Yes – we realise that cross-country involves skis, but they’re not downhill skis. It’s not all about downhill skiing. Visit the mountains this winter and look beyond the lift pass. You’ll discover a whole world of exciting sports that you might just fall in love with. Often overlooked in favour of its more popular downhill cousin, cross-country skiing has a dedicated following. Passionate cross-country skiers love that the sport brings you so much closer to nature. Cross-country skiing is also a phenomenal work-out and is sure to leave you feeling fitter and healthier.
There’s no better place to learn cross-country skiing than Lapland. Nordic countries are passionate about cross-country skiing. While there is some debate about the origins of the sport, which dates back thousands of years, the origin of the word ski stems from Old Norse. It’s not untypical for people in Scandinavia to escape to the country for a long weekend cross-country skiing.
In Ylläs alone, there is a staggering 330km of tracks, of which 35km are floodlit so you don’t even have to stop cross-country skiing when it turns dark! The trails delve deep into the unspoilt wilderness of the Pallas-Ylläs National Park, taking in Lapland’s highest fells and pristine, frozen forests. In addition to the routes into the wilderness, Ylläs’ so-called “warm tracks” (where it can be as much as 15°C warmer!) provide moderate cross-country skiing around the village.
In frontier-feelling Saariselkä cross-country skiing will bring you closer, not just to nature, but to history too. Scenic trails glide past eerily abandoned mining buildings used during the 1860s gold rush era. Saariselkä is a fantastic place to learn cross-country skiing. Inghams offers special Learn to Cross-country Ski packages with local tutors, helping you to explore the 230km of trails through the majestic Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Complete beginners are frequently surprised to learn that there are two different styles of cross-country skiing: classic and skate. The point of entry for many is classic style cross-country, which uses a form of movement most similar to walking naturally. Classic cross-country is easier for people who are less fit, but the style is no-less technical and it still provides an excellent work-out.
Classic style also has the benefit of not requiring groomed tracks. One sub-styles of classic cross-country includes back-country, which focus on going “off-piste”. This style uses a wider ski, similar to what you’d use when ski touring. Back-country is perfect for nature lovers looking to explore the countryside.
Skate is a faster paced, mostly race style. It’s all about the glide with skate, and it is impossible to do off a groomed track, much in the same way that taking road bike “off-road” is. Many resorts will offer dedicated skating tracks, but these tend to be less numerous. Skate skis are far skinnier than your standard, downhill skis – so if you are used to Alpine skiing, then skate could take some adjustment.
Seefeld, the cross-country ski capital of Austria, and one of the best places to try Nordic skiing outside of Scandinavia, has extensive skate skiing tracks, up to 125km. The Seefeld plateu is a cross-country ski paradise and, with its dedicated trail maps and specialist ski schools, an ideal place to learn the sport. In addition to the skate tracks there are 154km of classic trails gliding through beautiful valleys and picturesque, snow-covered forests and meadows.
If you’ve been dissuaded from trying cross-country because you felt it was too similar to downhill skiing, rest assured that the sports require very different techniques. Discover cross-country skiing on your next winter adventures – we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.