An Introduction to Cross-Country Skiing
ExercisesFitness & Training Jan 20, 2016
An Introduction to Cross-Country Skiing

Skiing doesn’t have to be all downhill fun. Cross-country skiing is a great full-body workout growing in popularity across the country. Also known as Nordic Skiing, this sport involves gliding across the snow in a lunging or skating motion for any distance, allowing you to cover ground more quickly than you typically could while walking or snowshoeing.

Here’s your introduction to the sport and why you should consider strapping on some skis this winter:


Cross-country skiing was developed in countries where skis were necessary to stay mobile during long and snowy winters. Competition naturally emerged and cross-country skiing was made an Olympic sport in 1924.

Cross-country skiing utilizes long, thin skis and poles, which the skier uses to help propel themselves forward. The toe is attached to the ski but the heel is not, allowing for natural movement similar to walking.


Cross-country skis are long (about six feet) and narrow with a curved tip. Unlike downhill skiers, cross-country skiers wear light, flexible boots (similar to sneakers) that allow more movement of the foot and ankle. Poles, which are essential for fast forward movement, should reach the skier’s underarms.

Although competitive skiers wear sophisticated full-body suits, normal cold-weather gear is all most recreational skiers need. Be sure to dress in layers, since you’ll heat up once you’re moving!

The Physical Benefits

Like many full-body workouts, cross-country skiing has both cardiovascular and strength benefits. Researchers at Ball State University found that life-long cross-country skiers in their 80s had lung capacities similar to an average 40-year-old. Techniques used in cross country skiing utilize muscles throughout the body, including leg muscles, abdominals, and pectorals. Researchers have found that upper body strength is an important aspect of cross-country skiing for both advanced and recreational skiers.

Because cross-country skiing utilizes the whole body, no single muscle group is over stressed, and it’s easier to engage in the activity for longer time periods. This can lead to significant calorie burn. For example, a 155-pound person can burn 298 calories during half an hour of cross-country skiing.

Where to Ski

There are more than 350 cross-country skiing areas through the United States and Canada. Many of these locations offer groomed trails and the ability to rent equipment. However, if you have your own materials, you can ski outside official resorts on most relatively smooth, snow-covered surfaces.

Whether on a snow-covered golf course, a professionally groomed track or just around your neighborhood after a winter storm, cross-country skiing can be an exciting and fun new winter workout.