Cross Country Skiing is a Wicked Winter Workout

Cross country skiing is a great full-body fat-burning workout. Getting outside in the crisp fresh air and sun of winter is necessary for both mental and physical health. Gliding and sliding along the white snow makes for some peaceful and pretty times in life. And skiing can help you destress after a long day at work.

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How do you get started and learn to cross country ski?

I use to cross country ski years ago when I was in high school. Then I went to University and left my skis behind. Back then, I thought I was too busy to exercise. It wasn’t until I was scared into healthy living from a breast cancer diagnosis, that I relearned the value of being active. Cancer robbed a full year of my life, and it continues to haunt me to this day. I now realize that you absolutely must make time for being active in life. And during winter, it is even more important to be aware of how inactive we can get in these cold months.

I met my friend Cathy when I joined a local run club. I watched with intense interest as she trained and shared about her cross country ski adventures. She has become quite proficient in the sport, training and racing in local events. I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview for this article on Pink Ribbon Runner. Cathy will tell you what you need to know to get started to cross country ski.

Cross country skiing is a very user friendly sport.”

An Interview with a Cross Country Skier

Cathy Michaliuk is such a positive spirit. If she isn’t running or skiing, you can find her volunteering her time to help others be more active. Her enthusiastic cheers are often heard as she watches other racers cross the finish line. She loves to be active and it is contagious.

I interviewed Cathy about her experience with cross country skiing. I think you will enjoy reading her answers to my questions. Maybe you might even give this fabulous sport a try? Let’s hear what Cathy has to say…

How long have you been skiing and what got you into the sport? 

I started skiing around 25 years ago.

My husband and I both bought skis.  He taught me the basics.  We went out on a golf course to practice.  And that was my intro to cross country skiing.

We skied off and on for a few years.  It was only in the last couple of years that I have really gotten back into skiing. This will be going into my third season where I feel like a true cross-country skier.

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: The average person can burn 450 – 600 calories per hour by skiing at a slow 2.5 miles per hour pace.

Why cross-country skiing versus other types of skiing, like downhill?   

I’ve done downhill before, and I really didn’t enjoy it. I am also clumsy and a bit chicken on the big hills.

But what triggered my cross-country come back was my passion for trail running.

I had just come off training and running the Fall Superior Trail Marathon.  This is an intense and difficult race.  Afterwards, I usually take some time off to rest and recover.  But I find that when I do this, I sometimes struggle to get back into running. 

After that race, I wanted to do something a little different than running because I did so much of it with training and the race.  I wanted to try something new that year. 

I have run the trails at the Kamview Nordic Center.  And when I learned that the top trail racers also cross-country ski, I thought I would get back into it.  So, I asked my husband for new skis that Christmas. 

It seemed like the sun and the stars and aligned.  And I started skiing again, more seriously this time. 

Do you belong to a cross country ski club? 

Joining a ski club is like having a gym membership.

Yes, I have a membership out at Kamview, where I got hooked on cross-country skiing.  They are known for skiing and have trails for all different abilities.  I like that.   Some days I just want to ski flat.  I can find a trail for that out there. And if I want to do a little bit of hills, I can do that there too.  It provides me with good combinations and variety.

It is also in a convenient location and easy to get to from my house.  I have the flexibility to go in the daytime for a long ski.  Or I can go in the evening for a quicker ski.

Joining a ski club is like having a gym membership.  If you have a membership, you are more likely to go.  I can justify going for a 45-minute ski.  I don’t feel obligated to spend 3 hours skiing like you do when you buy a day pass.  Some days I am limited on time.  It is my incentive to get out there.

Where else can people ski?

There are a lot of places for classic cross-country skiing.

  • golf courses
  • friends’ farms (you need permission to ski on private property)
  • city parks
  • state or provincial parks

You can classic ski anywhere you have a large open area or semi open.

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: This sport is over 22,000 years old with evidence that man hunted reindeer on skis in the Paleolithic era.

What gear do you need to ski when you first start out? 

My advice to anyone starting out is to borrow or rent some equipment first.

That Christmas, I got my skis, boots, bindings, and poles. 

My husband and I went to a place that knows about cross-country skiing. They helped me pick out a package that was right for me. 

You don’t have to spend fortune on a ski package.  Your weight and height come into play, so you need to be fitted.

I was happy with the package they fitted me with.  They knew what they were doing.  I went with classic skis.  Skate skiing requires different gear. 

My advice to anyone starting out is to borrow or rent some equipment first.  Then you can try out the sport and see what it is like.

The ski club I belong to, has special nights where they have a reduced rate for ski rentals and passes just to get people to try it out. They have a candlelight ski at night that is fun too

You will also want to decide if you want to do classic vs skate skiing before you buy a ski package.

What is the difference between classic and skate skiing?

Classic is what most consider traditional cross-country skiing.  It is essentially like walking on skis.  You pull one arm in front of the other and lift your legs to slide along.  And you’re doing it on a pre-set track.  

“If you can walk you ski.”

Skate skiing is more intense.  As the name implies, it is more like you are skating on skis.  Your legs are pushing outward as opposed to sliding along a straight line.

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: The world’s oldest skis are from Russia dating back to 6300 – 5000 BC.

Is cross country skiing difficult to learn?

Just put on some skis and go!

My husband taught me enough to introduce me to the sport, early on.  But, when I got my most recent skis, I took one lesson.  It had been many years since I had skied, I felt like I was starting from scratch.

If somebody is just starting out, I would recommend either a lesson or going with someone who knows how to ski. 

You could just grab some skis, go to an open area and sort of walk on your skis.  But it doesn’t take long to learn.  It really depends on your comfort level. 

Lessons teach you the proper way to ski.  And they can give you tips to make it easier and a whole lot more fun.  They also teach you some of the safety aspects of cross-country skiing. 

Most ski clubs offer group and private lessons.  Ask your friends who ski.  They will know the best places. 

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: The first recorded cross country ski race in North America was in California in 1863.

How long does it take to learn to cross country ski?

Basically, the same day that I put skis on.  It is not hard to learn.  I’ve gotten better since that first day though.

The first day out is always a little awkward.  But, like most things, you get better with practice.  Eventually you go a little faster and a little more graceful. 

But from the moment you put on your skis, you are a skier.

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: The first Winter Olympic Cross Country event was 1924. Women skiers entered the Olympics in 1952.

What do you wear cross country skiing?

I wear the same clothes that I wear running.  But I do dress a little warmer than I do on winter runs.  I don’t get as warm or sweat as much when I ski.  I dress in layers, putting on more or taking some off to make myself comfortable as I ski.  And I dress for the weather.

You don’t need to invest in a lot of special clothing.  Wear what you have.  I’ve seen people out there in jeans.  So, whatever you are most comfortable wearing and what you have at home already.

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: This activity improves strength and cardiovascular fitness. It is one of the best ways to train for spring running races.

What benefits have you noticed from cross country skiing? 

The biggest benefit is physical fitness.  It is great cardio.  You are moving your arms and your legs for a full body workout.  And it is low impact, easy on the knees. 

But the biggest surprize was the mental benefits.  Being outside in nature does something to your mind.  I find it truly is a soul cleansing experience.  It is a great reset at the end of a day.  I feel much better after a ski. 

What do you enjoy most about skiing?

I enjoy the solitude out on the trails.  Unlike trail running, where I feel safer running with friends, cross country skiing is something that I can do on my own.  It’s very rare that I’m actually going out skiing with somebody.

And winter brings an enchanting peace.” – Giovanna Fletcher

What challenges have you faced while cross-country skiing?

Definitely the hills!  Going downhill on cross country skis is my biggest challenge.  In the beginning I would pop my skis off and walk down.  But with lessons and practice, I got better. 

Cross Country Skiing Fun Fact: For fat-burning potential, cross country skiing tied with running as the best activity to burn calories.

What other winter sports do you enjoy?

I got back into snowshoeing when I started volunteering with the Special Olympics athletes.  I also trail run year-round.  And to mix things up, I am also trying to get out skating more in the winter. 

What are your top tips for beginners wanting to cross-country ski? 

Find something that fits into your lifestyle.  For me, the ski trails are only 20 minutes from my house.  The club hours match my hours, so it is easy to get out there and ski.  You can’t make exercise more stressful for yourself. 

Go for a lesson or two.  They will teach you how to ski and give you some tips and safety information as well. 

Have a goal.  I registered for a cross-country ski race early on when I started back into the sport.  I was committed.  It got me out there. 

Do it for you.  Pick a time, maybe once a week.  Put it in your calendar and just go. 

What else would you like beginner skiers to know about cross country skiing?

You are never too old or unfit to start.  Cross-country skiing doesn’t take super strength or talent.  You just put on some skis and go.  It is a very user-friendly sport.  And there is amazing scenery. 

It can be a lot of fun too.  Our club had a “murder mystery in the trails” event last season.  There were clues on the trails for us to find.  We narrowed down who the murder was by following the clues.  It was a blast.  And it encouraged me to explore new trails. 

Find something that fits your lifestyle. Have a goal. Do it for you!

Read more about being active in wintertime:

26 Fun Ways to Stay Active This Winter

9 Reasons To Run Outside All Winter

How to Run in Snow


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  1. Thanks for sharing such an inspiring and interesting post. I knew about this for the first time and feeling so good about it

  2. Being in Wisconsin, I really would love to take up cross country skiing! This post makes it feel like it’s possible to start. I agree that being out in nature does something to you!! It’s so soothing!

  3. Wow! This is such a great post. I love all the tips and information! Another thing I love is how it’s low impact and easy on your knees! That’s right up my alley. Thank you for posting this!

  4. I have cross-country skied in the past and loved it. Would love to get back to it. Unfortunately I live in Louisville and we don’t get much snow here. But I’ll certainly explore my options and try to take it back up when I visit a snowier place.

  5. Super informative post! Great tips and personal stories! I’ve just gotten the hang of simple snowshoeing and this makes me think that I’m ready for cross-country skiing!

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