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Cross-country skiing: give it a go

Whether you prefer the classic technique or skate skiing, cross-country skiing is booming – even more so in this “corona winter”. The combination of technique, fitness training and fun, all done at a distance, is perfect in the current climate. A few tips for beginners.

Text: Robert Wildi; photos: Sebastian Doerk

Strict corona safety measures in cable cars and mountain restaurants in lockdown are spoiling the skiing season, so there’s never been a better time to get into cross-country skiing. Having a go at cross-country skiing seems like a great alternative, even for experienced skiers.

“It’s never too late to start”, says Marc Steur, dispelling fears for anyone who is reluctant to try the long and narrow skis. As head trainer of Nordic sports at the Engelberg sports secondary school, he works day-to-day with the next generation of young, ambitious cross-country skiers. If you get the technique right, cross-country skiing is a great sport and fitness programme for all ages. Steur advises against simply setting off one day on a whim. “If your technique is wrong from the start, it is very difficult to go back and correct it”, he says. Cross-country skiing newbies are shown step-by-step how to adopt the right technique under the supervision of qualified cross-country ski instructors.  

Classic is easier

Beginners should first think about whether they want to learn classic or skate style. “The classic technique is closer to a natural movement, with the steps being asymmetrical, i.e. executed alternating right-left, with the skis parallel. The direction of the skis is thereby given and therefore quite easy”, explains Steur. The classic technique is certainly a good place to start for beginners looking to take their first steps in the snow. You can choose the intensity, from a walking pace to a more sporty rhythm.

Dynamic skate technique

Skate skiing has grown increasingly popular in recent years. This involves pushing your feet off sideways away from each other as if you were ice skating. According to Steur, the key elements to master skate skiing are the gliding movement on the skis and controlled use of the arms. “Beginners need to have good coordination and excellent core stability”, explains the expert.

Equipment

There are subtle differences to what equipment you require depending on your chosen technique. In addition to the sliding surface, classic cross-country skis have climbing aids in the form of small scales or fur surfaces on the base, or they can be treated with grip wax. Skis should exceed the height of the skier by around 20 cm. Ski poles should come up to your chest when placed on the floor. Skating skis on the other hand should only be 10 cm longer than the skier and the ski poles should reach their chin.

160 cross-country skiing areas with 5,500 km of trails

Overshadowed by its many world-renowned alpine skiing destinations, Switzerland also has a lot to offer both devotees and budding fans of nordic ski sports with its beautiful landscapes and infrastructure. As soon as the snow cover reaches a minimum thickness, the cross-country skiing vehicles drive not only in mountain areas but also in the lowlands, tracking varied trails through fields and forests. Marc Steur recommends all beginners choose a route according to their level of skill and expertise. “If you bite off more than you can chew, you’ll soon lose all pleasure in the sport.

If you buy a cross-country ski pass for CHF 140 (www.langlauf.ch), you’ll have access for an entire season to 5,500 km of cross-country networks nationwide in 160 Swiss cross-country skiing areas and are also doing your bit to help prepare these trails.