Cross country (XC) skiing is a terrific way to enjoy the great outdoors in winter. Is it great for older people that want to stay active? You betcha!

From Roger Lohr, founder and editor at and prolific writer on cross country skiing

The pleasures of XC skiing can be a wonderful change of pace for winter activities.  Whether you seek the solitude of solo skiing or are spending some quality time with family and friends, it’s relatively inexpensive, accessible and aesthetically pleasing. It’s also a great rhythmic, aerobic activity, enabling you to burn up hundreds of calories per hour without straining joints such as ankles and knees. You’ll get a low-impact workout while enjoying the outdoors, and the scenery sure beats the view at your local health club. Here are some tips:

Boundary Country Trekking x-c skiers in northern MN enjoy some hot chocolate. Credit: Roger Lohr
Boundary Country Trekking x-c skiers in northern MN enjoy some hot chocolate.
Credit: Roger Lohr

Where do you plan to ski? The terrain and location helps determine your equipment choices. XC skiing allows you to choose from a variety of locations. parks, golf courses, hiking trails, or XC ski areas are all good choices. Commercial XC ski areas charge a fee for access, but they offer maintained trails and tracks, signage, and you can get help if you run into trouble out on the trails.

You can rent equipment at your local ski shop or at the ski area. This is often recommended for first-time skiers, and some ski shops will apply the price of rentals toward purchasing new equipment.

Buying used equipment at a ski swap may be a mistake. Be aware that at garage sales and some swaps, you may wind up with gear that is outdated or inappropriate for you. Buy a package deal that offers a discount when you buy skis, boots, bindings, and poles together.

In-track XC skis are used with a traditional kick-and-glide motion on maintained track systems set by special grooming machines. They have minimal sidecut so the skis will stay in the tracks. Sidecut refers to the narrowness of the middle part of the skis in relation to the wider tip and tail.

Off-track XC skis are often used to navigate ungroomed trails and terrain in parks, open fields, and on golf courses. They are wider than in-track XC skis and provide more flotation and stability in fresh snow. Wider and metal-edged backcountry skis are for the more adventurous skier, who experience variable snow conditions.

Some XC skis have waxable bases, on which you put “kick wax” for grip. Other skis have waxless bases, where a pattern in the middle third of the ski base, such as small plastic ridges or scales, provides the grip. Waxless skis have been designed to run beautifully in just about any kind of snow. Your decision will center on whether you want optimal performance by waxing or optimal convenience with waxless skis.

Have the ski bindings professionally installed on the skis. Be aware that the bindings come in different integrated systems so they must be matched to the type

Quebec's Charlevoix region is a wonderful destination for cross-country skiing.  Credit: Tourisme Quebec
Quebec’s Charlevoix region is a wonderful destination for cross-country skiing.
Credit: Tourisme Quebec

of boots that you select. Your boots should feel just like running shoes so try on the boots wearing the socks that you plan to wear when skiing. Consider foot beds or fitted insoles if you have problems with your feet. Because of these various sizing methods, it’s important to try on boots before buying them. The fit should be snug and your heel should remain in place. You should be able to wiggle your toes.

XC ski poles are used to help forward thrust. Skiers plant their poles behind on an angle. If this is your first set of XC gear, any reasonably light pole will be fine. Select poles that fit comfortably under your armpits when you stand on the ground.

Now get going – XC skiing is relatively easy to learn, but first-timers should take a lesson from a qualified instructor at a commercial XC ski area to greatly enhance the experience. As your confidence on the skinny skis grows, you’ll have a life time of nature outdoors, fitness and fun.

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