than roller skiing, and most roller skiers have cross-country skiing challenges or holidays in mind. Having the ski specific strength, balance and technique from roller skiing helps a lot, allowing you to ski faster and further than you otherwise would. We prepare many people every year for cross-country 'ski marathons', of which there are hundreds across Europe and the world (the largest ones you can find listed here), as well as other races and expeditions.
Need to know
There are two types of cross-country skiing, classic (video, below right) and skating (picture, right). You can find more about the differences here.
For clothing, layers are good. You generate a lot of heat. Winter running and cycling gear is often quite suitable. A windstopper top will keep the cold off your chest, and a breathable back will allow sweat to exit. Gloves and a hat are essential. Winter running leggings can be good, as the allow for a good range of movement. Temperatures can vary a lot, so do prepare for varying degrees of coldness.
Hydration is vital, so bring a water bottle, ideally insulated so it doesn't freeze (we sell these here). Sunglasses and suncream are recommended too.
Plasters are worth bringing, especially if you are new to the sport, or breaking in new boots. Blisters are possible.
Cross-country ski marathons are great fun, and quite possible if you have a decent level of fitness and strength, and a little time to prepare. They vary in lengths - 21k, typical 42k distances, and longer ones such as the 90k Swedish Vasaloppetk.
For training, you need to build up strength, endurance and technique. Roller skiing is good for all of these. But you can also build endurance from long runs, cycles, rowing or kayaking. Targeted strength work in the gym is useful. Building good balance also helps a lot - things like skating, surfing, even just standing on one leg etc are good.
Biathlon is arguably the most exciting Winter sport, combining the strength endurance elements of cross-country skiing with the accuracy and skill of target shooting. In the UK the sport has been widened in recent years, with development activities focused on finding the most talented young athletes from the whole population, rather than just the Army.
We work closely with Totally Nordic, set up by one of our instructors, Alan Eason. Alan and his team offer excellent cross-country ski instruction, including preparation for cross-country ski marathons. They are based in Obertilliach, Southern Austria, which is an excellent venue for early season snow.
One of Europe's greatest base for cross-country skiing in Autrans in France. It has hosted Olympic cross-country ski races and has a great network of trails, and a superb team of instructors to get you skiing well on snow.
They also offer biathlon (skiing and shooting) and have plenty of places offering good food, and excellent shops for cross-country ski rental. Plus La Foulee Blanche ski marathon.
If you are interested in getting into cross-country skiing as a sport, it is worth joining your local cross-country ski club. We have our own club in London, but there are many more across the UK, see links.
For young skiers, there is a pathway to competing internationally through the British Nordic Ski Team, which many of our instructors have been involved with, either as athletes or as coaches.
Also, the British Army and RAF are keen proponents of cross-country skiing and biathlon as a sport and many regiments have their own ski teams. Some university OTCs also have cross-country ski / biathlon teams. See here.
We used to organise our own trips. But now we concentrate on roller ski courses and training, to prepare you for challenges and holidays organised by others, or your own independent trip. We work with various cross-country ski holiday companies to prepare clients for the snow.
We also sell a wide range of cross-country ski equipment through our online shop.