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Cross Country Skiing: A Different Way to Experience the Trail

Cross-Country Skiing- A Different Way to Experience  the Trail
Cross-Country Skiing A Different Way to Experience the Trail

Cross-country skiing is a popular sport in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and one that complements the excellent winter hiking and snowshoeing in the region. It also provides access to winter views, such as the one of Mt Crawford here from the banks of the mighty Saco River, that are virtually unreachable without skis.

I’ve been wanting to get into cross-country skiing for a few years and finally took the plunge this winter. I’d done it as a teenager with my father, decades ago. I’d enjoyed it then although I’d never been able to tap its full potential without access to a trail system like the one in the White Mountains. Many diehard hikers here switch to cross-country skiing in winter because local peakbagging and redlining rules count self-propelled miles skied (without ski lifts) as equivalent to miles hiked.

Cross-Country Skiing in the White Mountains
Cross-Country Skiing in the White Mountains

Although I had some past cross county skiing experience, I took a beginner lesson and rented my equipment my first few times out. However, it quickly became more economical for me to acquire some basic skiing equipment for use on groomed trails, even though I’ll probably upgrade in a year or two to skis that are better suited for un-groomed ski trails and backcountry exploration.

While it would have been in-character for me to jump directly into more difficult backcountry cross-country skiing, I decided it would be better to develop my skills on groomed trails for a season or two to build up my endurance and experience on more difficult terrain, including turns, climbing, and speed control. Proprioceptive skills take more time to develop as you get older and I decided it’d be better to burn them into my brain with lots of practice this winter before venturing into technically more difficult terrain.

Rossignol Evo Glade Cross-country Skis
Rossignol Evo Glade Cross-country Skis

There was nothing terribly scientific about my initial gear selection. I simply went to REI and bought a complete Rossignol Recreational Touring Ski Package including:

I’d used this same setup the first few times when I’d rented equipment, so I had a good idea about what I was buying and the convenience of pre-installed bindings made it a no-brainer.

So far, I’m really enjoying my Cross Country Ski outings. I try to get out once or twice each week for a few hours, on the days preceding or following my winter hiking trips. Joining a ski club with direct access to cross country ski trails out the back door, has also helped increase the frequency that I get out.

I’m sure that I’ll ratchet up the intensity of my tours in the years to come with overnight trips into wilderness areas, but for the moment, I’m enjoying being a beginner and learning a new skill.

Disclosure: The author purchased the products mentioned above with his own funds. 

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11 comments

  1. Glad your enjoying the sport! I started XC the winter I moved to MA in 2008-2009 just by shuffling around the local golf courses. It took a long time to learn how to glide efficiently without formal lessons and I’m still correcting flaws in my technique – they are worth the money. With the basics down it’s still worth checking out the local parks where you live for trails that other skiers have broken out but you can break out trails in those skis if the snow isn’t too soft/deep. Many of the same parks I go mountain biking in switch to XC skiing when there’s enough snow (and in the last few years back to fat bikes when the snow consolidates). Barebooters are often a problem though and make the whites look pristine.

    There’s also plenty of opportunity for incorporating your ski’s into winter day hikes now – anything on closed roads that get snow mobile use or even frequent snowshoe use work great like Tripoli Road or the Lincoln woods trail. A favorite of mine is to start at waterville, ski up Tripoli road to the summer trail head, switch to hiking boots and snowshoes and do the Osceola’s (probably have to break out the trail to Mount Osceola though since it gets less use). On the way out you’re rewarded with a ~800 foot elevation drop to your car that’s fast enough to be fun but totally doable on XC skis.

    • Planning to explore the trails and road at the beaver Brook trailhead today.

    • In Minnesota a lot of winter campers change the canoes to snowshoes or cross country skis. You are traveling on frozen lakes in the BWCA which makes snow shoeing very slow and you can still pull a pulk with your skis. I just bought a wide backcountry ski and 3pin leather boot setup and wow with these wide skis you can go through some pretty deep snow!!

  2. I too have just taken the leap in XC skiing! Tried it a month ago at a local winter festival for the first time-I fell 7 or 8 times in about a mile of skiing. My daughter liked it so much she bought a package from L.L. Bean. Not wanting to be left behind, I bought a package at end-season-prices earlier this week. Took ’em out Wednesday, and in that same mile, only fell twice, though one was a nice header into the trailside ditch. I was even able to get a little kick and glide going. Suffice to say, I’m hooked. Love the blog – so much so I just subscribed. Tons of great info and ideas!

  3. Philip, good to find out what equipment you ended up with, and how much fun you’re having with it, after all the (conflicting) advice you were given last year. I’m envious of all the snow you’re getting in the northeast – here in the upper midwest snow is scarce – I skied Saturday for the first time this winter.

  4. My skiing progression went from lifelong downhill lift-served, to backcountry/alpine touring about 5 years ago, to XC last year. One would think I am into more work and less fun but I can assure you XC skiing is a great activity! I got a pair of metal-edged waxless touring skis, the Fischer S Bound series, and some three-pin boots and bindings early last winter. I went on a winter camping trip in Baxter State Park in late February and we opted for cross country gear to make the 13-14 mile trip into Chimney Pond from the winter trailhead. So I got in a couple months of practice beforehand to make sure I was in shape to make the trip while towing a heavy pulk behind me full of gear and provisions. Depending on snow conditions, the trails in BSP may or may not have been broken out so I wanted to be on a beefier metal-edged setup. I’m glad I went that way though because since that trip, the skis have provided me a lot more use. This winter especially has been good locally, it’s easy and fun to get out for a few hours in Blue Hills and various Trustees properties. The metal edged skis and three pin bindings provide a rugged setup to romp around wherever you want (though it’s much, much slower going than on a dedicated XC track). My setup should you be interested is Fischer S Bound 88, Voile Three Pin Cable Binding, and Rossignol BCX11 boot. The cable attachment provides redundancy should the pins fail which is nice on long trips.

  5. I learned to cross country ski 55 years ago from my father. He had these old wooden skis with metal bindings and leather straps. We would head for the town park and go down the small slopes there. It is amazing how segmented and specialized cross country skiing has become over the years. Decades ago in Norway , what is known today as a telemark ski was the cross country ski used to get around. I have several pairs of cross country skis, some of which, like my Fischer SnowBound, use a 75 mm binding with a climbing bail, just like what you see in the MSR lightning Ascent snowshoes. But today my favorite ski is the Madshus Glittertind MGV plus-a great backcountry ski that is not as wide as today’s telemark or alpine ski, but which has great flotation and the best no-wax traction, plus metal edges for cutting into snow. I generally go outside my backdoor and down the rail trail near my house. Other than that, there are many natural recreation areas in the woods, including the Assabet National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Massachusetts, but if I am off trail and essentially bushwhacking on skis, I wear a helmet. I like the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation trails for my NH getaway and I thank my dad every time I strap on skis and head into the solitary beauty of winter. BTW, much of cross country ski wear can be used in winter hiking and the same cautions on not wearing cotton very much apply to this activity as your body temp revs up pretty quickly. Light to midweight synthetic layers, plus a hard shell jacket stuffed into a fanny pack with insulated water and snacks is the way to go.

    • Hmm. Looking to upgrade my skis to metal edges. I’ll give those a look!

      • You might want to use a Rottefella BC step-in binding. Madshus also has the most comfortable zip-up BC ski boot that fits the NNN BC binding. Note that a NNN BC binding is a little bit wider, and not the same on the rails as a regular NNN binding. Make sure the boots and bindings are a match. The plate of the BC binding is slightly wider than the ski itself, but it is not a problem when skiing. As for any back country skiing with a waxless ski, it’s useful to bring along a “glide” paste to put on the non scale parts of the ski. I use Maxx Glide and it works very well. You don’t need a lot, just a thin coating. I often bring a paper towel with glide on it when snow gets sticky and I just wipe the tip and tail bottom parts of the ski. If you find snow balling up under your boot, a little glide will do ya.

  6. Oh, yeah. The Glittertind skis are not as wide as some BC skis, like the old Fischer SBound Outtabounds Crown, which is as wide as an alpine ski, but it is a lot lighter and is thin enough to fit in some tracks. I love its ability to glide-grip-glide. It takes corners really well, or maybe I’m just getting better with age.

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