You may have picked up that I’m a big fan and advocate of Cross Country Skiing. I seem to be the minority here. Cross Country (or XC Ski,whatever you prefer) skiing, while wildly popular in Europe and Canada, has never really picked up steam here in the U.S. It’s like the soccer of winter sports.
Essentially cross country skiing started as a mode of transportation. You propel yourself along snow covered trails using two skis and poles. I tend to believe it’s the minimalistic concept of the sport that seems to drive people away. The most common response I get when I tell people I XC Ski is variations of,” Why? That seems so boring.” In reality, it’s anything but. Here’s why:
- Compared to downhill skiing, XC is a bargain. The average price to downhill ski (rentals included) for an afternoon is $79.00. XC? $18.00.
- While every ski resort offers downhill rentals, cross country ski rentals are few and far between here in PA. The upside? There’s plenty of places to XC ski for free. You can get a decent pair of XC skis for $200-$400 dollars, and a used pair for cheaper than that. Poles run about $50.00 to $70.00. Keep in mind, you should not use downhill skis or poles in a XC setting. Also, telemark skis are similar, but different that XC as well.
- You don’t need to drive to Vermont for great XC conditions. You just need snow (although after last winter, that could pose a problem). A good trails system is the perfect place to XC ski (I’m a particular fan of NEPA’s Rail-Trail system). Many of PA’s State Parks (NY State parks do this as well, albeit with a fee) have trails for cross country ski use that are free to the public.
- While it’s nice to have a trail with a bit of usage and grooming, it’s not necessary. One of my favorite places to XC ski is out of my uncle’s house in Pleasant Mount, PA. We ski on a mix of trails, fields, and simply through the forest. Clearing your own path is obviously more strenuous, but the exercise and views more than often pay off for the extra exertion.
- When I went to Lake Placid last year, two of the more popular spots to ski were a loop around the edges of Mirror Lake, and the local golf courses, closed for the winter.
- People always say, “it seems like so much work.” If you, like me, enjoy exercising, than that’s the point. Cross Country skiing is a full body workout that burns an average of 600-900 calories per hour. Where do you think the Nordic Track got its name? It’s frequently cited as one of the most difficult endurance sports, as the motions use every major muscle group. I use XC skiing as a supplement to running in the winter when I’m at my parents. We have a mile loop behind our house. I pop in my Ipod and chug around it a few times.
- What’s more, you can ramp up (or down) the difficulty level to suit you. You chose your pace and terrain.
- Literally anybody with working legs (that is one obvious caveat) can XC ski. It’s like tennis or golf in that way. My parents and uncle have been XC Skiing since the 70’s and it’s become something of a family bonding ritual. We frequently go today. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go on a run with my parents (sorry guys), they’d slow me down. But I will XC ski with them. I hope this makes sense without being insulting.
Nighttime Skiing and…Barcrawls?:
- I don’t know many other sports you can make into a bar crawl. Take advantage of your skis on days when the roads become inaccessible. You can ski from bar to bar, having fun enjoying the weather, while taking frequent stops to wet your lips and warm up. In NEPA the snowmobile trail system that leads from bar to bar can become a fun way exercise and imbibe.
- There’s something beautiful about winter nights. Cross Country skiing is the perfect way to see familiar terrain in a different view. Either pick a full moon, or pop on a headlamp.
Suggestions for Cross Country Skiing:
- PA’s State Park’s have an extensive trail system. Check here to see which parks are open for winter fun. Rent a yurt and make it a XC weekend!
- The links here and here provide general trail information for PA.
- The Cross Country Ski PA website is a state wide directory for Nordic Ski.
- The Wilderness Lodge is a Cross Country Ski vacation destination in western PA.
- The Crystal Lake Ski Center, located in central PA near Williamsport, is hailed by most experts as one of the region’s best Nordic centers.
- The Inn At Starlight Lake and Chet’s Place offer rentals in NEPA.
- Highpoint is the only Nordic center in NJ.
- For a unique experience, trek up to Lake Placid during a full moon to experience the Cascade Ski Center full moon parties.
- For those who want a destination weekend, Lapland Lake, and Trapp Family Lodge are two of the oldest centers in the country.
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