To Make The Switch To Cross-Country, Please Start With A Lesson And These Tips.

In the early 1970s, in a visionary but totally wrong-headed move, the fledgling Nordic ski industry declared that, “If you can walk, you can cross-country ski.”

It would have been a lot more helpful to say, “If you can walk, you can learn to cross-country ski. And it takes only one lesson from a professional to learn how to glide.”

Those were times when an alpine resort manager pigeonholed skinny skiers as, “Guys who head into the woods Friday night, and come out Sunday without having changed either their underwear or their $5 bill.” We were on the defensive—and dang, it’s tough to fight clever stereotypes!

Those were also the days that New Englander John Frado, who designed a lot of the best trails in North America, coined the hilarious phrase that’s the title of this article. And boy, was he right, because you’re going to become a better skier, use less energy, go further faster, and have more fun sooner if you start the sport with instruction. (And by that I mean ideally not just a single lesson, but one, followed by practice, then another lesson. And so on.)

Cross-country can be filled with grace—not just the dynamism, self-discipline, and athleticism you see at the Olympics, but true beauty. Or it can be an awkward downer.

So here are half-a-dozen tips to make skiing euphoric, quickly.

Credit: Ski Museum Of Maine

First, please do something the Nordic business has never been able to and come up with more endearing descriptions than “lesson,” “instruction,” “teaching,” and “ski school.” Who wants to go back to studies when you’re out to have winter fun?

Next, don’t even think of learning from a loved one—instead, learn from a ski professional. There’s always an uncomfortable level of stress and self-consciousness if your instructor is also a relative, or your sweetie. Too distracting; and incidentally, your kids or grandkids are likely to absorb everything depressingly faster than us oldies. But once you can glide, that’s the moment you discover that cross-country is incredibly social, skiing side by side with friends and family.

Third, learn to ski at a cross-country area or club with machinegroomed trails, where the compressed tracks will guide your skis. (More on this in a future article—promise!) A good resource on places to go is and

Fourth, your ski pro needs to explain, early-on, how and why to hold your poles properly (my cliché: reach for the sky along the shaft, then shake hands through the grip). Grabbing the poles tightly means you’ll be upright, stiff, walking rather than gliding, and a lot more fall-prone.

Fifth, if you’re renting equipment, check to see if your instructor uses the same skis you do. It kinda levels the playing field.

And finally, think about a second lesson—or a private lesson—that concentrates on the whole range of descent techniques on these narrow skis that don’t have metal edges or heels held down, while you’re using footwear akin to sneakers. Wedge turns, step and skate turns, parallels, telemarking, traversing with kick turns, side stepping—they’ll all get you down that hill.

And as I found even in my prideful youth, sometimes you just have to take your skis off and walk down. It’s all legit!


  1. Great article! If we should ever meet we would talk about skiing for hours. ‘Glide Long Prosper’

  2. Great article, next I need to know where it’s best to go to, for a 60+ complete beginner to cross country skiing, and who’s only had one pretty disappointing week downhill skiing in France, many years ago; also not too expensive but would like at least a couple of private lessons?

  3. Bruce Lund says:

    I always thought I knew how to – we had cross country skied at our cottage in Keshena , Wisconsin for years. I t was tranquil, relaxing and smooth through woods. No hills. Then I went skiing with my son and his son in the Unitas near SLC. I quickly learned that
    it was something else to navigate hills with cross country skiis.. I knew how to slow down but was not successful!!! Yes, lessons are important111

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