Often overshadowed by its bigger Alpine brother, cross country skiing is a fantastic way to explore our beautiful landscape here in the mountains. Aside from its fitness benefits, it is a peaceful and tranquil activity by nature, and allows you to escape from the hustle and bustle of the ski resort. Read on for our beginners’ guide to cross country skiing.
Originating in Norway, cross country is the oldest form of skiing and indeed the word “ski” comes from the Norse word “skid”. The concept arose from the need to travel over snow-covered terrain, with long distances between isolated communities. Cross country skiing only developed as a sport at the end of the 19th Century, however, when a cross country race was added to the Holmenkollen Ski Festival. It debuted as a men’s event at the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix in 1924.
There are two different Cross Country Skiing techniques, each requiring different equipment. “Classic” is generally thought to be the easier technique to learn, and less intensive, with two tracks in which to slot your skis. “Skating” is a little more challenging, allowing participants to gain more speed and momentum, which in turn assists with steeper inclines.
How to get started
“Classic vs. Skating”
First of all you need to choose the technique that you wish to learn, either “Classic” or “Skating”, as it is recommended that beginners concentrate on one particular style. If you are starting off with a lower level of fitness, “Classic” is probably the best. If you already have a good level of cardiovascular fitness, and are perhaps used to skating on Alpine skis on the flat, or inline skating, for example, you might wish to try “Skating”.
The equipment differs depending on the technique you choose. Classic skis are typically longer, with a textured pattern on the base which assists with grip and stops the skier from sliding backwards when going uphill. Classic poles tend to be shorter, and should reach the middle of your chest. Boots have a soft sole, in order to roll them easily and create a powerful kick. Skating skis tend to be shorter and stiffer than classic, with a base that allows for “continuous glide”. Poles are longer, ideally reaching your chin, and boots have a stiff sole and an ankle cuff which protects the foot and helps to transform power from the skier’s legs to the surface, therefore gaining speed. So, as you can see it is important to have the correct equipment for your technique! If you are in an area where there are marked cross country trails, you should be able to rent equipment locally. We recommend renting to begin with, however once you decide to continue progressing, you will find the equipment significantly cheaper to buy than Alpine skiing equipment!
Cross-country skiing is an aerobic activity, and therefore you will generate a lot of body heat. For this reason, it is important to wear layers, including a breathable base layer that will draw moisture away from your body, a lightweight mid layer which can be removed if you get too warm, and a windproof outer layer (soft shell jacket is ideal). Unless you are out in very cold temperatures, a headband is ideal for keeping your ears warm, and a soft “buff” style neck protector is a good idea. Gloves should be warm but fitted, allowing you to control your poles. Although we strongly advise that you carry water, backpacks are not ideal when cross-country skiing as they affect your weight distribution, however a very small camelpack or a waist belt/bumbag style water carrier is fine.
We recommend starting off with a couple of lessons. Again, if you are in an area with cross country trails, you should be able to book lessons fairly easily. Once you’ve conquered the basics, you can then practise what you’ve learned at your own pace. Cross-country trails are graded in a similar way to Alpine ski runs, starting with green as easiest, then blue, red, and finally black being most difficult.
Cross Country Skiing in Meribel/Courchevel
Both resorts offer cross country skiing, with a total of 66km of maintained trails in Courchevel, and 33km in Meribel. Trails in Courchevel can be found in the following areas: Courchevel Le Praz (this site was used in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville!), Courchevel Village (Brigues area), Courchevel Moriond (Belvedere area) and Courchevel 1850 (Bouc Blanc and Col de la Loze). Trails in Meribel can be found around the Altiport area and around the Lac de Tueda in Meribel Mottaret. There is a long trail from Courchevel to Meribel Altiport (Red, 17km) and also from Courchevel to La Tania (Red, 15km).
You can pick-up a cross country piste map from the local Tourist Office in both resorts. As an added bonus all the cross country trails in Courchevel and Meribel are free to use so the only cost to you is the hire of equipment, which is very reasonably priced.
We are also lucky enough to be close to Champagny-Le-Haut, a cross country skiing paradise. The plateau of Champagny-Le-Haut is at the entrance to the Vanoise National Park, featuring truly stunning scenery. The site offers 22km of well-maintained pistes of all levels, and is thought to be the best cross-country ski terrain in the Savoie region.
Now it’s your turn!
With this background knowledge from our beginners’ guide to cross country skiing hopefully you now feel ready to head out onto the trails and have a go. If you fancy a change from Alpine skiing it makes a wonderful alternative and is suitable for the whole family to enjoy, even children from the age of approximately five upwards. Watch this space for our next blog which will give you more good reasons to try cross country skiing with a focus on the health benefits.