For those of you wondering and wishing to get out and try some Nordic skiing for the first time, here are a few tips to get you started.
I am going to help you sort out the easiest and safest options to try out this sport…so you do not get frustrated or hurt and give up too soon.
To give you the best sense that cross-country or skate skiing is indeed fun and to your liking, you need to pick the right resort, have decent gear, good conditions and go a few times.
Renting gear and trying a local established resort is what I recommend.
If you wish to continue skiing yearly, then you can buy gear and travel farther. (I hear Norway has a few scenic loops.) lol
Naturally if you are sporty and have downhill skied before, then your base skill level is sound. Whether you actually like sking on a trail in the woods is a personal preference. It’s like hiking but faster.
You can have hills to climb and then zoom down. And it can be a full workout if you want it, especially skate skiing.
I find it great to get out of town in the fresh air and nature. The solitude on the trail gets me reflecting on what I did last week and making plans or nothing at all. Nordic skiing is a very individual experience.
You may enjoy as I have, taking the club ski bus and skiing as a group with friends. Perhaps it will lead you to packing for a backcountry trek in the Rockies one day or getting into racing.
Dangerous? Well we all fall sometimes, just make sure you aim for the soft snow and not a tree. It’s always possible to get hurt but I rarely ever see it. Learn how to stop and turn first! Stick to the Beginner Green trails and perhaps go with experienced friends or take lessons.
I have listed at the bottom of this post my top recommended beginner locations. Keeping in mind novice skiers want easy, flat terrain with few hills. Paths are wide with gradual turns. Most locations have gear rentals and lessons offered.
– But first an FYI about the sport –
Here is an Overview to get you Started Skiing:
You can try skiing on borrowed skis as a beginner at a local park, but I would suggest a more enjoyable outing is to go to a “resort”. This would be at one of the Nordic locations listed on this site. Find one close by that rents gear.
They will have safe, beginner trails designed for Nordic skiing and groomed for Classic and Skate skiing. You will not be surprised with steep descents, tight turns…especially at the bottom of a hill. Yow!
As a novice skier, use the short beginner Green trails. Judge your skill level and progress from there. You will develop a sense of how to balance, turn and stop on your skis, you do not need any challenges yet.
Starting out, you will want people around just in case and perhaps a ski patrol service. Though never crowded, a rustic trail may have no one on it. Popular ski spots have plenty of signage and you will be glad to see eventually the one that says –
Parking Lot this Way >
Having equipment issues or getting lost in the winter out on the back end of a run as the sun sets is no fun. So stick with the popular closer, short loops for safety.
Expect low; certainly much, much lower than the cost of a tow ticket for downhill skiing.
Trail fees average around $10 a day, fancy resorts are higher at about $20+, and many woodlots and public park areas are Free.
Paying a trail fee at an organized “resort” is suggested. You get groomed trails with ski tracks and signage to get you back to the parking lot. Trying a field or local forest will be more challenging to cut your own trail (bushwacking) and may dampen your spirits.
Resorts have plenty of amenities and comforts to get you through the day. These can include a warm chalet, bathrooms, snack bar, lunchroom, change rooms, pro shop, lessons, lodging etc. Convinced?
Rent/ borrow first. Buy later, if you like it. Renting is most convenient at a resort, and renting gear in your town may not be so easy, if available at all. The good news is most places do rent. (List below) Typically a package (skis, poles and boots) is $20 – $30 a day.
Unfortunately, used gear rented or borrowed may not fit and/or be sized for your height and weight exactly and the skis likely will glide a tad slow. So expect better performance and fit with new shiny skis.
Not going like the wind is safer on your first outings as you learn. Later the name of the game is waxing to minimize friction, work less, zip along faster… smile more. At that point, you will upgrade.
Buying Nordic gear is at times scarce as this is not as popular a sport as downhill skiing. Try sports shops stocking downhill gear, they may have a small Nordic dept. MEC has a large selection and a few ski destinations have a pro shop too. A few bicycle shops like Velotique carry ski gear in the winter. Play it Again Sports offers used gear, and you can trade in too.
I am keeping it simple here and recommending what they call Waxless skis. Meaning, you do not need grip wax. The grip comes from “fish scales” on the bottom to give you traction on the kick. (glide wax does go on the ends, so they are not literally waxless)
Skate skis and boots differ from classic cross-country ski gear. Look into it some more if you prefer to try that.
An average new gear package is about $500 + clothing $300. Budget for New Skis + bindings ~ $250, poles ~ $50, boots ~ $150, waxes ~ $30. I have often bought used boots as my son seems to need a pair almost annually!
Picking a bad weather day or perhaps better stated, a poor snow conditions day can spoil an outing for any skier. Bad snow and temperatures too hot or cold do not make for fun times.
Ideal conditions are temperatures between -2 to -10C, and new snowfall in the previous few days. Warmer temps give you slow, heavy wet snow that is tricky to ski through. On colder days below -15C, it can be too chilly and hard to dress for.
Check weather forecasts and snow conditions before you make plans; there can be fickle weather in Ontario.
The best locations have trail grooming snowmobiles. Though no resort makes snow for Nordic trails, good grooming and a set track are worth the trail fee.
And a warm cabin/chalet to retreat to for lunch with a hot chocolate is certainly welcome for the novice. You have plenty of time to rough it in the bush later.
You may be a natural at it or have some experience downhill skiing to get you started. Practice by going out every week to improve your skills.
Always ski in your comfort zone. Yet work at expanding it to improve and enjoy this sport. Evenly it will take less effort to go farther and faster.
Can you ask experienced friends to take you along, show you some pointers? (Just don’t keep them from doing a run at their own speed eventually.)
Joining a Nordic ski club is a great way to pick up tips. Skiing in a group also pushes you a bit and can be a safer option for the novice.
Learn how to STOP and TURN first!
Yes not be able to stop or turn well is a frightening situation for a novice skier. Find a gently sloping hill with no trees around to practice and sort out your balance, braking and turning skills.
Actually many locations have club lessons or ski staff to instruct. Paid lessons could be a good idea.
This can vary in availability, some places offer same day single lessons others you may need to join the club and book it.
Here are a few videos I found to get you started on technique:
What to Pack:
This sport takes you out in the cold of the winter on trails that at times that can be far in the bush and lonely. So you need to be self reliant and prep for it. As a beginner, you will not venture too far from homebase on the Green trails. Still packing a few light, small items is wise.
The first mistake beginners make is how they dress. In short, you want to underdress in layers and as you warm up, you start to unzip and vent. You actually do not want to sweat much as this will chill you if you stop too long.
So when you leave the chalet you will feel slightly cool. As you ski your core will heat up to a comfortable temperature, yet not getting you sweating excessively.
Go for polyester and wool blends for socks and long underwear. Use a breathable windbreaker type of jacket. Have a hat and good warm gloves/mitts that can grip the poles.
Eat when you get back from the trail. But bring some water, snack bars + phone. Note your water may turn into a block of ice if you do not keep it warm.
A paper map is nice to have, some larger resorts have one to take, for the smaller locations, try printing out the maps on this site. Your phone may not get a signal, though GPS will work with a pre-downloaded map. And keep that battery warm.
As you know, any new skill takes more than one attempt to master and enjoy. So I do hope you give it a few chances and gauge how well you like it. You will feel new muscles ache days later, that’s Ok, it will pass as you train yourself to ski better, faster and farther.
My wife Teresa has gone back to snowshoes; she just did not take to Nordic skiing, while my son Trevor at 14 is flying down the hardest hills. Meanwhile, I have been at it for 35 years and still love it.
You be the judge. If you follow my advice, at least the odds are good that you will enjoy it. Now get out there before the snow melts and just try it!
Recommended Beginner Nordic Ski Locations :
Groomed, mainly flat terrain on Beginner loops, ski gear rentals, Nordic ski instruction offered.
- Wasaga – level trail, rentals
- Wye Marsh – flat trail, rentals
- Mountain View – level loops, rentals, lessons
- Muskoka KOA – level trails, rentals
- Mono Nordic – level trails, rentals, lessons
- Arrowhead – level loops, rentals
- Hardwood – a few small hills, rentals, lessons
- Horseshoe – flat loops, rentals, lessons
- Kawartha – flat loops, rentals, lessons
- Georgian Nordic – flat loops, rentals, lessons
- Albion Hills – beginner loops have a few hills, rentals
- Gatineau Park – level wide trail, rentals, lessons
- Terra Cotta – flat loops, rentals
- Scenic Caves – level trails, rentals, lessons
- Capreol – flat loops, cheap rentals
- Walden – flat loops, rentals, lessons
- Windy Lake – flat loops, rentals, lessons
- North Bay Nordic – gentle hills, rentals, lessons
- Hiawatha Highlands – flat loops, rentals, lessons
Other locations with beginner flat wide trails. No grooming, bring your own gear.