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Cross-country skiing
for beginners

Master basic skiing techniques

Imagine gliding through a snow-capped forest, enjoying the silence while the crisp winter air paints red roses on your cheeks.

Cross-country skiing is the perfect way to savour the winter landscape – and it is surprisingly easy to learn.

“Take a little time to get the foundations of skiing right, and a fantastic world will open up. Cross-country skiing has so much to offer, and it’s a wonderful way to discover countries like Norway”, Joy O’Flanagan says.

The Norwegian ski culture made such an impression on O’Flanagan that she decided to move here. Now, she works as a ski instructor at the mountain hotel Venabu Fjellhotell in Eastern Norway.

“I think experiencing Norway’s nature and culture of ‘friluftsliv’ (the outdoor lifestyle) is very special, especially for people who spend a lot of time indoors in a built-up or digital environment”, O’Flanagan says.

Originally from Warrington in North West England, O’Flanagan spent 17 years in the French Alps before she moved to Norway.

“Cross-country skiing seems to be woven through the fabric of Norway’s culture”, she explains.

Ski DNA

In Norway, it is not difficult to find the perfect trail, because there is a myriad of groomed tracks across the country. Here, you can see everything from three generations skiing together during Easter, to hard-core enthusiasts on roller-skis in full summer – because they simply can’t stop.

It’s not difficult to understand why many believe that Norwegians are born with skis on their feet. But is that true?

See the full stories further down.

Luckily, you don’t have to have Norwegian ancestry to master the art of cross-country skiing.

Get ready to hit the snow

“My Norwegian friends tell me that as soon as children can walk, they can ski”, Joy O’Flanagan explains.

As a ski instructor at Venabu, she spends her winters teaching cross-country. Here, visitors rent equipment and spend time going through the basics, like movement patterns.

“I enjoy seeing the progress guests make. It is wonderful to share their enjoyment and enthusiasm and they can make rapid progress. Some are even skiing 10 kilometres (or more) by the end of their first week!”

Becoming a professional competitive skier might be a far fetch for some. Still, everyone can enjoy the same outdoor experiences as cross-country stars like Andrew Musgrave, Jessie Diggins, and Federico Pellegrino.

“It’s not about age”, O’Flanagan explains, and points out that balance is a crucial aspect of skiing.

“When we ski, we glide, and it’s not possible to learn to ski without falling.”

This is probably the biggest challenge for kids, though they rarely mind. Tumbling in the snow is fun! And adults should learn from them.

“The most important thing when you learn to ski is to enjoy the process and remember to stop and take in the beauty all around you!”

If you’re an adult who really wants to make the most of your ski holiday, and get a proper taste of the Norwegian national sport, O’Flanagan has a piece of good advice:

“Take some time to get ready: core, balance and some physical preparations. You’ll enjoy your skiing more.”

The basics of cross-country skiing

When it’s time to get down to business, there are a few things you should know or be prepared to learn.

Tor Håvard Kolbu is the manager of the activity provider and ski school Beitostølen Aktiv & Skiskole at Beitostølen, a popular ski destination in Eastern Norway. Here he shares some tips for cross-country beginners.

The ski styles

There are two styles of cross-country skiing: classic and skate.

Skate is often referred to as “free technique”, as you keep your skis in a V shape and transfer your body weight from one ski to the other as you move forward. Classic, on the other hand, is all about keeping your skis parallel and gliding. This is the style that beginners should start with.

The right ski equipment

Classic and skate require different equipment, so the easiest way to find the right boots, skis, and poles is to ask in the store where you’re buying or renting.

As a rule of thumb for classic: Skis should be about 10 centimetres taller than you, and your poles should reach your armpit.

You might have heard the talk about finding the right wax for the right snow conditions, but as a beginner, you can opt for wax-free skis if you want to.

Where to start

Find the right terrain! Make sure the trail or road isn’t too demanding: Long, flat stretches and gentle hills are best at first.

How to move

A good tip is to start skiing without poles. Sounds more complicated, right? Well, it actually makes it easier to get the hang of the technique and figure out how you’re supposed to move your feet. Think that you’re jogging, but instead of lifting your legs, you glide between each step.

How to stop

The easiest way to stop is to make a snowplough – or a triangle – with your skis. A good tip is to bend your knees and hips and lean forward slightly. This gives you better balance and more control.

Going up the hill …

When you ski uphill, there are two ways to do this. For gentle hills, you continue gliding, but pick up the pace so you’re almost “running”.

If the hill is steep, you’re back to creating shapes – this time a V. When you ascend a hill using the herringbone technique, you walk up with the skis pointing outwards.

… and down again

When you ski down a hill on cross-country skis, make sure you bend your knees and hips, lean forward, and look at the trail ahead of you – not down on your skis. This will help you maintain balance and stay in control.

Always keep an eye out for other skiers and don’t wave your poles around (you might end up poking someone).

Master the art of “turkos”

When Norwegians spend time outdoors, it's all about the word “kos” and enjoying the moment. On a ski trip, the lunch break is half the fun. Make sure you bring something to sit on and extra clothes, so you don’t get cold. Also remember something hot to drink, something to eat, and a little treat – like an orange or a chocolate.

Cross-country ski courses in Norway

Venabu, the mountain hotel where O’Flanagan works, offers courses and private lessons for both beginners and experienced skiers, as well as sleigh rides and yoga and ski weekends.

And they are not alone. Several ski destinations in Norway have courses and beginner lessons for both adults and children. At Beitostølen in Eastern Norway you can learn cross-country from instructors one day, and, if you plan your trip according to the FIS world cup calendar, see professionals compete up close the next!

Another popular destination for winter sports in Eastern Norway is Geilo. Here you can combine cross-country adventures with alpine skiing or fun without skis, like dog sledging! The same goes for Trysil. Glide through the forest one day and relax in the back of a horse-drawn sleigh the next.

If your holiday takes you to the land of the northern lights, you can join a beginners’ course with Tromsø Outdoor in Tromsø (minimum age: 12 years). Perhaps you want to reward yourself with a trip to a nice, warm sauna afterwards?

In Fjord Norway, adults and children can rent skis and learn cross-country from the instructors at Myrkdalen Ski School or Voss Resorts’ ski school. Both destinations are also popular alpine skiing resorts, located in Voss.

Learn more about cross-country skiing! Book a cosy cabin for your stay with Norgesbooking or DanCenter, or check out other green ways to experience Norway.

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