It’s Not Like Walking. But Not Complicated To Learn.

Lessons make a difference. Credit: White Pine Touring

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.”

Retrospectively, it would have been a lot more helpful and realistic to say, “If you can walk, you can learn to cross-country ski. And it takes only a single 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 one lesson, but one, followed by practice, then another. And so on. Believe me, this approach works!)

Cross-country can be filled with grace – not just the dynamism, incredible 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.

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 becomes incredibly social, skiing side by side with friends and family.

Third, learn to ski at a cross-country area or club with machine-groomed trails, where the compressed tracks will guide your skis. (More on this in a future article—promise!) Two outstanding resources on places to go are and, which introduce you to marvelous places in both the U.S. and Canada.

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

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!

As we said, fun lessons. Credit: Mazamas

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