How to Nordic ski, and why you should

This special guest post on Nordic skiing is written by Tim Hauserman, author of the books “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada” and “The Tahoe Rim Trail: A Complete Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, and Equestrians.” He teaches both skate and cross country skiing at Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area and offers up this primer on how to Nordic ski, and why you should do it this winter.

Does the cost of a downhill ski ticket make you break out in hives, or are you just sick of the crowds? Do your friends spend most of the winter at Tahoe Cross-Country, Tahoe Donner Cross-Country or the Nordic trails where you live? Perhaps it is time to go uphill, where for less than half the price of a downhill ticket you can get a good workout on groomed trails and begin skiing just a few feet from your car.

Nordic skiing at cross-country ski areas falls into two categories: striding/classic, and skating.  Striding involves skiing in tracks, with your skis pointed straight ahead. Skating is done on a skating lane, which is a five-foot wide swath of corduroy next to the tracks. Like it sounds, skate skiing is skiing with the motion you would use ice-skating or rollerblading.

I like to say that striding is easy to learn but hard to master, while skating is hard to learn, but easy to master. If you have never cross-country skied before, striding is a good place to start. It is a little like walking and you can just shuffle along while you learn the sport. For many, the balance is easier than skating, especially if you are given the assistance of the tracks. Moving beyond the basics to becoming an expert classic skier, however, can be challenging and requires a lot of practice. At least that is what I’ve heard; I haven’t quite reached the expert level yet.

Skate skiing has become very popular among runners, bike riders and assorted other endorphin junkies as it is very aerobic, faster than striding and some unbiased observers such as myself believe it is THE GREATEST SPORT ON EARTH!

I have been teaching skating for years and see some people pick it right up, becoming great skaters after just a few days… others, not so much. The strange thing is that I have never been able to put my finger on what the factor is that makes is easy for some and a challenge for others; it isn’t athletic ability or coordination. The key is to take a lesson, listen to your instructor, and give yourself a break if you are not an instant expert. The good news is that remember what I said about how skating is hard to learn, but easy to master? It’s very true, once you get the basic motion down, you will be skiing like an expert quickly.

Learning both striding and skating will allow you enjoy yourself no matter what the snow conditions. Right after a big storm, is the perfect time to be striding (unless you are also a downhill skier, in which case it might be hard to drag you off the mountain). That cold and squeaky sound is music to the ears of a strider, while it makes the skater feel like they are skiing in slow motion. As the snow gets older and firmer, that’s the best time for skating. Hard pack, springtime corn, hasn’t snowed in a week? All good and fast for skating.

Different techniques require different gear. Skating boots are stiffer, poles are longer, and skis are shorter and designed differently then striding gear. Why? Because when skate skiing you need a firmer attachment to the ski, you are poling at head level instead of at hip level, and the skis are all about glide and not kick. When selecting striding skis, you must choose between waxless and waxable. With waxless skis you only need to wax the tips and tails, the glide zones, and do not need to wax the kick zone, which is underneath your feet and grooved to keep you from sliding backwards on the uphill.  Waxable striding skis require you to wax the kick zone as well, but with a kick wax, which is different than a glide wax. While it can be a real challenge to get the kick wax right, if you get it, waxable skis are faster and more enjoyable then waxless skis. It’s easier to get the wax right when it is cold, dry snow…which is the best time to be striding anyway.

Nordic gear starter guide:

You don’t need much to have a good time Nordic skiing. Though the upfront cost is fairly high when you buy new, your gear lasts for years and years since Nordic skiing has much less impact and on-slope hazards than traditional alpine skiing. You can outfit yourself completely with Tahoe Mountain Sports’ new line of Salomon Nordic gear. Here’s a short list of the essentials; browse the full Salomon inventory for different styles and men’s and women’s versions of most of the below items.

* Hip belt for water and snacks, or a backpack with a water reservoir. Salomon makes many different versions of hip belts, but this XR Sensibelt model has a more flexible hip band that can transition to running better if you want to use it year-round.

* Lightweight gloves. A rookie mistake is to wear too bulky of gloves. You want a pair that will let your hands breathe like the Salomon Nordic Training Gloves.

* Softshell pants. Again, breathability is key when you’re working up a sweat on the Nordic trails. Opt for the Salomon Super Fast II Pants or the Momentum model.

* Lightweight Salomon Momentum II Soft Shell Jacket or the Salomon Super Fast II Jacket: the perfect layer.

* Poles. Length is the important difference between poles for skating or striding (cross country): buy ones at armpit length for cross country, and poles that measure between your chin and lip for skating. And don’t just think you can use your alpine skiing poles. You want to buy ones specific to Nordic skiing as they are much lighter. TMS carries three different Salomon Nordic ski poles to choose from.

* For cross country skiing: Salomon Escape 7 Pilot boots for men, Salomon Siam 7 Pilot boots for women, Salomon Snowscape 7 cross country ski

* For skate skiing: Salomon Vitane 8 boots for women, Salomon Active 8 boots for men, Salomon Equipe 8 skate ski

Tim’s picks for local places to cross-country ski:

Tahoe Cross-Country between Tahoe City and Carnelian Bay has 65 kilometers of groomed trails, several leading to awesome lake views. They have free skating clinics several times per week, and pride themselves on a friendly, small town atmosphere.

Tahoe Donner Cross-Country in Truckee has close to 100 kilometers of trails with access to the lovely Euer Valley. They also provide lessons for every type of skiing and sport a wide variety of awesome skiing terrain.

Kirkwood Cross-Country, 25 miles south of Lake Tahoe, gives you jaw-dropping views of Round Top mountain as you climb up, up and away.

Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center at Mammoth Mountain is right in the middle of the central Sierra, so you will find awesome views of the High Sierra and deep snow.

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