About Cross-Country
Ski Getaways

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Man, does this guy know his stuff! When you’re planning your next winter vacation, this guide is the next best thing to having Jonathan along for the trip.
C.R. Power
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Talk Radio AM 1260
Santa Fe, NM

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green arrowquestions & answers


Whether you have a question about where to go cross-country skiing… how to start skiing… or you want to get Jonathan’s opinion on the latest Nordic ski equipment… he’s happy to answer!

(You can check out his bio page if you’d like information about his extensive experience in the cross-country ski world.)

Please e-mail your question to Jonathan. He’ll post new questions and answers at least once a week.


Where would I go next year to get an early start on the season?

Winnipeg, Manitoba


It's good to see that someone else is still thinking snow, not all caught up in tennis or gardening!

You can often find skiing in the Rockies in early/mid November – Silver Star, B.C., Crested Butte, Colorado, and West Yellowstone, Montana come to mind – but one of the most reliable and earliest locations is Fairbanks, Alaska. The Birch Hill trails consistently have skiable snow in October (plus they have snowmaking), though it can be pretty cold as well.

Some commercial areas in the West could usually open before Thanksgiving, but it wouldn’t be economic for them to operate for only a couple of dozen skiers.


We hopefully have a few more weeks to ski here in Alaska, but eventually we’ll have to put our skis away. Do you have a preferred storage method for both skate and classic skis?

I’m OK on cleaning and waxing for storage but I’m wondering if horizontal or vertical makes any difference in maintaining camber during the summer.

Chugiak, Alaska


Normally I just slap some hard wax on fiberglass ski bases (classic or skate) and put them away for the summer, leaning against a wall or in a ski rack.
Figuring you deserve more detail, I talked with Peter Hale, tech guy for Madshus skis. He’s a world-class expert on both equipment and waxing, and a former Alaskan, too! Incidentally, he was just up in your part of the world, at the National Championships in Fairbanks.
Peter suggests hot waxing your skis before storing them, then putting them some place cool, if that’s possible. It's probably best to place the skis horizontally, with no weight on top to compress the camber. Another suggestion is putting them on their sidewalls, again to avoid compressing the camber.
If you store them vertically, it's best not to strap them together or block them, which again can deteriorate camber.
Hope you still have some great skiing up north!


Is there such a thing as cross-country skis that fold or break down so that you can carry them easier?
Seeley Lake, Montana


Hey, I know exactly where Seeley Lake is – in fact, I drove through there in January on the way to Swan Mountain Guest Ranch and once skied some Forest Service trails there.
I don't know of any fold-up/break-down Nordic skis. I contacted a couple of friends who work for ski companies, and one of them had heard that the Finnish Army was exploring the idea some years ago, but apparently nothing came of it.
Maybe the simplest thing to do is get a pack designed for carrying skis. If you take this route, you'll want to make sure that the slits or straps fit your skis' width.
Another option might be collapsible snowshoes, which have been around for a few years. Snowboarders sometimes use them to climb, then break them down, stuff them in a pack, and take off downhill.


I’d like to visit ski-in lodges with groomed trails. The only one I’ve been to was Royal Gorge [in California], and it burned down a few years ago.

Hartford, Connecticut


There are a lot of ski-in huts and lodges in both the U.S. and Canada, but very few accessible by groomed trails.

Cross-Country Ski Getaways covers four places you can ski in on groomed trails: the Rendezvous Huts in Washington’s Methow Valley; Stokely Creek Lodge, Ontario; Callaghan Country Lodge, British Columbia; and Wade Lake Cabins, Montana.

Rock Creek Lodge in California is a rustic backcountry situation with groomed trails, but you have to be carried in by snowmobile to get to them.

I’ve also visited a couple of wonderful places near the Alberta/B.C. border where there are tracked trails to the lodges: Lake O’Hara Lodge and Shadow Lake Lodge. Once you’re reached them, there’s incredibly scenic touring but no additional groomed trails.

If anyone knows of other backcountry/groomed areas, I’d love to hear about them!


What do you think is the single most important innovation in cross country skiing?

Pasadena, California


I’ve had some great conversations (well, arguments too!) about this. Some people say the biggest change is waxless skis to make the sport simpler, others think the answer is skate technique that makes it more exciting.

Friends who run XC areas (they may be a little biased) believe it’s the introduction of cross-country ski areas, with all kinds of services, instead of breaking your own trail through meadows and woods. Other folks argue for the introduction of fiberglass skis, or even Lycra, to make the sport sexy.

My choice would be the whole menu of machine-groomed trails – private operations, municipal and ski club trails, etc. They’re places where you can use fiberglass skis for skating (or waxless skis for track skiing), wear your Lycra, and often find services like rental gear, meals, and plowed parking lots. They also make XC more social/friendly and open it up to folks who might not be comfortable off on their own in winter.

Other opinions are welcome!


Jonathan! How great to have you there for questions, thank you! I have not put on skis since I was 3 or 4. I am 66, living in Western New York, and thought I would like to take up cross-country skiing.

I chose XC because I thought it was safer than getting a broken leg, neck, or whatever coming downhill. Also, I have one knee that doesn’t do well with repeated stress. Is it true cross-country is less stressful to the knees than downhill?

My plan is to get started now, and next year when winter comes back I’ll be raring to go. There are a lot of areas within an hour from here. I have winter wear but not ski wear. For beginning, do I need to buy special boots? The ski areas all mention renting equipment – would that be skis, poles, and boots typically?

Le Roy, NY


I think starting cross-country skiing at any age is a great decision (no bias there!). Probably more important, I bet you’ll find that cross-country is a lot of fun – it’s social, you get to ski in beautiful areas, and it’s healthy, great exercise and a lot more.

First thing, cross-country skiing is a lot less risky than downhill – far fewer accidents and almost no serious accidents. And it can be easy on the knees, though you may want to be a little cautious initially on downhills. Incidentally, I started cross-country after twisting my left knee downhill skiing and then developing a little arthritis. After two years of XC skiing, my knee had completely healed and I could even start running again.

I’d say get a start as soon as you can – you live in a snow belt where there may be weeks more skiing.

You’ll need special boots that are compatible with your bindings. I’d suggest renting a good waxless equipment package the first couple of times (skis, poles, boots, and bindings), making sure that your boots are snug but not tight – that’s even more important than getting good skis.

If you really like the gear, you can talk with the rental shop people about buying the stuff you’ve been renting at a nice discount when the season ends. (Most ski shops sell off about a third of their rental inventory each year to make room for new equipment.)

Hope you have a great time!


A friend who’s skied a lot longer than I have just told me I should wax my waxless skis, which I’ve never done. Isn’t the whole point of going waxless that it eliminates the time and cost of waxing?

Seattle, Washington


Well, yes and no.

If you’re interested in speed as well as grip, I’d suggest waxing your skis’ tips and tails. You’ll be riding on those surfaces downhill, and maybe you want to go as fast as possible.

The same logic applies when you’re in the glide phase of diagonal stride technique, after you’ve kicked off to get forward thrust – apply a little wax on tips and tails and you’ll go further and faster.

Putting a little wax on your waxless base itself (I usually use MaxiGlide, but there are a bunch of options) can minimize moisture buildup. Water on your ski base can act like glue if you ski through colder snow, and you can get a condition called “icing.”

This probably happens most in California’s Sierra Nevadas, which are infamous for changeable snow conditions. Right after storms, surface snow gets wetter as the air temperature warms, so there may be a little water adhering to your bases. If you then run through patches of cooler snow, where snowflakes have a lot of sharp points and needles that can cling to your moist base, you can get clumps of snow building underfoot.

I’ve known people who deliberately chose not to wax their waxless skis because they wanted to go slowly. That’s totally legitimate as well as pretty darn clever, though a lot of these folks eventually added wax as they became more skilled skiers and enjoyed more speed.

Incidentally, there are a few high-end waxless ski models that have won races because they can go extremely fast at changeable snow conditions around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. 


Can a new Fischer (NNN) boot be used safely with a new Salomon (SNS) binding?  The toe bar properly engages but the lugged sole sits above the binding in the rear plate.
Thanks for the help.

Woburn, Massachusetts


It's frustrating for skiers, but the two bindings simply aren't compatible and probably never will be.
Cross-country ski areas and retailers have been asking the manufacturers for years to make complementary products with no success. The two companies (Rottefella and Salomon) have invested in different designs and tooling (and competing with each other) – kind of like Chrysler can't and won't use Toyota parts.

Incidentally, older Salomon bindings aren't compatible with newer models either.


Where would you recommend learning to cross country ski in Wisconsin?

Name Withheld
Highland Park, Illinois


I checked MapQuest, and it’s about 5.5 hours (assuming roads are in good shape) from where you live to where Dan Clausen teaches XC skiing at Minocqua Winter Park in Minocqua, Wisconsin.

Dan’s a great instructor. He’s a long-time member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America Nordic Demo Team. They’re all phenomenal athletes, but more importantly, he knows how to communicate skills and confidence to pretty much any level of skier.

I had a clinic from Dan maybe five years ago and still count it among the best ski lessons ever.


I’ve rented cross country skis a few times (classic) and have been given different sizes. I am 5’9” and would like to buy some skis but would like to know what size I should get. I’m a beginner, but keen about skiing (my dog is even keener!), but it seems most people in the stores know about as much as I do. 

Also, poles should be armpit height? Thank you!

North Vancouver, British Columbia


The old method of sizing classic skis so that the tip comes to your up-stretched forearm or wrist still works.
Skis for beginners can be a little shorter, with softer camber (that's the firmness of the ski's arch between tip and tail). If you're skiing on a groomed trail, you don't have to rely on longer skis for flotation in softer untracked snow.
The overall answer is to find a ski, regardless of length, that matches your ability and type of skiing and will provide a good on-snow experience. If you really liked any of those rental skis and can remember model and length, that could be a good choice. 
Regarding your poles, the armpit measurement method works fine for classic technique. I'd suggest getting fiberglass poles rather than aluminum. The pole baskets should be wide (for flotation) if you're breaking your own trail but can be smaller/lighter if you're skiing on groomed trails.
Final thought: If there's a cross-country specialty shop near you, I'd give them a try – if not, drop me a note and I'll refer you to one or more of the really good specialty retailers with web sites. They'd be glad to work with you to get the right model, length, and camber – as well as boots, bindings, and poles.
Hope this helps!


I just started cross country skiing last month. It feels like I’m falling too much, mostly on downhills but sometimes even when trails are flat. Is there some trick to avoiding falls?

Name withheld
Boston, Massachussetts


It sounds like a cliché (okay, it is a cliché!), but the more you ski, the better you become – and the less you fall.

I’ve never seen it quantified, but I figure someone has to ski at least a half-dozen times each winter to become a significantly better skier than the year before.

It’s also worth getting a lesson as early as you can each season – it’ll cut down a lot on falls. You’re in a good position because you can start learning good technique right away.

Here’s a third suggestion, based on having a wonderful time teaching several thousand people to ski or to ski better: Concentrate on keeping your hands low, especially on downhills. In my own skiing, the moment I lose balance even a little (and it happens most early in the season), I start coming up on my toes and lifting (and flailing around) my arms, somehow figuring it’s going to restore my balance. Just the opposite occurs, and that’s when I take really good falls.

So on downhills, it’ll help to keep your hands low (as low as your knees and definitely below waist level, even resting your hands on your knees), with weight balanced on both feet (not just your toes) and your skis about a body’s width apart. I guarantee you’ll fall less. And on the flats, when you're classic skiiing, keep your hands low (shoulders maybe a little slumped and making an arc with each poling motion rather than punching ahead) – that’ll keep your weight low and balanced, so again: fewer falls!


Trail fees at cross-country areas in California seem out of line for what’s billed as an inexpensive sport. Why don’t people just go backcountry skiing instead?

San Francisco, California


Yep, California tends to have the most expensive cross-country trail fees in North America, though smaller areas (like Mt. Shasta Nordic and Rim Nordic) are considerably less expensive. If it’s any compensation, most of the California areas with $20+ daily fees have really big trail networks – like 65 km or more.

I’ve met a lot of California skiers who seldom or never go to XC areas for a bunch of reasons – partly because they don’t want to spend the money at all, feel prices are too high, or (probably most often) like the solitude of backcountry skiing.

Generally I’d say these folks are also pretty confident (not always justifiably) about their skiing and winter skills.

I’ve done a lot of ski touring in the Sierra and loved most of it, though getting caught in an unexpected or fast-moving storm can be a little scary. Spring crust cruising in those mountains is some of the most exhilarating skiing in the world!

The other thing is that most people who choose to ski at XC areas want services like cleared parking lots, professional instruction, and mapped and marked trails, as well as grooming. If you’re an inexperienced skier or have kids, I’d strongly recommend going to a XC area rather than breaking your own trail.

Machine-groomed trails in the Sierra are really expensive to maintain (a new snowcat probably runs over $150,000, and it’s always useful to have a spare). When you add in operating costs, land fees, insurance, etc., it’s very tough to make a profit on trail fees alone – thus most areas have multiple income streams (food and beverage, rentals, lodging, etc.).

Sorry for the longish and kind of technical answer. I figure it’s worth knowing why trail fees can feel on the high side, although it’s pretty reasonable compared to grooming costs. Backcountry skiing is always a free option and a great complement. 


Do a lot of cross country ski centers rent pulk sleds?

Seattle, Washington


Most areas rent pulks, but it’s a little unpredictable, and there’s usually only one or two available. (For anyone not familiar with them, pulks are insulated enclosed sleds for pulling kids or cargo.)

If you’re thinking about visiting a particular cross-country center, I’d suggest calling ahead to make sure they have one for rent. There are a lot of families with young kids skiing these days, so there’s a lot of demand for pulks (especially on weekends and holidays). It would be smart to offer to guarantee a reservation with a credit card. Rates probably run $15-$20 per day, sometimes with multi-day discounts.


What do you think of skijoring? I heard you mention it on a podcast and I’d like to know more.

Taos, New Mexico


To most people who know the term, skijoring means getting pulled by a dog (or dogs). Sometimes both person and dog have harnesses connected by a rope, though it can be as informal as a dog on a leash pulling you.

Skijoring with a dog can be great fun, but it’s not the only way to be towed over the snow while you’re skiing. I’ve also gone skijoring with horses, snowmobiles, snowcats, mules, and (once) a VW bug.

All the experiences were thrilling. The only scary one was the snowcat because of those treads ahead of me (no problem on flats or uphill but interesting on the downhills). The most hilarious was at a ranch in Montana, being towed around a packed oval by the mule – at the ends of the oval, you could be moving pretty fast, like playing crack-the-whip. You could always let go of the rope, and the mule’s rider slowed down for inexperienced skiers, but then (at least it felt like this!) he’d go into a gallop for those of us who’d skied more or were a little too ambitious. 


Are there groomed trails in national parks? And more specifically, which parks do you recommend?

Syracuse, New York


You bet! Two of the gems in the U.S. are Yellowstone and Yosemite, and two in Canada are Banff and Jasper. All of them have machine-groomed trails, a wide range of services, and spectacular views.

I’ve skied in Yellowstone on and off since 1978. It’s a little frustrating that the Park Service hasn’t had a consistent policy about which trails will be groomed how often, but the current concessionaire, Xanterra, is very pro-skiing.

There are a number of gorgeous national parks in both countries that don’t have groomed trails or winter support services but do have reliable snow. One of my favorites is Glacier in Montana.

Incidentally, you can also find a lot of wonderful groomed trails in state and provincial parks.


This may be an unusual question for this website, but I’m looking at taking up cross country skiing purely to lose weight (and to become more fit in general). Is it good for overall fitness?

Olympia, Washington


Absolutely! You use all your muscles Nordic skiing, just as you do swimming. One of the things I’ve always liked about XC is that you’re actually using so many muscle groups at the same time that (unless you’re really pushing the pace) none of them get sore the way they do in, for instance, running or alpine skiing.

As to weight loss, according to a study I saw couple of weeks back, a 155-pound skier burns 563 calories per hour. Another one says that if you ski for two hours at four miles per hour, whatever your weight, you’ll burn about 1,200 calories.

These studies usually don’t tell you whether skiers are on groomed trails or breaking their own trails, whether they’re diagonal striding or skating (that can make a big difference there), etc. Regardless, you’re going to get firmer and fitter and have fun too.


I’m flying from the east coast to Montana in February. What can I do to make sure my cross country skis stay safe from baggage handlers?

New York, New York


Usually there’s no problem with equipment getting broken by the airlines, but it’s smart to give yourself an edge. I’ve taken skis overseas maybe a dozen times and had a racing pole basket and a ski tip broken on different trips. On the other hand, I’ve never had breakage on a domestic flight.

I’d get a padded ski bag and wrap some additional padding (I usually use towels) around the bindings and pole baskets. That may not protect skis and poles from being twisted by baggage handlers or carousels, but it does help if your equipment is hit with something or thrown on top of a solid object. It’s also a good idea to strap your skis together and bundle your poles handle-to-tip to minimize movement within the bag.

I always ask the airline to mark the ski bag “fragile” when I check baggage. Sometimes they’ll do it, sometimes not. One time I explained that Nordic skis aren’t as sturdy as alpine equipment, and a friendly Delta agent put my bag inside a plastic ski bag, and then plastered “fragile” in about a dozen places. That got respect!

Another option is to rent skis wherever you’re going and carry your own boots. As I found one time in Italy, you can probably find  good skis, but bindings may not be compatible with your boots.

Actually, you may not have to worry about baggage handlers if you’re headed to a cross-country area in Montana – places like Lone Mountain Ranch and Izaak Walton Inn rent excellent track and skating gear.


I have a question about backcountry skiing in the Rockies. I’ve heard snow can be so deep that snowshoes are better than skis. Is that your experience?

Madison, Wisconsin


Generally I prefer XC skiing to snowshoeing (sliding and gliding is just more fun than walking on the snow!), but sometimes snowshoes are a better choice.

One of the things I do is design ski trails and cross-country ski resorts (Nordic Group International). Last winter I was working on a trails project in Montana in cold, deep, very dry snow.

My fairly wide touring skis just sank out of sight, snowmobiles had the same problem, and there was too much fallen timber to use a snowcat, so I switched to Crescent Moon Gold Series 10 snowshoes. They were phenomenal! (And no, I don’t benefit from this plug.)

Snowshoes can work a lot better than skis if you’re in that kind of bottomless dry snow, if you’re a big person (I’m medium-sized but was carrying a 20-pound pack), and if you have to maneuver through brush, dense forest, or fallen timber. That said, I was lucky enough to be working with a guy who did a lot of the trail-breaking – it would have been really tough without him.


I love alpine skiing but want to try cross-country. Are there resorts you recommend where you can do both?

Austin, Texas


There are at least 50 resorts in North America which have both alpine and cross-country skiing (and usually snowshoeing too). The trouble is that Nordic tends to be kind of an afterthought – trails converted from golf cart paths (or crazy-hard trails), maybe no instruction or pulk sleds, so-so equipment, unpredictable grooming, mediocre support facilities, and so on.

On the other hand, you can find incredibly good cross-country skiing at – or near – some great alpine areas. Since you live in Austin, I’d suggest skiing in Colorado – not exactly easy driving distance, but good flight connections.

Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Aspen, Crested Butte, and Beaver Creek all have outstanding cross-country areas either right on site or within a few minutes’ drive. For that matter, you can stay at cross-country ranches (I love these places! – great skiing, staff, meals, lodging, views, and more) near Steamboat and Winter Park, go Nordic skiing outside your cabin door, and get shuttled over to the alpine slopes.

You can check out more areas in other states in my e-book if you’d like.


I'm trying to find out if anyone makes cross-country ski boots in wide widths. Have an orthotic and am looking for a wide boot that will fit it. I'm more interested in non-groomed trails.

Am hoping you can help me! No one seems to make them. Thanks.

Somerville, New Jersey


That's an intriguing question. Here are a couple of suggestions, based partly on my own experience along with the expertise of Peter Hale of Madshus.

First, I don't know of any boots today that are built for wide feet, but you may still be able to find some that will work for you.

A lot of boots are being designed specifically for women, who tend to have narrower feet than men. So you will probably get a slightly wider fit if you get what's sometimes called a "unisex" boot.

Every manufacturer uses slightly different designs for their XC ski boot. (The same thing goes for running shoes.) I don't know the subtleties of anything like every model of boot available in North America (there are so many models that probably no one knows them all!), but I'd suggest looking at Alpina or Madshus boots, which can be a little wider than some of the other suppliers. Next year (2009-2010), Atomic may have touring boots with a new lacing system that would give you a lot of flexibility in loosening or tightening.

Last thing is when you get the boots, you may be able to replace the insole with a thinner insole. I wore an orthotic for a couple of winters for classic skiing, experimented with no insole and various thicknesses of insole, and came up with a pretty good combination. Having no insole made the boot considerably chillier, but my light classic boots had very little insulation anyway -- that may not be a problem for your warmer touring boots.
Hope this helps!


I just moved to Minneapolis after living in Florida for the last 12 years and my husband and I want to learn to cross country ski. I need to know a few things about cross-country skiing, specifically:
Since we don’t know how to cross country ski, what suggestions do you have for starting?
Do the terms xc skiing, Nordic skiing, and cross-country skiing all refer to the same thing?
Can you post or point me to a list of basic cross country skiing terms?

By the way, I have been looking online for cross-country skiing information and yours is the first site I have found where I could ask a question. Thank you very much!

Minneapolis, Minnesota


I’m glad that cross-country skiing is about to get two new converts! It’s an incredible sport that’s fun, social, great exercise, and can take you to some of the most beautiful places in the world.

My top suggestion for you is to start skiing at an established ski area, where you can rent equipment on-site (and talk with staff who are knowledgeable and can suggest the right skis and boots for you) and where you can take lessons.

Lessons are a great way to learn to ski faster and more efficiently and also have more fun. Most commercial cross-country areas (where there are machine-groomed trails and other services) offer instruction.

Yes, those three terms all refer to the same thing. And you can find a good list of basic terms at the Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA) website, on the Nordic terms page, under “ski & snowshoe information.”

By the way, the Minneapolis area has good groomed trails in city parks and even a couple of locations with snowmaking. There are a lot of places to explore further north, including wonderful lodges and big trail networks up around Grand Marais, with very reliable snow. I hope you have a great winter!


Saw your blog posting on getting in shape for ski season this year. I’m planning on trying some xc ski races this year and would appreciate you providing more detail on preparing myself for the season, if you can.

Toronto, Ontario


I’ve done a few cross-country ski races – including Spam Cup races in West Yellowstone, Montana, and the 30 km version of the Cariboo Marathon at 100 Mile House, B.C. – but I thought I’d turn this question over to an expert: Randy Hill, the Head Physiologist at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in Park City, Utah. He was kind enough to write out his five tips on getting ready for the cross-country ski season.

  1. The Nordic skier is born in the summer months. This means that they need to start out with building their foundation. The rest of the season is based on how good the foundation is. If the foundation is flimsy, the whole thing can come down on your head, so to say. Foundation includes long slow training where your heart rate is between 120 and 150 bpm for most people.
  2. Try to use workouts that include both upper and lower body exercise. Cycling is great, but it is only good for your lower body. Workouts that fit this include swimming, rowing, roller skiing, and hiking with poles.
  3. Do not mix your long slow training (volume) with your race pace training (intensity). This can quickly backfire if not properly monitored. The line between doing well and doing poorly in a season will become quickly thin when these two are improperly handled and not monitored well.
  4. The transition from summer training (volume) to winter training (intensity) should be brief and allow for a gradual decrease in volume to a gradual increase in intensity. Allow the body to adjust over a 2-4 week period.
  5. Recovery is key after each and every workout. The entire process of training is to elicit adaptation. This is the process of slowly rebuilding the physiology that you broke down during the training. This basically requires solid recovery and should be emphasized before you go out and train intensely again. If you begin intensity training too soon after a previous intensity training, the body will slowly deteriorate and break down because you did not give it time enough to rebuild itself.

Good luck, Brett, and thanks, Randy!


Do you have any experience with buying cross-country ski season pass insurance?

Albany, New York


I’ve never bought season pass insurance, but I know something about it.

The idea is that if you’re planning to buy a season pass at a cross-country area, you can get insurance against not being able to use the pass because you suddenly get injured or sick (as opposed to having a pre-existing condition).

Some cross-country ski areas have restrictions on passes, making them non-refundable – so if you get hurt or sick, you can lose a lot of the value of the pass.

You can get Nordic season pass coverage through Skier Insurance Services. (Incidentally, I have no affiliation with the company; am just passing on information here.)

Cost through this policy is 6% of your season pass. If you’re injured and need evacuation – even by helicopter – the program also covers you up to $15,000. The coverage applies whether you get hurt or sick skiing or for another reason.

Like all insurance, there are some exclusions, and it’s smart to read the fine print and check that coverage is available in the state where you buy the pass.

By the way, on the subject of season passes: you can often get a hefty pre-season discount. Some areas have graduated discounts, so you can save something like 20% discount before mid-November, 10% until the end of November, etc.

Also, if winter is a little unpredictable in your part of the country, you may want to wait until there’s a solid snowpack and then buy a pass, so you’re sure that you’ll have a good long season to use it. Even at full price, cross-country season passes are usually a very good investment.


I’ve skied enough to know that I’d like to buy my own cross-country ski gear. How do I go about selecting cross-country skis that are right for me?

J. B.
Rochester, Minnesota


That question – how to select cross-country skis – has several answers.

First, figure out the type of skiing you want to do: Track (for machine-groomed trails), skating, touring (where you break your own trail), telemarking, and so on.

Once that’s decided, it’s a good idea (maybe you’ve already done this) to rent the kind of equipment you want. Ideally, you’ll rent it at a ski shop, ski area, or Nordic ski center where you can also buy it.

For track and touring skis, there’s a choice between waxless and waxable models. A good pair of waxless skis will work well in most snow types and temperatures. Generally they won’t be as fast as waxable Nordic skis, but you also won’t have to go through the learning process of what wax(es) to apply when, on how much of your ski base, with what thickness, etc.

Of course, cost can be important too. If you’re planning on getting outfitted for track or touring with skis, poles, boots, and bindings, a good starter package can run around $300 (U.S.). Gear of that quality should last you at least several years.

Kids’ equipment is generally cheaper, while racing and telemarking equipment can be a lot more expensive.

One final thought: Most cross-country ski equipment is still what might be called unisex, but there are an increasing number of skis and boots that are designed specifically for women. Women friends I’ve talked with say they particularly appreciate boots that are designed for a narrower foot.


Do you have any favorite cross-country ski events? If so, what are they and why do you like them? We’re looking to go to at least one event this year. Thanks.

Craig & Becky
Bozeman, Montana


As you probably know, cross-country ski events can be competitive or not competitive, maybe just what you’d call “fun.”

My favorite “fun” events tend to revolve around food. (For anyone who knows me, that’s totally predictable!) One I really love is at Enchanted Forest XC Ski Area in Red River, New Mexico, and it’s called “Just Desserts.” You ski or snowshoe from station to station along a 5-km course, and at each one there’s a different kind of dessert provided by local restaurants (cheesecake, chocolate, and other goodies). So you get great food and work off the calories skiing.

And if we’re talking about races, my favorite long event is the 50-km Tour of Anchorage. It’ll be held March 8th, 2009. The things I enjoy about it most are the course is fun, passing right through the city of Anchorage, there’s no altitude problem (in fact, there’s one spot that’s below sea level!), and everybody from racers to volunteers and spectators is super-friendly.


We’ve got a two-year-old daughter we’d like take Nordic skiing, but it sounds crazy to carry her in a backpack when I can barely stand up on skis. How do people take young kids skiing?

Jim Garrison
New York, New York


Good question! There are basically three options: Ski beside your daughter, carry her, or pull her in a pulk.

Kids as young as three can ski, but generally they don’t have much stamina and get chilled pretty easily. If you want her to start skiing right away, I’d suggest visiting a cross-country ski area where there are groomed trails, then staying pretty near the lodge and bringing hot chocolate with you.

I’ve seen a few skiers carrying kids on their backs, but in addition to the risk of falling (and I’ve seen that happen even when the parent’s an expert skier), children can get cold up there and their parents may not know it.

Instead of a pack, you can often rent a pulk (also referred to as a pulk sled) at a Nordic ski area. A pulk is a special insulated enclosed sled with a harness to secure your youngster; often kids are so comfortable in them that they fall asleep. It’s relatively easy to pull a pulk on groomed trails, but a lot harder to pull in deeper snow.


I’m an intermediate skier living near sea level. I’d like to ski in the Rockies but I’m concerned about altitude. Please give me your thoughts.

Bob in Boston
Boston, Massachusetts


A lot of people have altitude problems. I live at 5,000’ in Colorado and sometimes get hit by altitude (mostly don’t have much energy) when I drive up to maybe 8,000’ and start skiing hard right away.

If you’re absolutely set on skiing in the Rockies, Alberta and British Columbia have a lot of cross-country areas at around 4,000’-5,000’, which is a pretty comfortable elevation for almost everybody, but they still get plenty of snow.

If going to Canada isn’t possible, there’s phenomenal cross-country skiing and reliable snow in regions where altitude isn’t ever a problem. For instance, I’ve always felt that the upper Midwest has some of the best cross-country terrain in the world.

If you do go somewhere higher than let’s say 7,000’, it would be smart to stay a week or maybe longer so you can gradually acclimate and really enjoy the whole experience. You’ll probably get acclimated faster if you drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of sleep, and avoid a lot of caffeine and alcohol.


What do you think about taking dogs XC skiing?

Jeni B.
Sacramento, California


I think it’s great if your dogs like the idea! A lot of dogs (not all of them, but most I’ve known) love winter, and when they get to run and play in the snow with their people, it’s pretty close to heaven for them.

In terms of where to go cross-country skiing with dogs, where you take them should depend a lot on their size and endurance as well as snow conditions. For example, a small dog will get exhausted in deep snow but may have a blast when he’s running on a solid surface like a groomed trail. I’ve known small and medium-sized dogs that didn’t like powder snow all that much but had the time of their lives on firm spring corn snow.

I used to ski with my Newfoundlands (the little one was 130 pounds). I found that even big, powerful dogs get tired really fast in deep snow because they sink so far with every step.

A lot of cross-country ski areas invite guests to bring their dogs (call first to check whether an area has some dog-friendly trails and whether you need a leash or harness for your pup or can let him run free).

I should throw in the fact that not everybody loves dogs. Do your best to keep your pup under control, and especially don’t let him get his leash tangled around other cross-country skiers.


A lot of my friends go backcountry skiing, but I like cross-country skiing a lot more if I'm on groomed trails. Do you see advantages of one over the other?

Denver, Colorado


That’s a tough question to answer because like many people, I love doing both kinds of skiing!

Cross-country ski areas offer a lot of services that make your visit more comfortable and more fun. They’re best known for machine-groomed trails, but they’ll also have plowed parking lots and restrooms, in addition to things like a day lodge, equipment rental, instruction, and maybe meals and lodging.

Cross-country ski areas in Canada and the U.S. generally charge a trail fee to cover costs like parking lot clearance, grooming, insurance, and leasing land. If cost is a factor, I’d look for trails that are groomed by public agencies where there may be a trail or parking fee, but it’ll definitely be lower than at a commercial area. It’s maybe a four-hour drive from Denver, but Aspen has a 60-km free trail system.

For those of you who aren’t really familiar with cross-country skiing terms, backcountry skiing or ski touring is skiing off groomed trails. It has its own beauty, it’s often a little slower paced, and you probably won’t see as many people as at places with groomed trails. On the other hand, it takes more energy to break trail if there’s a lot of fresh snow.

Sorry to sound like I’m waffling, but they’re both wonderful ways to experience winter!


I just started to xc ski last year and really love everything about it except my boyfriend says I should wear a hat. He’s really adamant about it. So settle this for us, please.

name withheld


I agree, I don’t like wearing a hat, but there are a lot of good reasons to do it in winter, especially when it’s cold or snowing.

The biggest thing is that it’ll help keep you warm. (You can lose half your body heat from an unprotected head!) If you get too warm, just take off the hat and you’ll start to cool off.

Second thing, it’ll help protect you from sunburn. And third, a cap with a visor helps protect your eyes on a bright day.

I’d suggest experimenting with different hats to see what you like, or at least what works best in different weather conditions. I often carry both a tight-woven wool hat (or made of some non-itchy synthetic) for cool, wet, or windy conditions, and a cap with a visor for when it gets warmer and sunny.

new book: great winter destinations

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