We've all heard cross-country skiing is a phenomenal workout -- it puts the cardiovascular system through the same paces as running but without the continual pounding that can reduce a body's joints and soft tissue to a mass of inflammation.
With only a modest effort, cross-country skiing will help keep you in top form during the coldest months of the year and burn mega calories too -- about 600 per hour. Crank it up to race pace and you'll blaze through 1,000 calories or more per hour.
So why aren't you doing it? Even if you don't have six inches of snow in your backyard during winter, it's worth getting to the mountains to mix up your training routine and have a great time doing it. And while cross-country skiing is a sport you can do for a lifetime, it doesn't take a lifetime to learn.
There are two types of cross-country (or Nordic) skiing -- classic and skate. Since classic technique more closely mimics walking or jogging, it's the best choice for beginners. When learning to classic ski let the following be your guide.
1. Keep your weight over your feet. One of the biggest mistakes skiers make is leaning too far forward, especially going uphill, making your skis feel like they have no grip on the snow. As with any sport, keeping your weight over your feet will keep you in balance and give you more power and greater control.
2. Think running arms. As in running, your opposing hand and foot move forward with each stride. This helps keep you centered over your skis and channels your energy forward, down the track. When your hand swings back, it should relax, releasing your grip on your ski pole for a moment. If your pole straps are properly adjusted, the grip will automatically return to your palm when you swing your hand forward.
3. Push off from the middle of your ski. The middle of your ski is called the kick zone (where the kick wax or "fish scales" are concentrated). When you step on the kick zone, your ski bends, allowing the ski to grip the snow, and providing a solid platform from which to push off.
4. Push your foot forward rather than kicking back. The classic image of a cross-country skier shows her gliding on one foot, while the other foot is airborne behind her. In this case, looks can be misleading, as the position of the trailing foot is the result of the stride forward, not a kick backward. By driving forward onto your foot, you generate more speed and longer glide time.
5. "Herringbone" up hills. Some hills are just too steep to stride up. Instead, step up the hill by pointing your toes outward and then rolling your ankles slightly inward to set your edges. Your skis should form a "V" behind you, with the tails of your skis almost touching. Push off with both poles at the same time for more power with each step.
6. Step around corners. To negotiate a sharp corner, especially going downhill, it's easier to "step" your skis around the turn rather than trying to steer them. With your weight on the outside ski, angle the inside ski in the direction you want to go. In a series of punchy steps, give a decisive push-off to the inside ski and then quickly return your weight to the outside ski until you have made it around the turn.
7. On downhills stay low with your hands forward. Lower your hips and roll your chest forward in a gorilla-like posture while keeping your hips over your feet. Press your hands forward for balance. As you gain confidence, try "tucking" with your hands forward, gloves touching and your poles tucked under your armpits.