Cross Country Skiing - An Introduction

 By: Jack Smith
Considered to be one of the best aerobic exercises, cross country skiing is also called Nordic skiing or XC skiing. It involves the simultaneous use of ones arms and legs and making use of skiing equipment like boots, skis and poles.

Cross country skiing, finds its origins in Scandinavia and is over 4000 years old. It used to be the sole method of transportation for these snow and ice-bound regions. Today, cross country skiing has come a long way from being a mode of transportation to a major competitive sport, played at the Olympic level.

Did you know that a third of all medals are awarded for Cross Country Skiing and other Nordic sports? Nordic sports include the biathlon, which combines cross country skiing with rifle marksmanship and ski jumping; Nordic combined, which is a combined scoring of jumping and cross country skiing events; ski orienting, which is a marker search on skis with aid of compass and map; and telemark, a recent technique which involves using a free heel like cross country skiing.

Beginners are often confused about the difference between cross country and alpine or downhill skiing. Of course one can surmise that downhill skiing involves coming down slopes - we've all seen that in the movies! But the technical difference in the skis is that in XC Skiing, the skier's heel is free, that is, only the toe is attached to the boot. This allows the skier to climb, slide down, and navigate the terrain making it a truly cross country sport. In alpine skiing and even snowboarding, the skier's entire boot is attached to the ski, and thus one can only come down on the skis or snow board. Although cross country skiing today is not as popular as downhill skiing, it is an ancient sport and mode of travel, and the ancestor from which downhill skiing and snowboarding have been derived in the recent times.

Also called Langlauf in German and Ski de Fond in French, cross country skiing mostly takes place on prepared and signed trails called 'Lopie'. These are graded in order of difficulty, form blue to black, or from easiest to the toughest, the latter having more climbs and descents. Overall, most cross country skiing trails are on relatively flat terrain and therefore found at the bottom of a valley or on a high mountain plateau. You could also ski 'off-track', where you find your own trail. Off-track ski conditions, on the other hand, are up to the weather and any previous skiers. For instance, one can have a great experience with previously "skied-in" tracks. Did you know that in places like Finland, in the smaller towns, you will often find children making their way to school in the morning on their skis!
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